Auntie Knows Best

Todd Coleman

When we started pulling together the recipes for The Art of Kimchi, the idea of making our own kimchi was a little intimidating. We figured there must be some magic involved in conjuring the mysterious depths of flavor that have always drawn us to those garlicky, chile-spiked Korean pickles. In the end, it came down to simple science—and some help from an expert. When we reached out to Kelly Choi (pictured), the Korean-born host of Bravo's Top Chef Masters and buddy of our editor-in-chief, James Oseland (who was a judge on the 2009 season of the show), she said, "I know just the person you need to meet." And so one afternoon Kelly and her aunt, the petite and energetic Young Hee Chung (pictured), arrived in our test kitchen loaded down with shopping bags. Some of the ingredients were familiar: the Napa cabbage, for instance, and the garlic (lots of it). Others—the watercress-like green called minari and the tiny, salt-preserved shrimp called saeu chot—were new to us. Kelly translated as her aunt explained in Korean what she was doing: massaging the cabbage leaves with salt water to draw out their moisture, rubbing them with the seasoning paste she'd made, and so on. Young Hee constantly tasted the seasonings and cabbage as she went along and beckoned for us to do the same. This was no hocus pocus; this was a cook trusting her palate and giving us the confidence to trust ours too.