Celebrating Lunar New Year with Chef Ji Hye Kim

Ann Arbor’s own Chef Ji Hye Kim, the mastermind behind Miss Kim, garners national acclaim as a semifinalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes in the 2024 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards. This prestigious nod underscores her innovative fusion of traditional Korean cuisine with the bounty of the Midwest, setting an exquisite backdrop for the Lunar New Year celebrations at Miss Kim.

The Lunar New Year is quickly approaching on February 10. Known as Seollal in Korea, this occasion is a rich tapestry of family, food and age-old customs. It’s a time when homes are swept clean of bad luck, debts are settled to start anew, and families gather from far and wide to share in the joy and hope of what the new year brings.

Culinary traditions with a twist

At Miss Kim, a gem among Ann Arbor’s culinary scene, Kim infuses this festive period with flavors that are both traditional and innovative.

“Braised short ribs is a childhood favorite that my mother made only for major holidays like Lunar New Year and will make it onto the menu starting Saturday,” shares Kim, highlighting the special place these dishes hold in the celebrations.

But it’s not just about replicating the classics. Kim delves deep into the heart of Korean culinary philosophy, especially inspired by her recent explorations in South Korea.

She reflects, “The most memorable learning was that Korean Buddhism focuses on the practice of Buddhism in an intentional and mindful way, but not in a dogmatic or extreme way.”

This ethos of balance and mindfulness permeates her cooking, where adherence to tradition blends seamlessly with local, seasonal offerings from Michigan’s bountiful farms.

A Creative culinary canvas

Miss Kim’s menu is a vibrant canvas where regional Korean dishes get a local twist, showcasing the diversity and adaptability of Korean cuisine.

“I love to continue our work of showcasing different regional bibimbap of Korea,” Kim said. It’s this playful approach to traditional dishes, coupled with a deep respect for their origins, that makes dining at Miss Kim a unique experience.

The authenticity of these dishes does not stem from rigid adherence to ‘authentic’ ingredients but from the spirit in which they are prepared.

“Traditional Korean food… is rooted in using what is available locally and seasonally,” Kim points out, advocating for a culinary approach that is both traditional and innovative.

Celebrating with knowledge and flavor

Educating guests about the cultural significance of the dishes is also a key part of the Lunar New Year celebration at Miss Kim. Through staff education, storytelling, and social media, Chef Kim and her team bring the rich tapestry of Korean culinary history to their guests, making each bite a journey through time and tradition.

As Ann Arbor prepares to ring in the Lunar New Year, Miss Kim welcomes all to partake in a feast that is as much about community and continuity as it is about culinary delight. Kim’s philosophy, deeply rooted in her heritage yet boldly embracing her Michigan home, offers a blueprint for celebrating tradition in a globalized world.

In this season of renewal and reflection, Miss Kim’s Lunar New Year specials are not just a meal; they are an invitation to explore, to learn, and to be part of a tradition that continues to evolve.

As Kim aptly puts it, “We are not so separated from tradition, we are the evolution of it. It’s delicious and fun, be an active part of it.”

This Lunar New Year, let’s embrace the spirit of renewal, the joy of family, and the delicious complexity of traditions that travel and transform, much like the people who carry them forward. Chef Kim invites you to a celebration where every dish tells a story, and every bite is a step into a new year filled with possibilities.

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