Ajumma Spotlight: Meet Chef Bev
Updated: Jan 8, 2018
Ajumma EXP is proud to shine a light on Ajumma Beverly Kim, former Top Chef-testant and award-winning chef of a Michelin star restaurant in Chicago. Don't let her sleeve tattoo fool you... she's an old-fashioned ajumma, making her own kimchi, shikhye, and countless other Korean dishes. (See below for links to recipes). While some ladies can say "Baby Got Back"... this ajumma has Baby ON Back!
Tell us about yourself
I'm the Chef owner (along with my co-Chef husband) of the restaurant Parachute in Chicago, which is a neighborhood restaurant with a Korean American perspective. I’m passionate about Korean food because it is part of my identity, and it was how my mother communicated with the family. Sometimes, things got lost in translation from her Korean to our English and vice versa.
But through food, mom clearly communicated her love and care. Korean food became a pathway to our ancestors and a language we could all understand. And now, I’m able to share that love with my own children, ages 8 and 1.
I am the youngest of four Kim sisters, so I’ve also had to develop fierce fighting skills while growing up. Actually, by the advice of my oldest sister (and against the wishes of my parents), I decided to go into the culinary field in high school and have been working in restaurants in and around Chicago ever since. One of the most challenging things I've done was to compete on Top Chef Season 9, when my first son was a only year and half. But, I channeled all of my Kim-sister-fighting power, and I landed as a finalist.
What does being an Ajumma mean to you?
Ajummas are complex! They have developed thick skins over the years. They are uber honest and upfront. Ajummas don't bullshit. They prefer to hand-wash dishes because of the "hand touch" and because of their perfectionism. Growing up, Ajummas were the bedrock to the community and family. They wake up early and go to bed late, cooking, cleaning, and contributing to church duties while praying for everyone's wishes. Ajummas are thrifty, like saving plastic bags, but also like to splurge on some bling too.
Ajummas are known to have super-human strength and abilities. What is your Ajumma power?
My secret Ajumma power is my hope- I've had many hardships in life, especially in the culinary world where many people were dismissive of me or thought I was a pushover because of my calm demeanor. Many thought that, as an Asian American woman, I couldn’t handle the heat. But I've always been able to see the good in the challenges and turn them into an opportunity to grow and be stronger. My work ethic, dedication and focus out-proved the doubters and anyone who tried to bring me down.
What is one of the biggest challenges you've overcome?
Lack of confidence and fear of what others think--ultimately, I think being on Top Chef was one of the hardest things in terms of putting myself out there for criticism and exposing myself… I realized that I did have the power within to overcome and push through.
Sage Ajumma advice? (words you live by?)
Find something you can improve on and and learn something new everyday. For example, as a restaurant owner, I have to keep learning about how to improve the guest experience and company culture for our employees, and staying on top of food trends. I still have alot to learn about cooking in general. And I hope to always improve on the way I communicate my passion for food.
Finally, what is your guilty pleasure?
Kimchi Ramen--so bad for you, but so good. Even when I feel bloated afterwards, it's worth giving in to the MSG crave!
If you’re craving Korean food, Beverly and her husband, Johnny can help you make the best Korean short ribs or bindaedduk (mung bean pork belly pancakes). And of course, if you're ever in Chicago, be sure to swing by Parachute, which has been featured by Bon Appétit Magazine. You can reach Beverly Ajumma via twitter or Instagram.