Chef & Owner Spotlight – Kim Hunter and Jameson Hahn

Kim Hunter plays dual roles as chef and owner of Kimbap Café, nestled into Seaboard Station in Raleigh.  Kim first started selling scrumptious treats at farmers markets in the Triangle area.  Kimbap is Kim’s first restaurant and is actually a second career venture for her, too.  She grew up with a love for cooking and supported the movement of local food and sustainable farms all the while.

Kimbap Café - Kim and Jameson

Kimbap Café – Kim and Jameson

Kim began to volunteer on farm tours and even managed the Western Wake farmers market as a way to connect with the farmers and to develop mentor relationships with local chefs.  She eventually took the plunge into making a few items and selling them at the farmers markets, too.  At the time, she utilized The Cookery in Durham as her space to cook and create her delicacies.  Time went on and the demand for Kim’s food goods grew, which led to her opening the brick and mortar location of Kimbap Café in 2013.  With this growth, Kimbap Café needed another chef to come on board to continue its restaurant vision in the form of Chef Jameson Hahn.

Chef Jameson served in the military until 2012 and then attended culinary school in D.C.  He says he learned a lot during this time, as cooking had always been something he enjoyed doing.  Ready for a change of scenery, Chef Jameson packed his knife roll and headed for Raleigh.  He spent two years working downtown at Gravy as their sous chef, cooking up Italian inspired menu items.  As things go in the culinary world, Chef Jameson longed for another cooking venture that would continue to push his limits and utilize his skills.  In August 2015, Chef Jameson entered the kitchen of Kimbap Café.

Kimbap Café - Chef Jameson

Kimbap Café – Chef Jameson

Chef Jameson says, “We (Kim and I) mesh well to collaborate on menus.  I like being able to change the menu with the seasons to accommodate what our customers have grown to like.”  Along with their regular restaurant service, Kimbap Café stays true to its roots in selling local lunches at the Downtown Raleigh Farmers’ Market, too.  They also offer specials in the restaurant that feature whichever fresh catch they get in from Salty Catch Seafood Company based in Beaufort, NC.

Since hiring Chef Jameson, Kim says she’s able to take a step off the cooking line to spend time meeting with customers and working with other food industry partners, too.  However, Kim dons the chef coat on more than a few occasions when needed just to keep her feet wet and have fun keeping the reason why she started Kimbap Café alive.  Many of the items from Kimbap are Korean-influenced, but Kim says they serve “ingredient-driven Asian cuisine.”  This was clear when Chef Jameson whipped up pork ramen and black sea bass curry in the kitchen and brought it over for us three to enjoy together.

Kimbap Café - Smoked Pork and Ramen Noodle Bowl (Photo courtesy of Kimbap Café)

Kimbap Café – Smoked Pork and Ramen Noodle Bowl (Photo courtesy of Kimbap Café)

A few years later, the growth and hype around Kimbap Café remains, as evidenced by the recent hiring of another sous chef.  Kim also has an idea to expand her culinary career into including a “sister restaurant” of sorts that has similar themes but a different menu.  Kim has really hit the sweet spot as she exemplifies the roles of both a Chef and Owner seamlessly.  The food from Kimbap Café is remarkably simple with fresh ingredients, but really has a layer or refinement that many restaurants fail to achieve.  Kim’s talents are only emphasized by having Chef Jameson on board and a cohesive restaurant staff.

Kim and Chef Jameson both agree their clientele is different, especially due to their location.  Kim says, “They have to seek us out and make a point to come over.  We’re not right downtown, so it’s not like they can just stumble upon us as they’re walking by.”  Although many restaurants may consider this a negative, this really is a characteristic that lets Kimbap Café shine.  Both Kim and Chef Jameson are soft spoken and unassuming, much like their location.  Only once inside do you realize what a gem you’ve found and are about to partake in one of the most relaxed, enjoyable dining experiences.

Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @ChefTessaRD.

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