Hoon Smith

Photos by Eric Helgas

Hoon’s been cooking for as long as he can remember. Read what he has to say about using food to make new friends and why eggs are the perfect midnight snack. Make sure to eat his food at Kichin.

I worked in restaurants all through college. I was going to college for a degree in finance and got kind of disillusioned with that entire program. But I needed to finish my degree because I had been at it for four years. It was right around when I was graduating when Bryan [Moon], asked me if I would be interested in starting a restaurant. I wasn't really looking forward to diving into financial internships, and it sounded like a really cool opportunity, so I jumped at it. And yeah, I'm still doing it three years later. We've been doing these pseudo pop-ups the last year and a half. Most recently, we've been at Baby's All Right, the venue. It’s great to be there, but I'm really excited because we're finally securing a new location for ourselves, which will let us keep growing.

I've always really enjoyed cooking. I don't remember this, but my mom told me when I was three, I was sitting on the stovetop. She doesn't know how I got up there, but I was sitting on the stovetop and attempting to scramble eggs in a pan. So yeah, I've always been drawn to it. I guess I should say I am adopted. I'm Korean American and my parents are, uh, very Caucasian. I didn't really start cooking a lot of Korean food until I moved out. We'd always moved around. We used to live in Baltimore, but I moved away when I was six to the Midwest for ten years. As you might imagine, Asian grocery goods are pretty far and few in between in rural Minnesota. For the most part, when I was younger, I baked a lot, I made candy, and I cooked Italian food. I was obsessed with pasta.

Cooking for myself now, I usually keep it pretty simple. I'll have, on hand in my kitchen, ingredients like olive oil, eggs, tomatoes, and mushrooms. That's a lot of what I eat at home because I like doing things that are quick. I'll get home from work and it'll be after midnight and I'll be hungry and want something pretty instant. I don't want to sit over the stove and usually I don't like super-processed foods like ramen. So I'll make myself a little omurice or something. It's pretty quick. There are usually a lot of eggs in my house because they're so perfect. Olive oil, salt, pepper, and you can just insert a blank before that. It could be like a roasted vegetable, or an egg, or a piece of toast. That's what I eat by myself.

Cooking’s a tool I used when I was younger, especially to bridge gaps between people. I moved a lot as a kid. We moved every two to four years so I was always in this continual process of being the new kid at school. I found that inviting someone over for a meal--it doesn't necessarily mean you're cooking for them--but sharing meals has always been the easiest way for me to meet people. Cooking’s a nice central activity no matter what. Meeting new people, it's easiest when you have a nice central activity to steer a conversation.


Chicken Oyako-don

Hoon Smith

Serves 2

"It’s a dish that I cooked a lot at the Japanese restaurant I worked at in college. It's comfort food. It's a little sweet, a kind of soupy rice bowl."

Ingredients

 

4 cups water

 

1 square Kombu

 

Handful of bonito flakes

 

1 ½ tbsp soy sauce

 

1 ½ tbsp mirin

 

1 tbsp sugar

 

1 chicken leg (thigh and drum)

 

½ thinly sliced onion

 

2 whole eggs

 

1 scallion, thinly sliced

 

1 cup cooked short grain rice


Steps

  1. Prepare the dashi by heating the water and kombu in a small pot over high heat.
  2. When the water comes to a gentle boil, remove the kombu and add the bonito flakes. Remove from heat and stir.
  3. Let the dashi stand for 10 minutes, or until most of the flakes have sunk to the bottom. Strain the dashi and discard the flakes.
  4. In a bowl, stir together 1 cup of the dashi with the mirin, soy, honey, and sugar. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Reserve the remaining dashi for soup or more oyako-dons.
  5. Debone the leg and thigh, removing the skin, and slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
  6. Whisk 2 whole eggs in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of dashi and a pinch of salt to help loosen them up.
  7. In a small saucepan, add enough dashi that, when added, will cover the chicken. Add onion and bring it to an energetic simmer.
  8. Add the chicken and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes. When the pieces are cooked, pour the scrambled eggs evenly over the surface of the chicken and scatter the scallions over the egg.
  9. Cover the saucepan for 30 seconds, then check for doneness. The egg should congeal around the edges of the saucepan and clinging to the chicken, but still runny on the surface.
  10. Carefully slide the simmered chicken and egg over a bowl of rice making sure not to break the loose omelette. Garnish with fresh scallion.