Kim Chi’s TikTok is @kimchieats. Not “Kim Chi puts on makeup”, not “Kim Chi of RuPaul’s Drag Race”, but Kim Chi, the drag queen and businesswoman, eats. She eats chipotle and cooks radish stew with Korean beef. She recaps her gastronomic adventures as she travels the world, and even teamed up with Imodium and Pepcid AC for some GI realism. So when she reached out to her friend chef Jon Kung from YouTube’s yes the food about doing a podcast together, could it have been about something other than food?
Kim Chi and Kung’s new podcast, 1 for the tableIt’s like hanging out with two friends who have the best restaurant tips. They talk about the importance of rice in all cultures and the hatred of licorice desserts, the differences between good food in New York and Los Angeles, and just about all the cool things they’ve had to eat recently. They are funny and stubborn, and above all curious. As Kung says, the two of them are the type to try anything not just once but twice.
Above all, they both wanted the chance to talk about food even more than they already do. But they also wanted to celebrate how a passion for food can come from anywhere; You don’t have to be an expert to love or talk about it. We spoke with Kim Chi and Kung about the similarities between Korean and Chinese cultures, how few dishes they struggle to eat, and whether queer food exists.
Eater: How did you two meet?
kimchi: Jon and I met at Motor City Pride in 2016. I was in my dressing room and Jon walked in drunk with his friend. Later, the promoter asked me, “Do you want me to take you out to a restaurant for dinner, or do you want a private chef to cook for you?” I was like, “Oh, I’ll have the private chef cook for me.” The chef was actually Jon. Then he went to Whole Foods, I think.
Jon Kung: I didn’t actually agree to do it, but my best friend agreed for me. The next thing I remember, he was taking me to Whole Foods, where we spent 45 minutes shopping for ingredients. At that time, there was a situation where I was the only person in my entire building and the building consisted of four apartments and I had access to all of them. I pretty much used every kitchen in every apartment to prepare this four or five course meal for Kim in an hour.
Were you still drunk at this time?
JK: I was sober when I got home because it’s like you go into cooking mode – we’re pretty well known for working in intense circumstances. At that point I was fine, and Kim came in and we joined in the meal, and it was a nice little experience. Then one thing led to another where Kim, you came and ate maybe one or two more times because you had concerts in town. So you invited me to go to P-Town? We went to Provincetown together and it turned out that we were very good traveling companions. Provincetown became Joshua Tree and then an amazing trip to Taiwan. And then I guess we realized we were friends.
You mentioned in the podcast notes that you two always end up talking about food when you’re together. What was the impetus for the podcast?
JK: We had spent some time on the road and realized that we were always talking about food or anything related to food. Then once, out of the blue, Kim mentioned the podcast.
KC: The stuff we talk about is pretty educational, so why don’t we put on a podcast and see if people like it? We’ve got our combo: people love Jon’s content on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. I have fans who always say, “Oh, I love your mukbang, I like what you do with food.” I was like, “Okay, it feels natural to do a podcast.”
You have focused on East Asian kitchens and chefs. What conversations about those kitchens do you feel have been lost from the general public?
JK: I feel like we are two people who have a similar life experience, even though we are completely different ethnically and were raised differently. Our love for food is what unites us. As for who’s having that conversation, it seems like there aren’t many foodies out there quite like us. I mean, unless you’re super hyper-established like David Chang.
Kim and I have the opportunity to travel, we are both extremely adventurous, but at the same time, we want to do nothing but have fun and share that love with people. Food podcasts are not easy to do because it is ultimately a pretty limiting topic. But we managed to expand into other aspects of our own cultures and identities.
KC: I think our goal with the podcast is to not just be another podcast that talks about gravy grilled chicken, but also to talk about how food connects to people and how people can relate to food, and maybe even unearth the generational trauma that comes with our food.
I want to dig into that, because in conversations about second-generation Asian American and Asian identity, food is treated as inseparable from that identity. Why do you think that is?
KC: For Koreans, when they see their friends, the first thing they say is, “Have you eaten yet?” When they are adults, the easiest thing they can do is go eat together. Time just passes if you share a meal and have a conversation about it. Food is also something that everyone has an opinion about whether you like it or not. It’s an easy way to relate to people and it’s an easy way to gain insight into a person’s psyche.
JK: In Chinese culture we also ask, “Have you eaten yet?” even instead of other phrases like “I love you”. In Asian American communities, especially in places where there are not large Chinese populations, there are many situations where, in the midst of all this detachment from that great culture, food is your only connection. A lot of people feel very strongly about these things because sometimes that is their only window into this part of themselves. A lot of the food I make I call Chinese food, but it challenges what Chinese-American food is. I get a lot of criticism from the Chinese, like, “That’s not the food my grandmother made.” I’m like, “Well, you know what? The food your grandmother made might not have been good.”
I’d love to talk a bit more about positioning themselves as public opinion makers on food when so often the reactions can be, “Well, how do you know what you’re talking about? What is your past? what is your thought? How dare you suggest that what my grandmother did could be a different way to do it?
KC: Before I did drag and all the glamorous stuff I do now, I worked in fast food. I worked as a barista. I worked as a sandwich maker in a factory. I have worked in haute cuisine for many years. I feel like I definitely have a voice and a lot of my fans are interested in hearing it.
JK: We’re both the type of people who will try something and if we don’t like it, we’ll try again to make sure. And if we still don’t like it, we’ll try the same thing done by someone else to be doubly sure. I don’t think any of us can name a dish that we can’t appreciate in some way, because we’ve been on the receiving end of our food taking a beating in some way. Having experienced that, we are more interested in giving food from other cultures a gas because there is so much to love. Truly, the most glorious and pornographic thing is listening to Kim talk about food.
Is there a food that any of you have disliked and come to appreciate more?
KC: For me it is food made with anchovies. Growing up, I was like, “That sounds gross.” But now that I’m older, anchovies are one of my favorite pizza toppings. The salty fish flavor combined with the salty cheese and tomato sauce: the chef’s kiss. Whenever I made pasta at home when I was young, I would just throw in marinara or a jar of creamy sauce. But now I make more of an oil based pasta dish where I melt the anchovies with a little garlic and chili flakes and then just throw the pasta in. Very simple, but very tasty and good.
JK: I think the main problems I had with food were typical childhood dislikes: anything fishy, anything bitter. A flavor profile that I have the most difficulty with, because I have a very sensitive nose, is anything that is too alkaline. Eggs of the century, because they have been preserved in bleach: This does not taste bad, but my nose physically hurts. I would still eat it anyway. There’s a Scandinavian canned shark dish that’s apparently just like that.
KC: Koreans also have such a plate, but it is made of skates. It just smells like ammonia.
Kim, you’ve obviously incorporated food into your drag. We talk about all these foods from different ethnic and cultural traditions, and I’m curious if any of you think there’s such a thing as queer food.
KC: The first thing I can think of is bottom-friendly foods. Actually, there are many diets and rules for people having anal sex. High fiber, dairy free.
JK: To me, brunch has an odd element to it, simply because it’s a typical time when you get together with your chosen family members. The other thing is the desserts, and not just because there’s a queer vibe to desserts, but I know a lot of cookie and ice cream companies that are run by queer people. There is something about the happiness behind them that is attractive. I think being queer leads you to be fearless creatively, which kind of shows that you’re trying to express yourself. I just do it through food. A lot of what I do, I attribute to being a queer person because it frees you up to be free of the social obstacles normally associated with toxic masculinity. People aren’t as expressive when they feel like they’re not allowed to be, and queer people are magically the opposite.
His podcast is about being passionate about food in all these different ways. What is your number one tip for being more open-minded and curious about food?
KC: My thing is always to approach everything with respect. Even if it’s an unfamiliar ingredient or flavor combination, never say, “Oh, that’s disgusting,” because to someone else, that’s very offensive. Each ingredient has a life, and they give that life for you to consume. Just treat him with the respect he deserves.
JK: The nice thing about being an adventurous eater, when you’re constantly trying new things, is that if you don’t like something, it can be seconds of your life that you might not enjoy. But if you try something new and end up loving it, you just found a new love and you will love it forever. The risk is definitely worth it, if only for the sake of that discovery. It is another source of joy that you will always have for the rest of your life.
KC: Also making a personality out of not liking things is so pathetic. Like, “I don’t like raspberries.” Because?
This interview has been edited and abridged for clarity.