By Hilary McNevin
Our Mount Zero Hero this month, chef Kim Sangsoo, has been cooking in Melbourne for the last eight years since he arrived from his hometown of Seoul, South Korea.
After cooking in Korean restaurants around the city, he wanted to do something on his own.
“I wanted to make my own career with my own menu in an East Asian style and I decided to open a pop-up restaurant ‘Anco’ in 2019 and 2020. Unfortunately, it did not happen in 2020 due to the Covid outbreak in Melbourne,” he says.
It was during the harried year that was 2020 that he met Kirbie Tate, owner of South Melbourne dining room and bar, James. Kirbie and Sangsoo hatched a plan and he now runs the kitchen on Clarendon Street.
James - a cosy room with an industrial feel of concrete walls, designer lighting and long comfy banquettes - started as a cafe serving great coffee, good wine and classic breakfast and lunch. Over the last few years, it has evolved to become part cafe, part-wine bar and part restaurant. It’s the kind of place you can drop by for breakfast, have a lunch meeting or take friends for dinner.
The introduction of Kim behind the pans has given the venue an edgy yet approachable take on its menus. Kim shares his Korean heritage and punctuates it with seasonal produce and classic technique. Think feta chilli scramble with a 12-hour tomato, basil and sorrel or a pork doughnut with black apple jam and a fried egg for breakfast or brunch. Then there’s Goolwa pipi on ramen noodle with dried seaweed and fennel top or pork chop finished with capers and maple butter for an easy dinner.
Part of his progressive menu at James includes Mount Zero produce.
“Since I moved to Melbourne, going to markets and finding fine produce became one of my favourites things to do. I first discovered Mount Zero at the Prahran market," says Sangsoo.
One of his favourite products is our pitted Kalamata olives in brine. “We dehydrate them at 73C for six hours and then grind them to use in different dishes. You can think of it as ‘olive salt’,” he says.
At home, Kim uses our new season, Frantoio extra virgin olive oil. “It’s the best fresh olive oil that I can use simply on any dish at home,” he shares.
For this month's column, Sangsoo has shared two a warming, salty and comforting Potato Bread served with a delicious olive oil-based macadamia cream. “Good bread needs good olive oil,” says Sangsoo – and we totally agree!
Two minutes with Kim Sangsoo:
What was the last meal you had out in Melbourne?
I sometimes miss traditional Korean home-cooked food. I recently had a great experience at CHAE – Brunswick apartment dining. She does all the preparing and the fermenting process from the base for all dishes.
If you weren’t carving out a career in food what would you be doing?
I would be a photographer. I like the idea of focusing and shooting the moment.
Do you have any special projects scheduled for 2021 or beyond?
James is our plan. We are planning to renovate one side of the venue and create something else. It will definitely be an exciting journey and adventure for myself and our kitchen team.