Korean Cabbage Crusher"I'm a fan of fusion cuisine. It just seems natural to me to have kimchee with bagel and cream cheese."
The mark of a true New Yorker is authenticity. Kheedim Oh might be a transplant — he moved here from Silver Spring, Maryland, almost a decade ago — but he embodies that one key quality.
As a professional DJ, it made sense for him to decamp to a city with some of the hottest nightspots in the world. But while he was helping keep awake the city that never sleeps, he had a hankering for a taste of home — namely, his mom's kimchee.
"I started making kimchee because I wanted it for myself, and all the kimchee in the stores would be either syrupy, or sweet or full of MSG," he says. Every so often he'd hop a Chinatown bus to Washington D.C., whip up a batch of kimchee in his mother's kitchen, then head back with a cooler full of the fiery Korean condiment, only to have it snatched up by friends almost as soon as it arrived.
It wasn't until a chance meeting with his butcher at Essex Street Market that Oh realized he might have a second career on his hands. The butcher recommended pairing ribs with kimchee, to which Oh offered to share some of his homemade concoction. "I checked in a week later and asked him what he thought. He's like, 'I love it,'" Oh recalls. "I said to him, 'You know, I sell this stuff.' I didn't. And he said, 'I want to start carrying it.'"
Two other essential traits for a New Yorker? Chutzpah and hustle, which Oh clearly possessed in bucket loads. Mama O's Premium Kimchee was born not long afterward and today can be found in select gourmet stores, including some Whole Foods Markets.
Like many struggling entrepreneurs, Oh started out making kimchee in his apartment. As demand grew, he rented commercial kitchen space before finally investing in a Queens deli and bodega better suited for the long process of fermentation.
In the evenings he still DJs, spinning discs and breaking beats in VIP rooms across town, like the hotspot the Double Seven in the Meatpacking District. He's also a member of the Beatards, a band he characterizes as a blend of the Black Eyed Peas and the Beastie Boys. One of their singles, "Dang Diggy Dang," was recently picked up on the television show "Glee."
New York, he says, has been a great inspiration for all his endeavors. "Just the pacing. The constant stimulus. The people — for better or worse. Fashion. The whole darned thing."
It also has sparked and nurtured his natural creativity. He mixes foods the way he mixes and remixes dance tracks. "I'm a fan of fusion cuisine," he says. "It just seems natural to me to have kimchee with bagel and cream cheese. But I really like it with spaghetti."
After tasting a vegetable dish at one of his favorite local restaurants, Chinatown's Great NY Noodletown, Oh decided to create a kimchee with bok choy instead of the traditional cabbage. It has been a hit with customers, as has his vegan "Kosha" kimchee, made without official rabbinical supervision, but also sans fish sauce, which contains shellfish.
Oh isn't certain where his individuality and grit might take him next. But he's ready for the ride. And what better place to blend and bend ideas than in the world's greatest melting pot?
"There are an infinite number of paths," he says. "This one that I'm choosing, it's a little roundabout. But I think it could be a good thing."
Check out Kheedim's New York City.