Chicago chef Bill Kim unlocks flavor at UIC

Chef Bill Kim

Chicago chef Bill Kim, second from left, watches students sample food he brought for his lecture Tuesday on campus. Photo: S.K.Vemmer/UIC News

“Asian unlocked.”

That’s the key to creating his unique dishes, Chicago chef Bill Kim told the crowd Tuesday in a presentation at the Latino Cultural Center, co-sponsored by the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center and the UIC Heritage Garden.

Kim, owner of the popular restaurants Urban Belly, Belly Shack and Belly Q, creates dishes enhanced with Asian and Latin foods and spices.

“I don’t like to use the term ‘fusion’ because it’s forced,” Kim said. “We’re unlocking Asian flavors, not forcing it.”

Each of Kim’s restaurants features something different while keeping the “Asian unlocked” mentality.

Urban Belly, 1400 W. Randolph St., offers “noodles, dumplings and rice reimagined,” Kim said. Belly Q, at the same location, has a menu of modern Asian barbeque. Belly Shack, located near the Western Blue Line stop, offers dishes that incorporate Asian and Latin flavor.

“And meals  are no more than $9 or $10,” Kim said.

Kim said he was inspired to open his restaurants by memories from his childhood.

“I put my memories into food,” he said.

Moving to Chicago from Seoul, South Korea,  at age 7 allowed Kim to uphold his Korean culture and embrace Chicago’s diversity, he said.

Chef Bill Kim

“I put my memories into food,” chef Bill Kim says. Photo: S.K.Vemmer/UIC News

After attending culinary school and working in four-star restaurants, Kim and his wife, who is Puerto Rican, decided to open eateries that feature their ethnic backgrounds and offer communal dining.

With communal dining, “you’re forced to meet that person,” he said, pointing at two individuals sitting across from each other in the Latino Cultural Center.

“We’re becoming citizens of the world, so let’s embrace that.”

The notion of bringing people and cultures together at the presentation excited Christian Alfaro, an intern for the UIC Heritage Garden.

“The main goal of the UIC Heritage Garden is creating spaces that promote cultural and environmental sustainability,” said Alfaro, a senior in liberal arts and sciences. “These forums uphold that goal.”

Liz Thomson, interim director of the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, agreed.

The center’s lunchbox presentations promote “dialogue between different cultures and people,” she said. “We want a variety of cultures to come together. They could say, ‘In my culture and heritage, we always do it this way, but here’s someone that does it differently.’”

Kim’s UIC appearance was arranged with the help of 2013 UIC graduate Kevin Creed, who works in marketing for the restaurant group.

Kim’s plans for the future: integration of culture within cultures within food.

“Twenty years from now, I want to teach somehow, some way, to cook whatever you want,” Kim said.