Friday, May 1, 2009

Cookie Time: an Interview with Chef Anna Kim

from the interview desk
This morning we reopen the Interview Studios to welcome Anna Kim, Chef at Sans Souci, and a dear friend. Keep an eye on this rising star. She has a lot of talent.

Petit Soleil (PS): Hi Anna, welcome to the Interview Studios at Petit Soleil. Did you bring us any food?!

Anna Kim (AK): My world famous, secret family recipe, chocolate chip cookies. I have had people try to marry into my family for this recipe!

PS: Now that’s what I’m talking about! I’ll get the milk. While I shake this un-homogenized
Snowville Creamery local deliciousness, why don’t you tell us about your culinary passion?

AK: Much of it comes from my upbringing. Holidays and celebrations were always centered around a warm kitchen and everyone pitching in to put together a fantastic spread of food. As I got more into cooking, I discovered that food can be just as creative and artistic as a painting and as precise and measured as science. Art and Science are two subjects I have been drawn to my entire life.

PS: Gosh these are good. Hmm, slightly narcotic effect. What’s in these again? Oh, right, it’s a secret. You've been the chef at Sans Souci for quite a while now, but you've honed your skills elsewhere. If I remember correctly you were turning up the Arizona heat in some trend-setting joint?

AK: Yes, I spent my externship plus about two additional years at a French bistro named “Zinc”. I worked under a very classic French chef with the brigade system in place. Chef Matt Carter spent time with Thomas Keller as a sous chef. He held everyone at Zinc to that same level of perfection. Very high pressure, very male dominated (it had a reputation as “the seventh level of hell”), but very fair. I learned more there in 3 months than I did in my entire culinary school experience. It was rough, but I love those guys. They used to say, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”, and I believe that to be true.

PS: Sounds like a fantastic first restaurant experience. What have you carried over and put into play at Sans Souci? You’ve got some cookie crumbs on your jacket.

AK: Many of the skills I learned at Zinc I have brought with me to Sans Souci. Organization, sense of urgency, multi tasking. I learned techniques developed from people with vast experience, and have shared those tricks of the trade with my crew. I also hold myself and my crew to that same level of perfection I learned at Zinc. I do try to stay calm and politically correct at all times, something not so true at the bistro. It is a different environment working in an independent kitchen versus a corporate business. I am definitely not allowed to throw pans at people here!

PS: Yeah. Darn rules. Pan throwing has such a dramatic impact too. Sans Souci has been a strong player for years. With lots of really good, innovative competition popping up, how do you see Sans Souci fitting into the Cleveland restaurant scene?

AK: We have two different approaches that I keep in mind at all times. We are located in the historical Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, a gorgeous facility. We stay true to our long time patrons by keeping our signature dishes such as the angel hair pasta and bouillabaisse on the menu. As well as some other traditional and authentic Mediterranean items…our tapenade, osso bucco, etc. But, we must also take into account the changing times, and now, the economy. I am very supportive of using local, sustainable products whenever possible. We can achieve this by using such resources as the Chefs Garden. We have also begun to use organic protein items as well. Our menu now features a broader price range ($18-$32 for entrees, $7-$14 for appetizers), we can accommodate those going out for a special occasion as well as those just coming in for a casual pre game meal.

PS: We haven't visited the restaurant in quite a while, our spies report you've got a new promotional menu starting soon. Is it top secret or can you tell us about it?

AK: We have begun our spring promotion “Le Jardin”, it features the bounty of the French countryside in the spring. We are utilizing such produce as French breakfast radishes, baby carrots, beets, asparagus, ramps, and spring peas (just to name a few). All locally grown. The produce is used to not only accent the fantastic proteins we are featuring on the menu (lamb, strip steak, wild salmon, and scallops to name a few) but to star in the dish as well.

PS: That’s a great approach. I’m a big fan of plates without protein as the center focus or when it plays a supporting role. What's your favorite knife?

AK: Chefs knife, I use it the most.

PS: What's your single most memorable culinary experience?

AK: Gosh I have so many. That is what I truly love about my job. Every day is an adventure! I do have a funny one that pops in my head that I can share with you though. It was back at Zinc. I had been there for maybe a week or two, and I was really trying my hardest to impress and earn my keep amongst this very talented and judgmental kitchen. That meant eagerly attacking each command with enthusiasm and with an increased sense of urgency. Chef Adam, the chef de cuisine, was cutting fish and asked me to grab the halibut from the walk in. This was not a side of fish, or loin of fish, it was like, the entire fish, on a sheet pan. I didn’t realize he was just kidding around. That fish was half the size of me. I picked up the pan, pushed my back against the door, and muscled my way to the butchering station. The looks I got from the big guys on the hot line were priceless as I held that fish firmly between my chest and the sheet pan, not daring to even think what would happen if I let it hit the ground.

PS: I think I’ve filleted halibuts bigger than you! We happen to know that you're half of a dynamic culinary duo. Can you tell us what your talented husband is up to these days?

AK: He is working over at the
Shoreby Club in Bratenhal. It is a private yacht club over on the east side. They are going to be unveiling a new menu in the Mansion dining room any day now. Unfortunately, the club is not open to the public. At home, we are really excited to be into grilling season. Eddie will make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner from the grill if given the opportunity.

PS: So what does the future hold for Chef Kim?

AK: I can’t divulge everything, but I can tell you that Ed and I hope to have our own restaurant one of these days. Our son is already in training to be one of our sous chefs.

PS: Do you have a time table for these plans?

AK: That will probably be determined by the economy these days, but I would say five to ten years.

PS: Do you get to try (have the time for) other restaurants? If so, where have you been and which did you like?

AK: We really don’t get to go out too much. I work too much (as most chefs do) and have very little spending money. I get to meet many of my culinary acquaintances at benefit functions, between those and reading local publications, I know of other restaurants I would love to have time to check out. When Ed and I eat out it is usually from one of our little known, ethnic places we have around the neighborhood. For a special occasion, I really like Lola’s. Michael Symon has a great crew over there, and I have never been disappointed.

PS: I really have to get back there, too. Who let that kid in here and why is he making weird noises?

AK: Oh, that’s Tommy. He wants to know why you are intruding on what he has deemed “mommy and tommy” time. I think he’s growling at you.

PS: Here, kid, have a cookie. Thanks Anna for stopping by. Anything else you want to share with the millions of readers of this blog?

AK: Millions? Now I’m nervous. Well, I guess I would like to share with them that I hope to see them down to Sans Souci soon. We have some really fresh, seasonal, and fantastic dishes on the menu right now. There is nothing I love more than to share my cooking with friends, and any friend of Ben’s, is a friend of mine!