LUCKYINSIDER: Chef Sohui Kim
Occupying a former warehouse located in industrial Gowanus's nightlife district, Insa is a one-stop shop for all things Korean dining and entertainment. Start your night with a wide array of sizzling Korean barbecue dishes and eventually make your way to the infamous Jungle Room to karaoke till dawn. In this episode of LUCKYINSIDER, we speak with Sohui Kim, a Korean chef who is changing Brooklyn's Korean dining scene:
LUCKYRICE: In Korean, the word insa translates to "greeting" - how does this name reflect the goals you and Ben have for the restaurant?
Sohui Kim: Even though Insa is vastly bigger than The Good Fork, we wanted some elements, such as design, service, and food to remain constant. The act of greeting,insa, is an important social custom and we thought it would lay a great foundation to showcase delicious sharable Korean food in a warm welcoming setting with great attentive service.
LUCKYRICE: Why karaoke and why gowns?
Sohui: At first, karaoke was all Ben's idea. I thought that by adding karaoke to the mix, it would detract from the high culinary aspirations I had for the menu at Insa. However, when we saw the lofty 4,600 sq. ft space, we immediately knew that there would be enough room for separate karaoke and dining experiences. Gowanus is also such a lively part of Brooklyn, filled with a wide variety of fun activities such as archery, rock climbing, and shuffleboard - karaoke just seemed like the perfect fit.
LUCKYRICE: Tell us a bit more about discovering your passion for cooking post-college.
Sohui: Post-college, I was bound for law school. After many years of cooking at home and hosting dinner parties, I finally came to the realization that I wanted to eat amazing food all the time and decided to take my passion for cooking to a professional level by enrolling in culinary school. I eventually took a stab at catering and became smitten with the restaurant industry during my very first internship - now here I am!
LUCKYRICE: How has your Korean-American upbringing affected your approach to Korean food and the menu at Insa?
Sohui: Ten years ago, I didn't think the food scene in Brooklyn was fully ready to embrace Korean food in its classic form. Now, it's a different story. My Korean-American upbringing makes me crave traditional Korean cooking so much so that I wanted to bring a classic Korean BBQ experience to a fun spot in Brooklyn. The menu at Insa is Korean food as I would make at home, the dishes that I crave from my memories of Korea. I wanted to showcase Korean food and its flavors by using great seasonal ingredients without the fast food treatment that most popular dishes seem to receive.
LUCKYRICE: You have experience working at various renowned restaurants such as Annisa, Blue Hill, and Sony Club - what is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring restauranteur?
Sohui: Do not ever open a restaurant thinking you'll make lots of money because most likely, you won't. The most important thing is to have a passion for the food you're serving and this crazy industry as a whole!
LUCKYRICE: Insa is incorporating a strict no-tipping policy and has instituted a 20 percent administration fee like many restaurants in NYC are doing now - why was this important to you?
Sohui: This policy was very important to me because I really wanted to institute a change that would impact our employees in a positive way. For years, it killed me to see the inequity of Front of House and Back of House, which eventually became the driving force to the policy. After having run a restaurant over a decade, we have a better understanding of how things work in the restaurant industry and ways in which we can better it in our own businesses. Getting rid of tipping is simply the first step and reforming how we pay our workers fairly made sense on all levels. Our model isn't perfect by any means, but I think that it's a step in the right direction.
LUCKYRICE: Favorite cocktail-dish pairing at Insa? Any must-try dishes
Sohui: Tartare with Sohui's Martini with the Blood Sausage with Tiger's Whiskers.
LUCKYRICE: Go-to midnight snack?
Sohui: Deep fried nori chips, peanuts (anju), and seafood corn dogs!