Chef Ann Kim embraces her Korean heritage in opening new Uptown Minneapolis restaurant

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MINNEAPOLIS — Ann Kim is a local chef who has been celebrated nationally for her fearless food. Her pizza put her on the map, but her new project is fiercely personal, sharing her Korean-American heritage and putting her award-winning chef's spin on the foods of her childhood.

Tucked away in the corner of her new restaurant, simply called Kim's, are her precious family memories.

"That's our first home in Apple Valley," Kim said. "It's our family at the start of the Mississippi, and I cant think of anything more American than that. ... Koreans love fruit and dessert to us is peeled fruit, and so this was always a fun memory of going to the orchard with my mom."

The images are also a reminder of how far she's come from being that little immigrant girl from Korea who was trying to fit in, even though she stood out.

And as one door closes for Kim, another is about to open in its place. She closed down Sooki and Mimi for two weeks and transformed it into Kim's.

"I just decided to do something completely different, something a little bold, a little scary, but something I've wanted to do for many years. And probably the restaurant I was meant to open, and is a restaurant based on my Korean-American journey," Kim said. "My mother was born in North Korea my father grew up in the southern part of South Korea, and it's all the flavors they brought with them. ... We're doing our house-made napa kimchi that's been passed down for generations in my family."

 / Credit: Roy San
/ Credit: Roy San

There's also an American spin. Her Spam sandwich on a Korean street food bun is one dish that showcases that blend.

"Koreans eat a lot of Spam. It's something that came because of the Korean War," Kim said.

While Minnesota is home to Spam, she's making her own version for the restaurant.

The food at Kim's will be beautiful and inventive, and the space itself is transforming. A mural done by Julia Chun, called "Guardians of the Flame," showcases a phoenix and a dragon, protectors from the east and south.

"They represent and inspire transformation, rebirth, wisdom and integrity," Kim said. "All the things I hope for Uptown — we're in the middle of a transformation and transition in this neighborhood, and I do believe we're going to come back and come back stronger."

 / Credit: WCCO
/ Credit: WCCO

Around back, the basement bar is now the Bronto Bar, an analog-inspired spot with touches of nostalgia and a cocktail to look for that contains both fermented radish juice and a kimchi garnish.

Kim says she hopes the restaurant will be a legacy for her family and her heritage.

"Korean food was something that was a real source of shame for me growing up, and now sharing this food is a real full circle moment for me," Kim said.

The restaurant opens for dinner service Tuesday at 5 p.m. Kim's will be open for dinner seven nights a week. The Bronto Bar is open from 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. The restaurant is not accepting reservations for now.

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