Simply Seoul Kitchen’s Hannah Chung: Atlanta’s Kimchi Queen

The overnight sensation chef will soon have a stand at Ponce City Market
Photograph by Ben Rollins

Kimchi—the fiery fermented Korean condiment, often made with cabbage or radishes—is hot on the taste buds and hotter in the marketplace. Korean cuisine as a whole has been drawing buzz, due in part to the craze for fusion tacos—filled with meats like bulgogi, or grilled marinated beef—that originated in Los Angeles. Southern chefs have embraced kimchi in particular as a piquant condiment (it blends surprisingly well with grits).

Hannah Chung, founder of Simply Seoul Kitchen, is quickly becoming Atlanta’s kimchi queen. She sells her balanced, fresh-tasting versions (vegan, based on her grandmother’s recipe) at farmers markets as well as in local Whole Foods Markets. In business only since last April, the thirty-two-year-old’s seemingly overnight success began with a lucky break in 2009.

Chung’s full circle

Game change
Chung moved to Atlanta for an externship with a counseling practice in 2008. But a year later, she had a “quarter-life” crisis and decided instead to pursue professionally what she spent her free time obsessing over: cooking.

Into the fire
Anne Quatrano, chef-owner of Bacchanalia, gave Chung her first cooking job even though she had no prior experience. “Anne said, ‘I don’t ever, ever do this, but I’m going to throw you on the line and see how you work out,’” Chung remembers. She started at the fry station, overseeing the restaurant’s famous crab fritters. “Chefs would ask for a piece of equipment, like a chinois, and I’d have to secretly Google it on my phone to understand what they were talking about,” she says.

Book smarts
Chung went on to cook at Miller Union and the Porter Beer Bar (where her job was making sausage). While she was at Holeman and Finch Public House, chef-owner Linton Hopkins held mandatory meetings to study books written by Michelin-starred chefs, like Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi. Hopkins said to the group, “There comes a point where you have to cook who you are, and not make other people’s foods.”

On her own
Inspired by Hopkins’s words, Chung decided to reconnect with her Korean roots by founding Simply Seoul Kitchen. She set up stands at several area farmers markets (this year she’ll be at Grant Park and the new Freedom Farmers Market, among others), selling nearly twenty types of kimchi throughout the year as well as steamed buns filled sandwich-style with combos like braised pork belly and kimchi slaw.

What’s next?
Plenty. Chung recently built a commercial kitchen in East Atlanta and also launched a catering operation. But the biggest news is that she just signed a lease for a stand in upcoming Ponce City Market, where her old mentor Anne Quatrano will also have a restaurant.

This article originally appeared in our April 2014 issue under the headline “The Kimchi Queen.”