In this episode of “Going Out With Jake Cornell,” host and former NYC hospitality pro Jake Cornell chats with chef and restaurateur Susan Kim. The two discuss changes in tipping culture, their favorite places to eat in NYC, and why food (and comedy) can be intimate experiences. Plus, Kim shares details about her new pop-up restaurant concept, Doshi. Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Jake Cornell: Hi, Susan. It’s so nice to meet you digitally.
Susan Kim: I guess we’re really meeting, meeting right now via these Zoom boxes.
J: Yes, it’s nice. Thank you so much for doing the show. I really appreciate it.
S: I’m stoked. I actually listened to the episode with SuChin Pak, my Korean sister. She doesn’t know it yet.
J: An icon. When she said yes, I screamed literally.
S: Oh, my God, he’s getting some actual icons.
J: Yeah. That is one of my favorite episodes we’ve done. She was so nice. You probably heard me on the episode. Talking about that time, I was dying.
S: Oh, my gosh. And also that T-shirt idea with Moomba.
J: Oh, my God. She needs to do that. I would wear all of them. I would buy all of them.
S: Yeah, totally.
J: Gorgeous. So we’re going to just free flow. It’s really conversational. You’ve listened to it, so you know. Also we edit everything. So if you are like, I don’t want to talk about that or can we cut what I just said or whatever, it’s totally fine.
J: I just like people to know that in case they don’t feel like everything’s just being recorded under surveillance.
S: I actually love the free-flowing part of it because this can go in whatever direction.
J: I wanted you on the show because I came across you from some of the videos I’ve seen of you online. I just loved your vibe. And I also was really excited by the food you were making. The halloumi and rice cake dishes are two of my favorite foods. I’m dying to make it. I haven’t yet, but it’s top of my list. I need her on the show. I just wanna hear everything about her relationship to restaurants, how she goes out. I just want to hear it all.
S: Oh, well, that’s incredibly flattering. It’s not self-deprecating, but it’s still a little bit of a trip for me when people want to hear your thoughts and stuff. My background is working in restaurants and I think that that background is incredibly important for work ethic. But also in terms of visibility and what we’re in right now with social and all of that, it’s a little bit like “Black Mirror” sh*t.
S: Also do the haloumi dish. I’d love to see what you do with it because it’s really fun. And I think it just encapsulates me in a lot of ways. It has a lot of Korean ingredients. It’s how we grow up in California and now in New York and all that. And it has brown butter, so you can’t go wrong.
J: It has some of my favorite things. What you just said really came through when I was watching you in the videos. Oh, she so clearly works and has worked in restaurants because you have that energy of, “I don’t know, f*ck it, try that.” It’s that loose creative energy that you kind of have to bring to restaurants. You know the rules, you know the structures, you know how things work. But also if something happens, yeah, try it. I don’t know, let’s see what happens. It’s that kind of fun play.
S: I think you picked that up because you obviously are very well versed in that. It’s like gang signs. I’m throwing signs and you’re picking that up.
J: Yeah, totally.
S: Oh, I-see-you, you-see-me type of thing. That’s just who I am and I’m not really going to change. But I think in terms of recipes, some people don’t feel that comfortable with free- flowing because they might just not be that comfortable in the kitchen and that’s totally understandable. In terms of actual measurements and specific ingredients, I think some people do want to have those things. In restaurants you can kind of play around with it. And if it doesn’t work, then you can just troubleshoot it in other ways. But I think that’s the way that people become much more intuitive in cooking. Let’s say, like, the recipe calls for red wine vinegar, but you don’t have it, but you have lemon juice or sherry. It’s just about understanding the balance of acid in that particular dish.
S: When you’re a cooking professional, you think a chef is just someone that cooks really well. Of course, that’s the foundation, but it has a lot to do with, can you troubleshoot all kinds of sh*t going down?
S: Not only specific to dishes and ingredients, but service and staff and labor. It’s about fixing sauces. It’s about how many situations you’ve been in and you can fix those things. So that’s what’s so interesting to me.
J: That really brings me back to a lot of my server days. Whenever chefs were presenting us new menu items or specials — but especially like menu items, things I was gonna be dealing with on a regular basis — I was immediately approaching that from, what are going to be the issues with this dish in terms of service? Can it have this allergen removed? Are people going to want it this way? Is it a salad that’s served on hold? Are people gonna want it chopped? I’m thinking about all these different ways that are going to affect service beforehand. The best chefs, I feel, are thinking about their food in that way. They’re making it approachable. That’s not the right word; they’re making it functional within the restaurant that you’re working in. And also delicious and creative and fulfilling in that way. But it also has to function, right?
S: It has to make sense. It can’t only make sense to you, too. And you know, from working in restaurants, that it’s an incredibly collaborative thing. The role as a front-of-the-house person, if you will, is the person that’s relaying that info and also selling it in a poetic way. So it has to make sense. That word is actually good, approachable or accessible. Yes, I’m all about having it demystified. I think there is the smoke and mirrors and the allure and the entertainment of restaurants, especially in New York. But I also love transparency and accessibility to all kinds of information.
J: Yeah, I think that’s really beautiful. So I would just love to know, how did you get into restaurants? Where have you been in restaurants? Just walk me through the story.
S: I guess in some ways it’s atypical, or maybe it’s not. I think there are a lot of ways that people find themselves in the kitchen. I went to undergrad at a regular college, not culinary school. And I started waiting tables and hosting. I just really loved the culture of restaurants.
J: Where were you?
S: I was in L.A. So I went to UCLA. This is TBT, but I was working at a restaurant called Vita back in the day.
J: Oh, I remember that.
S: Yeah. I was literally 19 or something and that was my first host job. I was waiting tables at this restaurant in Venice called Axe. Do you remember Axe?
J: My reference point for L.A. restaurants, especially in that time, is where celebrities were being photographed, to be perfectly honest.
S: Oh, really?
J: I’m East Coast, I grew up in Vermont. Those were my reference points for a while. So I feel like Vita was one of those places.
S: Oh, yeah, totally. Axe was interesting because it was kind of like one of those “in the know” places where you’d be like, “Oh, that’s Harvey Keitel.” It was kind of near the studios in Venice, I think. I was just super naive. But that restaurant was actually very influential to me because the owner had a background in painting or studio art. You can see her point of view in the whole place conceptually in terms of what’s on the menu and aesthetically design-wise. But it didn’t necessarily come from someone that was classically trained. As you work in restaurants, as you very well know, you start to befriend everybody or you start to find your tribe. And I remember being really friendly and close with Samir, who was a chef then. And I would ask him about getting in the kitchen. And he was like, “No, you don’t want to do that. You’re in college. This is not the life for you.”
S: It’s a hard life. Was I somewhat discouraged? Maybe. I don’t think I was incredibly encouraged by my parents either, nor did I really explicitly express my desires at that point. I think I was also trying to figure it out. I was like, “OK, you’re getting this English degree. What does it mean?” Especially undergrad, I don’t think it really means anything.
J: No, it’s totally a joke.
S: Yeah, I think college is great. It helps some people evolve into versions of their humanity in adulthood and figure themselves out. But it’s certainly not the only way.
J: No, I feel like I look back on that time in my life and it was good that I had somewhat of a structure and a little bit of a bridge between living in my parents house and living on my own as an adult. I feel like UCLA might be like this where I started out in the dorms and then by junior and senior year, I had my own apartment and was living in a town. It really was like a bridge for me. I feel like that’s the most useful thing about undergrad, unless you’re trying to be a doctor or something. I think undergrad is a good thing. It should just, at max, cost $5,000. It’s just so expensive.
S: Exactly. If we’re dreaming out loud, it should be socialized.
S: I mean, obviously, it’s a privilege to do it. Even to be in debt for it. Tangentially, I think that might change. I have a niece and nephew and they’re so little right now, but maybe college isn’t going to be the only route. Do you know what I mean?
J: It already isn’t, to be honest. Especially now, if one of my younger siblings or cousins was like, “I think I want to just move to a city and work in a restaurant for a little bit and figure it out,” I would be like, “Yeah honestly, God bless.”
S: Or do the gap year or whatever that notion is, go abroad. So many of us in the service or restaurant industry also fantasize about, if everyone worked a year of service somewhere, what it would do and how it would impact society. But anyway, that’s all to say, yes, I loved restaurants. So after college I kind of continued to work in restaurants, but I started to get into different aspects of it. I started to learn operations, like running numbers. So that was interesting just to see that. But I just really felt like I got to try the cooking thing.
S: When I finally did, it was literally a huge sigh of relief, kind of in that cinematic way. I was like, “I’m home.”
S: That’s not because I was embraced. I was shat on. I was hazed. I was horrible. I didn’t know sh*t. But there was something to me, and maybe there is masochism to that, but there was a compulsion to continue.
J: That’s the thing that you can’t deny or kind of recreate. You either find it or you don’t. Before you had that moment where the weight lifted and you were like, “This is it,” were you cooking a lot at home and already cooking in your life? Or was it in this great discovery that it happened?
S: Oh, yeah. I really do believe that part of being a good cook is being a good eater. And I’ve always been a good eater.
J: Yeah, that’s so f*cking true.
S: I grew up pretty working class, but I had a mom that was an awesome home cook. There were people that were interested in Korean food, but maybe not so much like the way it is now. But but I also knew back then that this food’s the sh*t. Even if it’s internal to me within your family. Because I had that immigrant life where people would come to your house and they’d be like, “What is this?” They’re opening the freezer. But at the same time, I was like, “This food is really good.” I’ve always just really enjoyed eating and honestly, this is a part of my thing on my website for my bio. But I immigrated here when I was seven, but most of my memories prior in Korea all have to do with food. If I really stretch out, of course I can think about kindergarten or whatever.
J: But if I say Korea, what comes to mind are your food memories.
S: The local barbecue spot with pork belly and some home meals and all of that. So I think food has always been an integral part. Do you know how people talk about emotional eating and whatever that’s about? I think eating in general, food is emotional.
J: It’s intimate. It’s absolutely intimate and culturally intimate. I totally agree. There’s an emotion there.
S: I don’t think it has to be necessarily bad. I think when we sometimes talk about emotional eating, we think about it like within diet culture. Like you said, it’s incredibly intimate. And so yes, I think food has always played a part. Now connecting the dots, my mom recently found this journal. In high school, I was cutting out Jamie Oliver recipes and stuff like that. So I was always into it and that whole era of Food Network.
S: They were like gods.
J: People were obsessed.
S: The Food Network was canon for a really long time, you know?
J: I feel like Food Network back then was the way that people are about like “Housewives” now. Where it’s like, Oh, you’re a Food Network girlie. You watch them all. Before we had reality shows like that, people were f*cking down on the Food Network.
S: Oh, my God. They were like stars.
S: I think it kind of played this similar role that magazines have played for me in terms of escapism from whatever your life is. When we’re growing up, or certain parts of our youth or adolescent, we’re envisioning something else, something bigger. Maybe not everybody, I certainly do. In fashion magazines, you’re envisioning this life or you’re like, “What is this? Where is this?” When I would watch Ina, I’d be like, “Oh, my God, what is this place? The Hamptons?”
J: Totally, yeah.
S: What is this palatial place where she’s wearing this crisp white button down and forging her own garden. It also plays this fantasy role and is somewhat aspirational as a kid. So I definitely did like to cook, but I wouldn’t say that I was so obsessed with it. I really liked going to restaurants in college, with a limited budget. I definitely f*cked around a little bit in the kitchen, but I wasn’t an avid home cook.
J: Totally. Your background of being a restaurant lover maybe sets you up better to be a chef than being an avid home cook. Some of the chefs I would work with I feel like were not as suited for restaurants, just temperamentally. I was like, “You’re really struggling with the fact that this isn’t slow and intimate like having someone in your home.” I feel like you’re frustrated by the fact that it’s fast and balls to the wall. There are a lot of people and there’s a little bit of a transaction to it. That is the struggle with it. But if you love restaurants specifically and you love the game of that and you’re there to f*cking play ball, you’re a little more apt to be successful.
S: There is definitely an adrenaline thing. You know this.
J: 100 percent.
S: There are peaks and valleys that are extreme. Like when the crew is clicking, it’s like a dance in the flow that happens where every dish you’re putting out feels good and service is just on point, tables are turning. You’re like, “Holy sh*t, this is magic.” When it’s going down, it’s just the darkest.
J: Yes, the darkest.
S: You don’t know how to get out of it. You know in some ways you will. But I think that sort of extreme personality is not for everybody. But certainly, you and I probably have been around people that thrive off of that. I was also really into that, the highs and lows.
J: Especially early on, I f*cking loved the culture of getting my ass absolutely handed to me and then going out with my coworkers after to drink it off. I loved that for a while. And then at some point I was like, “This is not sustainable for me to develop my life and grow as a person. So I need to make some shifts.” There is that addictive thing of, we all went through this together and now we’re recovering from it and we’re going to come back tomorrow and see how it goes.
S: From what I’ve listened to, have you recently transitioned out of restaurants and you’re just pursuing comedy full time?
J: Yeah. So I’ve been doing comedy in New York for eight years. I was a bartender for 10 years and then as of six months ago, I was able to just do comedy full time.
S: Hell, yeah. Mazel for that.
J: Thank you. Thank you. I feel very lucky.
S: I mean, that’s amazing. But don’t you think that your time in restaurants has informed so much of your life in the way maybe it will right now.
J: It’s actually crazy. Had I not decided when I was 18 that the thing to be doing to make money was bartending, my life would be different in every single way. And there’s no question about it.
S: That’s how I feel, too. I think it’s such a metaphor and a microcosm. It informs how you want to evolve as a human.
J: It informs my f*cking politics. It taught me about everything. It’s how I learned about classism, honestly racism, anything.
S: Immigration rights.
J: That’s what I’m saying. And I’m not saying I wouldn’t have learned about those things in other places, but the place where I learned about all of it in real f*cking time and not reading about it in a classroom, was in a restaurant every time.
S: I think that’s where it’s powerful. In academia or in classrooms, you can understand it theoretically. But restaurants, it’s the ultimate example of application in terms of what we’re talking about. The big tenets and everything that we’re focused on right now, too, in terms of misogyny, racism, class. Like you’re saying, illegal status and undocumented immigrants, all of it is there. And you also see who is actually making your food, you know? And it’s interesting, too, now I have friends that are restaurant owners themselves or have continued in that way. The allocation of tips is changing, too.
J: It’s totally shifting.
S: Back of the house is getting more, I think now.
J: Which they should, absolutely. And I think that’s wonderful. You know Bill Clark, right?
S: Oh, yes. Not closely, but yes.
J: Bill was on a few weeks ago and we talked about this for so long, the shifting of all of that. He did a pop-up in the Cape and they couldn’t staff it because of the housing crisis, there aren’t people living on the Cape to work in the restaurant. It’s just rich people. So there’s no one to work in the restaurants now. And I was like, “Damn, that’s f*cked.” Restaurants are such a microcosm into all of it.
S: Oh, no, totally. I think even in big places, I remember when I was still living in San Francisco, the bars shuts down at midnight.
S: If you are working service and you’re getting off after that, then that causes some problems. You can’t be using Lyft and Uber all the time. New York’s obviously different because the trains run all the time and the city is a little bit more alive in that way.
J: Wait, I thought you meant the bar of the restaurant. The transit in San Fran shuts down at midnight?
S: That transit is the main way that people get in.
S: It’s the main way they come into the city and vice versa.
J: It shuts down at midnight?
S: I believe.
J: F*ck that.
S: I worked in Berkeley and I lived in San Francisco. I remember being like, “I got to get to this train or I’m not going to make it.” A lot of people just don’t get out in time, you know? The whole question of what Bill raised, it’s like, who can afford to live in these cities? Or in cities like Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard or whatever. I don’t know logistically what the legality is around the allocation and distribution of tips. But now that she has decided to completely and just evenly spread out the tips among the back of the house and front of the house, everyone was making over $30 an hour. That included porters and dishwashers. And she was getting a little bit of clap back from the front of the house that is really used to making more.
J: A lot more money, yeah.
S: She didn’t want to get into it, but she’s just like, “Why should the guy that is washing the dishes get any less than what you do?”
J: It’s hard because as someone who worked front of house the whole time, I have always felt uncomfortable about the fact that I knew I was making a lot more than back of house. I was young and was like, “That’s not a problem.” I really have the capability to deal with that. But I was aware of it, especially when I first started working in New York and I was working at high-end fancy restaurants where that pay gap is f*cking massive.
J: A bananas pay gap. And also, everyone was working really hard but watching how hard chefs in fine-dining restaurants and cooks in finance restaurants are working.You’re making a third of what I make, that was so crazy. Obviously that’s unacceptable. But then the answer is the front-of-house people making less, I understand that that’s hard if you have a job to take a pay cut. I don’t know what the solution is that is going to make everyone happy. I do agree that having that much of a pay gap between the two is absolutely flawed. The answer that I lead to initially is just restructuring how restaurants work. Restaurants need to run leaner. I think smaller, leaner restaurants are more functional in that way. I learned over my time picking restaurants to work at. I loved it because it was a means to support me as a comedian. I was very much looking at the bottom line of the ratio of dollars to hours. How much money can I make spending the least amount of time in this restaurant?
S: Exactly, the ratio.
J: A smaller restaurant, in my experience, is going to make you more money every single time. Every single time, a small restaurant that is busy and popular. Because if you work in a busy restaurant where we need five servers on the floor and we need three bussers, everyone there deserves to make a livable wage and that’s totally valid. If you’re working in a small two-person restaurant where a bartender and server can rock it out and you don’t need a busser because frankly, there’s not room in the restaurant for a third body to be working, that’s where the money is going to be happening. And I felt like that was more sustainable.
S: It’s going to be a smaller line in the kitchen, too.
J: Yeah, exactly.
S: You have a much more personable relationship. It’s not just back of the house versus front. You know each other, in that corny way. It’s that one team more than ever.
J: Yeah. Kindred was the last I worked at before I stopped doing restaurants, which is in the East Village. When we started, I think it would be two servers, a bartender, and two cooks on a Friday or Saturday. But on a Sunday or Monday it was one bartender, one server, one person in the kitchen and three people running a restaurant. We rocked it, we were good at it. I was like, “If I ever have to work in a different restaurant, I want to work in small, lean places.” Because it’s more sustainable and there’s more room for everyone to get paid well.
S: Yeah, totally. That’s my ideal, too. It’s not just me, so many of my friends and I talk about that intimate place. There’s no more than 30 people. You get to touch every plate, and all of that. That’s sort of the dream. And how does it translate into payroll and sustainable living? I’m not sure, but I think this is a larger discussion about the industry itself. I came to New York because I was helping open this Danish restaurant called Agar, which is no longer there. But it was this crazy, huge project in Grand Central.
J: Yeah, I remember when that was happening.
S: One of the guys, Klaus Meier, he was one of the original founders of Noma. He had this huge vision and it was huge in a lot of respects. It improbably is the antithesis of what we’re talking about in terms of the intimate restaurant. But I bring this up because they eliminated gratuity. They were just trying to make a livable wage for everybody. They were also trying to explore four-day workweeks because that’s what was happening in Denmark. Ultimately, I think the ideas were there. I think it’s going to take a long time for us to figure out what makes sense. Because I also remember when the Tarla restaurants got rid of tips, and going to Romans and being like “OK, I know this fish is $46 because we’re already adding 20 percent to this.” But even me being in the industry, the psychology was different.
J: I went through the same thing. A restaurant I used to work at, they went tipless after I left. And I went in and I was like, “Oh, damn.” I know for a fact that the ingredients for this pasta — it was cacio e pepe — was $29 f*cking dollars. I’m completely supportive of the reason it is this, but I’m trying to be fiscally responsible, looking at it being like, “Damn, I’m going to spend $30 on grown-up mac and cheese.” That does feel intense, but changes are necessary. The way it’s been done in the past, especially what we’re talking about earlier, the way the money worked, especially in front of the house making so much more. People might get mad at me for saying this. But I do think we kind of need to accept and swallow the pill that our front-of-house workers making really, really good money was happening on the backs of back of house. That is part of what it was. We were making really good money to an extent on labor exploitation. We’re selling food that is made by someone who is not getting paid enough.
S: I did front of the house too, and I know what it’s like to just walk out that night with $300- plus or whatever it is. And then you start in the kitchen and you’re like, “OK, $13 an hour.” Some people I know made less than that. Also in the kitchen, you put in ghost hours back then, which is hours later, not on the clock. But you’re working with all that stuff. The way that it was kind of explained to me in some respects was, “Well, this is a career path for the back. They were saying that the front were pursuing other things. But I also think there’s a couple of things to that point which is, working in front of the house could absolutely be a career.
J: And it is for a lot of people in New York.
S: Yeah, and in Europe. I don’t think we should put any shame in that. If you want to own that and that’s your thing and you want to buy a house and you want to support a family, I think that should be doable, whether that’s front or back. But like you’re saying, this is a time right now where we’re exploring. And I think these conversations are so important, and I really hope there are a series of catalysts for change. But I think we’re at this time where it’s going to be uncomfortable for a lot of people.
J: It’s gonna be very uncomfortable,
S: We went into it with the labor stuff.
J: We really did. We’re talking labor. OK. So it’s a pivot from that because I feel like we really did just dig in deep. I want to hear about what you love, going out wise. What do you love?
S: I’m sure the other people have talked about it, too, because this is my second year, right? March will be like literally two years. And it’s so interesting how things kind of quieted down and shut down. But it was interesting for me because this March will also mark six years in New York. Part of the allure and just the magic of New York is going to these restaurants, whatever version is. Whether that’s Pastis or Cervo’s. You have your restaurants, and you want to go to them. It was interesting in terms of just how we all had to shift. But my version of going out since college forever has just always been to dine. I definitely loved going to raves and stuff and drag culture for sure. I was never like a bar person. For me, dining itself was the ideal way to go out. I’ve always loved restaurants.
S: I think the magic of New York is not necessarily what’s on the plate. And especially coming from California in the cliche way, you’re just like, “Holy sh*t.” The ingredients there are amazing because their seasonality is different.
S: But New York is about everything else, the sum of all parts.
J: No one said that. Yeah. And that’s so interesting because in California it can be more about the food on the plate. But here it is about the sum being greater than it — what is the term? Something being greater than the sum of its parts? Is that what it is?
S: Yeah, I don’t know. I think we’re thinking the same thing and we both don’t know what it is.
J: Neither of us can say it.
S: I’ve been going back to California just to visit family and also chosen family in the Bay Area. I do freak out when I’m at the farmers market and I do see amazing things, but I’m like, “Holy sh*t, blah, blah, blah.” There’s not a part of me that’s really moved by what’s going on outside. That’s not to dismiss it. I mean, there’s so much creative stuff. But New York still really moves me, and that’s really about people and that’s really about energy. Before I lived in New York or maybe it was just right after I moved, but I remember being in Estella and it takes forever to get a seat, and then we finally get a seat. You’re in this corner table squashed, the restaurant is packed. I may have been projecting, but it seemed like every single person in there, as a guest or employee or whatever, wanted to be there.
S: Do you know what I mean?
S: The lighting, the music, the food, everything. And that kind of energy time is not really comparable anywhere else.
J: No, I’ve never thought about it consciously. It’s kind of the thing of like, “Oh, this is the spot. Everyone wants to be here right now. Everyone in this room is going to be here. Everyone’s locked in.” That is such a magical moment.
S: It’s weird, and then you kind of get into this mode, especially during the pandemic, where you’re maybe not going out as much. Then you’ll go to Thai Diner, and you’re like, “Everyone’s here. All the 25-year-olds are here.” And the city is still alive. I’ve always loved dining and I’ve always loved going out, but I’m also someone who definitely vibes off other people’s energy. But I’m also someone that needs a little bit of restorative energy. I can be a homebody. My ideal is one day on, one day off. Are you a true extrovert?
J: Well, it’s interesting that you ask that. I’ve always said I’m an extrovert. But then in the pandemic, when my boyfriend started to work from home and I was not, I started to realize how much alone time my schedule had naturally always had. I worked in restaurants and lived with people who worked 9 to 5 or worked day shifts. And so I just naturally always had a lot of alone time in my adult life. So then in the pandemic, I was like, “Oh, wow, I actually need no one to talk to me for six f*cking hours.” I was a true extrovert and I’d say largely I am an extrovert, but I do now know that I do need to recharge.
S: You need alone time.
J: I live in Bed-Stuy and the studio is in NoMad. I walked here today and that’s my alone time. I mean, it’s 60 degrees. I’m walking.
S: It is a balmy 60 degrees today.
J: If it’s nice out and I don’t have anything to do that day, I’m walking and I love it. It’s heaven to me.
S: Oh, yes. And that’s another thing, too. Tangentially, because I’m the queen of tangential thinking. Walking here is so different from walking in Los Angeles. It has everything to do with what’s around you and ultimately the people, right? You walk across a bridge, it’s not like you’re alone.
J: That was what I missed the most during the pandemic. I didn’t understand that my alone time is a long time, among others. So it’s being on the subway, it’s walking in the city. It’s even going to a restaurant by myself and having lunch at a table by myself. Solo lunch is heaven. But those are my alone times. And I think that’s part of what I love so much about New York. It’s a city to be alone among the people in a really nice way.
S: Totally. This term is so overused, but it’s like a form of self-care to me.
J: Oh, absolutely.
S: I feel you on that, too. I think it’s been a very clarifying time for a lot of people in terms of what they need. Like for me, I live alone. I’m also used to having alone time, but I also realized that sometimes you’re alone with multiple screens and a podcast on. And I’m like, “Are you OK truly being alone?”
S: In terms of distractions, right? So it really tested me on that. Just going back, the dining thing is what still just captures my heart here. And I’m kind of one of those people where, yeah, I love to hear about new restaurants. Recently I went to Bonnie’s and it was clearly the place to be.
J: It’s a running bit. Oh, my God, I’m dying.
J: It’s just a running bit on the show. I think the past six guests have been like, “So you have to go Bonnie’s,” in this way that I’m losing my mind. But I actually think I’m going next week. I think I’m officially going next week.
S: I mean.
J: It’s insane. Every guest has been like, “So I went to Bonnie’s.”
S: Oh, it’s so alive. When you go to a restaurant like that, it’s New York. And it’s in Brooklyn, obviously.
J: No, I know. The bar for them has been set so high for me and I know they’re going to crush it. And I’m so excited.
S: Oh, my God. And you could tell the chef is so talented. You know that problem of when it’s too busy, which is a great “problem” to have.
S: Yeah. They’re just crushing.
J: That’s why I don’t know if I’m going next week because I’m currently in a situation where a friend has a friend who might be able to get us in. We’re in negotiations to get dinner at Bonnie’s next week because they’re booked out.
S: Well, did you get Adam Plath’s piece? That’s what he said. He’s like, “I couldn’t get it. I knew a friend of a friend who had reservations from way back.”
J: Yeah, it’s kind of f*cking psycho.
S: And honestly, he was there that night, which was hilarious.
J: That’s so funny.
S: Obviously, there is a whole thing of New York kind of also being seen, if you will. But it’s still exciting to me. But I kind of return to the same places over and over. My one place I went to during the pandemic was a joke, but it’s true, I really only went to Thai Diner. Because one, during the winter, they had figured out the heating outdoors system. Did you go?
J: No, I’ve actually been DM-ing with Thai Diner, but I haven’t gone yet.
S: OK, well, they figured it out. They set up this incredible outdoor seating with a heating wall panel that ran through. Your source of light over your table was also your source of heat. They had the heat thing locked down. And honestly, if you really wanted to just split hairs, you’re like, “How much of this is really insulation?” It doesn’t matter. It was all the psychology that you’re technically outdoors. And the food always hits and it’s fun. The stuff is really fun despite the crazy circumstances. So I always loved going there.
J: What should I order when I go to Thai Diner?
S: Oh, I mean, you really can’t go wrong. They obviously have amazing Thai dishes, but they also state the ethos of a diner. So their always smashburger is fire.
J: Oh, OK.
S: It doesn’t have any Thai ingredients or anything, it’s just a great burger.
J: I love that.
S: Yeah. And they’re disco fries, which is with a little bit of spice and curry and everything, but it’s on these crinkle fries. It’s just so fun, you know?
J: I do just f*cking love a diner and a play on a diner is always going to make me happy.
S: Yeah. They’re really doing it right. And I don’t know them personally, but it seems like their history of Uncle Boons makes so much sense at Thai Diner. I mean, I love that place. I love Cervo’s and I love all the restaurants that they have. I feel like they’re really leading with kindness and it does seem like they’re changing the industry in a lot of ways.
J: I actually totally agree. And if I were to have to go back to restaurants and the group I left, Ruffian and Kindred, didn’t have a spot for me, the first place I’d call would be Hart’s and The Fly. Absolutely.
S: That’s also in your neighborhood, right?
J: Well, that’s the thing. I would work at Cervo’s, but I could walk to Hart’s. So that would be a little more desirable for me.
S: Bed-Stuy keeps getting more and more fun and places to eat.
J: What neighborhood are you in? You’re in Park Slope?
S: Yeah. I know this is kind of tongue in cheek because I shouldn’t exploit this term, but I call it a food desert in a lot of ways.
J: People do say that. There’s actually a good place that opened over in Gowanus, not too far from you that I went to the other day.
S: Oh, what is it?
J: Sweet Talk. It’s Hawaiian.
S: Oh, OK. I’m writing it down. I love Hawaii and Hawaiian food.
J: It’s over on Third Ave by the Bell House.
S: And I love going to see comedy at the Bell House.
J: OK, wait, so perfect night. Literally go get dinner at Sweet Talk and walk over the Bell House. Really great cocktails. They have a bunch of fun sodas and then the food is so good.
S: And that’s the thing, too. I love talking to other people about where they have been.
J: The restaurant wasn’t busy when I was there. It used to be an Italian restaurant and I had been there years ago. And I was like sitting and said to the server, “This used to be an Italian spot, right?” And she’s like, “Yeah, we’re actually part of a big Italian restaurant group, but the executive chef is Hawaiian and has been wanting to open a Hawaiian spot for ever, and they finally let him have his Hawaiian spot, and this is it.” You could tell that he finally got his Hawaiian spot. I really felt like there was an excitement to the menu and the ethos and the servers seemed excited and I really just loved the vibe.
S: Oh, cool. I’ll definitely have to check it out. I love Hawaiian food and I know I haven’t been there, but it has so much influence from so many different cultures.
J: It reminds me of Vietnamese food, where you see the French influence. Someone once talked about how the banh mi is like colonial history in a sandwich. I feel like that you see that a lot in Hawaiian food as well.
S: So I can’t wait to check that out. I mean, Park Slope’s interesting in that way. The biggest news that I heard recently was that a Taim opened here.
J: Oh, no. Bless Taim, but.
S: Right. We’re like, “Variety Coffee opened here.” I know that people that live here are obviously very privileged. My thing is I’m kind of locked into this rent-controlled apartment.
J: Yeah, you got to stay there then.
S: I’m so grateful for it because during the pandemic, the proximity to the park and all of that was game changing. Just like when we’re talking about walks, sometimes when I’m spiraling or I’m just going literally stir crazy, if you step outside and not even do an extensive walk, you can just walk around the block.
J: I kind of like living in South Brooklyn, or I guess it’s not South Brooklyn but Central Brooklyn. But Bed-Stuy and Park Slope have a nice balance of, it’s not a ghost town, but it’s not slamming in Lower East Side energy. You can kind of just go on a walk, you know?
S: Yeah, totally. Have you ever lived in Manhattan?
J: Yes, but way up. My first three years in New York, I was at 156th.
S: Oh, you were?
J: So I was up there, yeah.
S: I mean, I don’t know. I think I saw the fantasy of the East Village.
J: I feel like I don’t. But I also worked in the East Village through the pandemic. I was just there all the time. Not that that’s living there, but I was just constantly in the East Village and I loved it. But I think it would have been great when I was 23. But for me now, I do enjoy that I live in a really beautiful historic area that’s protected. It’s a bunch of brownstones.
S: It has so much amazing architecture.
J: Yeah. I’m just like a sucker for that. I just like the quiet — quiet’s not the right word. I like that. It’s really beautiful neighborhoods and then really solid bars and restaurants, but not a ton of them. For how few there are in the area, they’re general quality is quite high.
S: I don’t know how, but it becomes such a curated amazing list of places. And also historically, mom and pop places and just people that have come up there. So it’s a really nice mix. It’s not like one thing or the other. For me, the East Village thing is, what would it be to just have a Sunrise and H-Mart right by me?
J: That’s literally the reason that I haven’t made the dish yet, your rice cake halloumi dishes. It’s because I haven’t had a chance to go to an H-Mart and buy the rice cakes.
S: Oh, my God. I know. OK, this isn’t that close to you, but there is this, like, mom and pop kind of grocery store in Flatbush called DNA. That’s kind of closer to me. It’s Korean owned, and they have rice cakes.
J: In Flatbush going up to Grand Army?
J: Oh, I’ll literally go there maybe today. Because I really want to make the dish.
S: And the rice cakes are fire. They get it from a small batch in Queens and they bag it themselves.
J: Oh, f*ck yeah. I’ve watched the video of you making that dish. I’m not joking, four times.
S: Oh, my gosh, I don’t know how that makes me feel. It’s got all the textures that you want. It’s crispy and it’s squishy.
J: Yeah, it just looks so good. What are your Brooklyn restaurants?
S: Oh, gosh. I do like your neighborhood spots. I like Hart’s a lot.
J: It’s so good.
S: When they reopened fully, it felt really good. Every time I see Leah, I don’t know her too well, but she just is so warm and you could just feel her energy. I would definitely say that. But there’s also a place in Bed-Stuy and I think they actually opened one in Park Slope called Chicken Feastin’. Have you been there?
J: That group opened a fourth place?
S: No, no, this is not really them.
J: Oh, OK.
S: I’m going to text you. There’s definitely “Feast” in the name. You just go to get a Greek salad or a rice pudding that might literally be a cozy shack.
J: Oh, OK.
S: It’s in your neighborhood. It’s really fun. It’s not trendy or anything.
J: That’s what makes it cool. That sounds really dope.
S: I don’t know. I still love getting a diner burger.
J: Yeah, absolutely. Have you tried Seventh Street burger yet, in the East Village?
S: What is that?
J: So it’s on Seventh and First. It’s in the old Caracas space, if you ever went to Caracas. And it’s somewhere between a burger and a slider. They’re not tiny, but they’re not full size. And I think they’re $6 a pop and they’re un-f*cking real. They’re unreal.
S: This whole sesh is worth it for me to get these hot tips. Everyone has a different frame of wherever they’re getting their info from.
J: Totally. Wait, more in your neighborhood. I recently ate something that I am saying is one of the best things I’ve eaten in a restaurant in the past several years, which was at Popina. Have you been to Popina?
S: No, but that’s southern Italian and Southern American.
J: Correct. They had this dish that I cannot express to you how much I loved it. It was a bruschetta in bruto and it was a fat f*cking piece of toasted filone, ricotta, maybe arugula and a sh*t ton of prosciutto sitting in seafood broth. So it was salty and cheesy and bready and then soaked in seafood broth. It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever had.
S: Then the bread is soggy, but still kind of has that crunch.
J: But the crust was taken out and toasted. The crust was thick enough and toasted enough that the center would get a little squishy, but there was still a crunch and a bite to it.
S: Oh, yeah. That’s what I think my friend Emil calls crispy gone soggy or something. It’s like that wonderful texture. I love that. I’ve been meaning to check that place. I haven’t yet. In the neighborhood also, I have to shout out Insa. I think that’s been a staple. First of all, my friend is the chef and owner there and I feel like it’s just jelled his cooking more and more. And it’s a place where you can absolutely just go and get a stew and some panchon and rice. But you can definitely have an outing, go out with friends and go sing in the karaoke rooms afterwards, do the barbecue thing. And it’s really, really solid.
J: Yeah, that sounds phenomenal. I haven’t. I’ve heard a lot of good things in. But that’s another one I haven’t checked out yet.
S: Have you gone to Has Dac Piet?
J: No. What is that?
S: OK. So I feel like that’s my new favorite restaurant. And it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek because, yes, they’re in a physical space, but I think it’s only for three months. Which I think, in terms of Doshi, that’s an interesting model. It’s like long term “pop-up spaces,” residences. You could really hone in on some service and literally put some stuff down and try out all these things. But they are my friends, Sadie May and Anthony Ha. And they’re just doing some extraordinary Vietnamese food.
J: Oh, wait, where is it?
S: They’re in Chinatown on Forsyth, I believe. And they’re in an old pho space.
J: Send me the name, please.
S: It’s so good. And it’s kind of the vibe that you and I have been talking about that we love. It’s tiny. It’s like a sardine can. Everyone’s in there. The staffing is what you want in terms of, you can’t have any extra bodies.
J: Yeah, that’s my dream.
S: Yeah, and the food is one of those things that I don’t really care what they make. I’ll just eat what they make.
J: You’re like, “I’m good. Just hand it to me.”
S: Yeah, exactly. You know, when you trust someone so much.
J: It’s the best weight. You just mentioned Doshi, Tell the listeners about it. I want to hear it.
S: Doshi is my company, I guess, if you will. It’s still a roving mobile pop up. It was launched during the pandemic because, again, it took the noise of New York to calm down for me to be like, “I got to launch this.” It’s been in my head for a minute, meaning a few years. But you know, in New York, when you live that freelance lifestyle, you’re just like, “I got to take this job.” And you’re also going out, blah blah blah. Honestly, the gift of this time is that it’s made me more laser-focused on certain things. So the concept of Doshi has come from dosiraks, which are sort of these packed Korean lunch meals. You see them in train stations or even 7-Eleven. And when my parents relocated to Korea about three or four years ago and I started to visit them, it really made me think about how transportable room- temperature food can actually be kind of delicious and visually appealing. And also like TBT back in the day, I was Sylvan’s intern. Sylvan had an incredible restaurant in San Francisco called Wintaro. And before that he did these amazing bentos, too. He was also the one that showed me, yes, this food can be extremely pleasing. So I started thinking about that. And I think life is so much about timing because during the pandemic, not only did it give me the space in my head, but also the space to launch it. We were also in the time of takeaway food.
J: Yeah, totally.
S: And also not only that as a business model, but it seemed like people were more receptive to trying different things and new people.
J: Well, yeah, because they’d done nothing but look at themselves and their own goddamn food for six months.
S: All the different phases, sourdough, beans, and whatever. And I was all in there. Just going back to what we’ve been talking about as a whole, the community and the industry, if we may, are just the most generous people. Obviously, there are examples of more and less, but it was just people that are like, “Come into my space. I’m not open these days anymore.” Actually, service has been cut this much or, I actually want to incorporate new people. So it all formed in that way of people opening up their spaces in their kitchens or allowing me to pop up there. It’s still very much current, but I’m just moved by the people.
J: Yeah, that’s so special.
S: So I started doing these dosiraks, which I still very much do. But also it’s evolved in a way that I’m doing a lot of à la carte, fun dinner bar food. That’s where the rice cakes and halloumi came in. I did the Hunky Dory. Rest in power the Hunky Dory, it’s no longer.
J: Wait, no one told me the Hunky Dory is gone. That place was great.
S: I know. And Claire is a bad b*tch. She’s also thinking about just policy and overall industry stuff.
J: Yeah. And that was a place that had no tips that I felt like the vibes were really good. The people who work there seemed to be down.
S: It made sense, right?
S: Yeah. She’s got her hands in a lot of things.
J: I’m sure.
S: But anyways, as I’ve been saying, it keeps evolving. And that’s what’s exciting about it. You’re never done and your ass is always handed to you. Every single thing about this is that I’m learning constantly, and the pop up model is amazing each time. And you do learn so much and you learn how you want to continue. You also learn what you don’t want to do. You learn how other kitchens work, how other people work. And then there are also benefits to doing long term things, too. I just made a kit. I think so for someone that cooks, when you do a dish over and over, it does get better.
J: Oh, absolutely.
S: By the third week, you’re like, “We should put some sherry vinegar on that as a finish.” Things don’t necessarily come to you when you do one day of something.
J: Absolutely. Yes, I totally agree. My boyfriend and I get really into a recipe and we start talking like, “Oh, what if we added this? What if we added that?” By the end, the recipe is actually quite different, but we’ve made the perfect version of what it is for us.
S: Yeah. Jake, I really hope you’ll come out because I would love to feed you and your boyfriend.
J: Oh, my God. Wait, when is the next Doshi?
S: Oh, you know what? I’m not sure, because I just came back from doing something in the Bay Area. So I’m planning some things.
J: I’m telling you, the second you announce that I’m there.
S: OK, I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see you IRL, of course.
S: Yeah. But I mean, that’s the thing. I know that there are signs for me to keep going and it’s really exciting. The unpredictability of it also can be very much anxiety inducing. But I have to remember, anxiety is a point of view. This is everything I wanted, and it can be very exciting.
J: Yeah. There’s that thing, if you’re not a little scared, you’re doing something wrong. You got to kind of be excited and a little nervous about it, but that means you’re on the right track.
S: Do you feel that way about comedy?
J: Oh, my God, yeah.
S: Is it standup or improv? What’s your thing?
J: I did improv a lot before the pandemic, and now I’m mostly a standup. I am writing and auditioning and kind of doing it all.
S: That’s scary as f*ck, right?
J: I mean, I don’t find auditioning itself scary. It’s just a different lifestyle now with not having a restaurant job where I get a job and I do it and then I have this amount of money until I find the next thing. It’s like I’m living like gig to gig, but in a bigger way. I really love the gigs and I’m excited about it and all the opportunities are cool, but it’s been an adjustment over the past six months. It’s just a different lifestyle of not having a paycheck every week and having to structure my own time. I mean, you probably got it when you went freelance.
S: You and I are in very similar positions. We’re stepping into something bigger and expansive in our lives. But this is the part where we have to kind of figure it out and it’s uncomfortable. Also forms of stability in terms of money, it’s being resourceful and scrappy in a whole different way. Structure and time, all of that is hard for me.
J: I struggle with it, too. I’ll catch myself being like, “Oh, you need to get out of the house.” The winter was hard because it was really easy to stay inside all day. OK, it’s 2 p.m. and I haven’t done anything. Now that it’s getting warmer, I think it’ll be a little bit better because I can just, like, “Go the f*ck outside.” That’ll kind of get me going for the day.
S: I feel that so hard. And also comedy, to me, I think standup comedy is the truth.
J: When it’s good it is, for sure.
S: I know. But seriously, I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, that’s as vulnerable as you can be. It’s you on a mic on a stage.
J: It is wild. But I honestly think, to tie it all together, restaurants kind of prepared me for it. I got to take control of this room. I got to take control of these people. I got to read what they’re into, what they’re not into. So I do think it all prepares you for the next thing.
S: For me, I’ve always seen this cohesiveness with comedy and food. I really do. I think personality-wise, folks are drawn to it.
J: What you were just talking about, with food being emotional and food being really intimate, that’s the same thing as humor. The way you feel when you feed someone is the way you feel when you make someone laugh, at least in my experience. It’s taking care of someone in this way. And I think that those are super connected.
S: Well, would you say that there’s also somewhat of a compulsion that you cannot not do it? Like the way that I feel about cooking?
J: Yes, I feel a compulsion to want to make people laugh and feel good and be happy. That is absolutely how I feel. That’s just my knee-jerk reaction, sometimes to a fault.
S: Sure, maybe this is weird, but there is something very purposeful and calling about that. And that’s such a beautiful thing that we get to tap into. We are not choosing these lives to have an easy ride.
J: No, absolutely not. I’m realizing now, I think the first time I was on a stage and I started to make people laugh, that was like my version of what you were talking about weightlifting. This isn’t going to be an easy path, but I do, at least just now, know that this is it.
S: Yeah. And also that’s going to evolve in some way, too, but there’s going to be something at the core. Cooking and feeding people and eating is always going to be at the center for me. But who knows what it’s going to also evolve into. We cannot not do it, that’s the whole thing. It’s always going to be there.
J: It’s always going to be there. Susan, this has been such a beautiful conversation. I would talk to you for another two hours if we could.
S: I know. Wait? Has it been over an hour?
J: It’s been over an hour. We really did it. But I just want to say thank you so much and I’m going to text you when I get to go to Bonnie’s. Please go to Sweet Talk and Popina and tell me your thoughts. And yes, I’m going to see you at Doshi. And if you ever want to go to Thai Diner, let me know because I do really want to check it out.
S: Definitely. I think we should continue IRL.
J: Yes, off mic.
S: We only scratched the surface. And it’s great the energy that you and I have. We could really wax poetic about a lot of things for a long time.
J: I’m so, so, so down. All right. So I will see you soon. I’m going to DM you right after this and we’re going to get going.
S: And congratulations on everything.
J: You too.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.