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Hunger Beat

Chef Bill Kim to students: 'Give back to the food community'

Chef Bill Kim, one of Chicago’s top chefs, was in the kitchen at the Greater Chicago Food Depository on a recent Friday, quietly preparing the ingredients for a fried rice demonstration.

The students of Chicago’s Community Kitchens, the Food Depository’s 14-week culinary job-training program, gathered around to hear the chef’s cooking tips. But first, Kim had some other wisdom to impart. A Korean immigrant who rose through the culinary ranks to work for the late Chef Charlie Trotter, Kim has since opened and closed several acclaimed restaurants of his own in Chicago. Kim doesn’t regret the setbacks. Instead, he encouraged the students to take risks and help others out along the way. “Don’t say me, me, me. It’s about us, it’s about the team,” Kim told the students. “We have to pick each other up when we are down."
"You don’t learn without failure, you don’t grow without falling down,” the chef said.
To be clear, Kim’s better known for his successes, including his Urbanbelly restaurant in Wicker Park and in the Revival Food Hall in the Loop. His first cookbook, “Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces,” was recently announced as a finalist for a 2019 James Beard Award. He’s also planning to open a new restaurant this year inside Crate & Barrel in Oakbrook Center. “I was taught early on to give back to our food community, to give people the chance to grow and to learn – eventually for them to give back to the food community. … It goes around full circle,” Kim said after the cooking demonstration. Chicago’s Community Kitchens provides the necessary job and kitchen skills for people who need an extra boost into the workforce. Now 20 years in operation, the program partners with some of the finest restaurants, caterers and food service companies in Chicago to connect students to internships and employment. Corry Simmons is living proof that the program changes lives. Formerly incarcerated, Simmons was unemployed and struggling to provide for his daughter when he enrolled in Chicago’s Community Kitchens. After learning the necessary skills, Simmons then went to work as a line cook for Kim’s Urbanbelly restaurant, where Kim took Simmons "under his wing," the former student recalled.

Simmons and Kim cooking together again.

In 2017, Simmons returned to Chicago’s Community Kitchens as a production assistant. "I've had people in my life motivate me, so I just wanted to come back here to motivate others and just let them know that they can do it," Simmons said. Kim noted that Simmons’ return to the program was an example of giving back to his community after finding success. “Now, I come here for the graduations and it’s really nice see him in his atmosphere. He sees something in you guys and I see something in him,” Kim said. “That’s the cycle we want to continue.”

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