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Hope & Main: Minnie Luong of Chi Kitchen

Minnie Luong’s Chi Kitchen – makers of seriously good kimchi – turn a family favorite into a tasty business

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Hope & Main must attract talent to create jobs, and Minnie Luong’s Chi Kitchen – makers of seriously good kimchi – prove it is doing just that. Minnie and her family were coaxed to return to Rhode Island from California, not just by campaigning relatives, but by some persuasive Fox Point Pickles. Pickles aren’t particularly articulate, but they did lead Minnie to Hope & Main. “When I saw they invested $3 million in this kitchen in this 100-year-old school house, I thought something is going on there,” she saYS. Self-described farm geeks, she and her husband are both in the food industry and were looking for a growing local food scene on the East Coast. Hope & Main tipped the decision in Rhode Island’s favor, and what we’ve won is Korea’s flavorful fermented national dish.

Minnie’s family emigrated from Vietnam and food was an essential part of her family’s identity. Without a range of familiar ingredients at hand, improvisation and a do-it-yourself spirit reigned. As Minnie describes, “I just love the idea of making something from nothing. That comes from my childhood, my father gardening and fishing; we didn’t have a lot growing up, but we still were able to have these amazing meals.” These roots of food and family lead Minnie to begin educating people 12 years ago about various Asian cuisines, as well as their relevance to a more health-conscious audience.

Enter Mr. Kimchi. Her dad earned that proud title after producing a massive, delicious jar on one of Minnie’s visits. His success inspired Minnie to begin experimenting again with Kimchi, after a disastrous attempt years earlier. From there the story is a familiar one: the more she perfects the recipe, the more addicted her friends get. There’s only so many times someone in the food industry can hear “you gotta sell this stuff.”

While Minnie is quick to tout the health benefits of kimchi, these are for her a happy side effect. As she explains, “first and foremost for us kimchi lovers is the flavor of it… there are a lot of health food kimchis out there that frankly don’t taste that great.” Minnie waxes lyrical about the fish sauce she uses. It’s a Vietnamese fish sauce, sourced from only the island of Phú Quoc, which recently earned a Protected Designation of Origin certification, much like Champagne. The quality of this fish sauce shines through the kimchi, leaving a stunning lingering aftertaste.

Chi Kitchen makes a vegan kimchi, as well as the classic napa kimchi I’ve been devouring. It’s exciting to consider that when in season, that jar in your fridge is a delicious and worldly amalgam. It’s a classic Korean dish, featuring a highly specific Vietnamese fish sauce and showcasing vegetables from local growers like Freedom Food Farm and Wishing Stone Farm. Music to the ears of the USDA will be the increased production of Napa cabbage that Freedom Food Farm has planned this season to meet Chi Kitchen demand. We’ve also heard rumors of Korean red pepper seeds being purchased. With her kimchi, Minnie is betting that “RI is very ripe” for Asian flavor profiles. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.