She Brought Her Family's Kimchi Recipe To America

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For those who love to cook, sharing and serving an old family recipe can be one of the most satisfying experiences. Minnie Luong is a chef who created an entire business around her family’s culinary traditions. She’s the owner of Chi Kitchen, a small business that produces fermented kimchi. Her recipe is based on her family's traditions, experimentation, and a desire to share her culture.

“I just loved the idea of making something from nothing,”  Luong states. “That comes from my childhood. My father loved gardening and fishing. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but we still were able to have these amazing meals.”

Luong was born on a rice farm in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. She lived with her father in a refugee camp in Thailand before moving to New England when she was 3 years old. While their relocation provided a more stable and secure life, it became difficult for them to recreate familiar family recipes in a part of the world where Asian ingredients were rarely stocked in supermarkets.

To stay connected to their culture, Luong’s family began experimenting with preserving foods that closely resembled Southeast Asian flavors. They started with cabbage, cucumber, and spices.

“My father was nicknamed Mr. Kimchi,” Luong says, recalling how often he made it, and how he began teaching her to keep the tradition alive. Luong quickly adapted the recipe to suit the taste buds of her local friends, who were enthusiastic about how simple ingredients could pack such a flavorful punch.

Years later, she created Chi Kitchen. “The name Chi Kitchen is a play on the word kimchi, but also means ‘energy’ which is important for understanding the energy we put into it,” her website states. Her current line includes Napa kimchi, vegan kimchi, sesame slaw, and kimchi pickles, based on her husband’s experiences with American-style pickling.

“For kimchi lovers, it’s all about the flavor,” she adds. “Kimchi has so many health benefits (it supports healthy digestion, and boosts your immunity), but a lot of what’s available in organic shops doesn’t taste great.”

As a result, Luong made it her mission to recreate her family recipes using quality ingredients, like red pepper seeds sourced from Korea, and a fish sauce from the Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc, which is certified as a product from a protected designation of origin.

“Profit margin in food is very low so you need to scale up by a lot. And if you’re in the business, at some point, you’ll have to make the decision of if you want to be a big food company on the shelves in hundreds of stores or if you want to be smaller,” she explains.

While growing her business has been a goal of Luong’s, she also wants to keep supporting and collaborating with local farmers, producers, and manufacturers in her New England home. Luong uses so much Napa cabbage from the Freedom Food Farm in nearby Massachusetts that they’ve increased their production of the vegetable to keep up with demand.

From its deeply rooted family ties to wholesale distribution across the United States, Chi Kitchen shows no signs of slowing down. “I want to bring Asian flavor profiles and all of the benefits of eating in that style, and make it something that people can access every day,” she says. “I’d love to see kimchi become more of a staple food.”

Tags: Start Up, Entrepreneur, International Cuisine

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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