Love Letters: Chicago

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Born and raised in Chicago's northwest suburbs, Chef Edward Kim moved to New York to attend New York University, where he earned a B.A. in political science with the intention of becoming an attorney. Instead, he enrolled in Pasadena's Le Cordon Bleu, where he rekindled his passion for food and cooking, and graduated with a culinary degree. After culinary school, Chef Kim honed his skills in various New York and Los Angeles kitchens. In 2011, Chef Kim -- with the help of his wife, Jenny Kim, sister, Vicki Kim, and friend, Nate Chung -- opened his first restaurant, Ruxbin, in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Two years later, Chef Kim and his partners opened their second concept, Mott St, a more casual restaurant that showcases family-style fare in a relaxed environment.

Dear West Town (Chicago),

I, like so many other suburbanites in Illinois, have always claimed you as my own -- though, growing up on the outskirts of your cityscape, the reality was comparable to that of a nerdy AV kid longing for the head cheerleader.

You were so much cooler than I, more cultured and experienced. I remember visiting you as a teenager, sneaking out in my parent's car, with a nervous sense of excitement. Looking at us back then, we would never have been mistaken for partners; I was sheepish and dorky, you were urban and chic. Despite being 'out of my league', I knew that I loved you. I was the Florentino to your Fermina, and I needed to experience the rest of the world, first, to be worthy of your affection.

After living in New York and Los Angeles, I became cultured independently of you. I learned how to cook, and appreciate the gift of a hard nights work. I came to appreciate you, with a great distance between us. Having learned those lessons, I felt it was time to return. We could now become partners with a healthier relationship, one of give and take, rather than me clinging to you out dependence and desperation.

I love how you are urban and cultured, yet at the same time, underneath that chic veneer, your roots are undeniably, deeply, Midwestern. People matter, people care, and you can see that in the simple way we greet our neighbors -- helping one another shovel sidewalks when it snows. I love that you are ever-changing, and your seasons are as unpredictable as your emotions. Those seasonal changes greatly influences me as a cook. You are my muse.

Love requires reciprocity, and although I take my fair share, my happiest moments are often the ones in which I have been able to give a little back to you. When I drive through your streets and I see Mott St. & Ruxbin, and the many other successful restaurants hustling and bustling in the dark of the night, taking 'a once blighted corner' and restoring you back to the chic, glory that I first fell in love with, well, there are few things that could make me happier in life.

When I'm sick, you take me to Argyle and feed me Pho. When I'm looking for inspiration, you open your farmers markets and ask me to pause and enjoy the local bounty, if even for just a moment. When I'm hungry after work, you're always up for some late night Chinese, or a quick run down Ashland for carne asada. I love the excitement and youth that you nurture at Well's High School, and how you push me to give back by participating in their developmental programs. The fact that you're always just a phone call away with a deep dish pizza in hand, puts a boyish grin on my face. All of these qualities add up to a city, and a town, that I am deeply in love with. It is in no small part because of you, that I am so lucky to cook what I want, and do what I love.

Thank you Chicago, and thank you West Town, for supporting me, and believing in me; for allowing me to grow my working family, and a small family of own.

Edward Kim