Executive Pastry Chef at the Omni Homestead Wins FoodNetworks “Chopped Sweets” an Interview with Leen Kim
This is part one of my interview with Leen Kim. She recently competed and won Food Network’s show Chopped Sweets.
My name is Leen Kim, I’m the executive pastry chef at the Omni Homestead. I started here back in November 2016. I started as an assistant baking chef and after three months later, I got promoted to the executive pastry chef.
When did you find your passion for Culinary Arts and when did you start baking?
I started as a banker. I was in the banking industry for four years and decided that this wasn’t the right fit for me so then I changed it to something that I always love to do, which is eating dessert, and I started baking at home, trying out some of the recipes and I really enjoy myself making dessert so then I decided that this is going to be my career.
That’s awesome. Were you baking like your whole life like when you were little? Or did you start doing that more as an adult?
More of an adult. My mom didn’t allow me to eat dessert so I always had sweet tooth as a rebellious kid. I actually wanted more since my mom said no.
You said you were going to give the winnings to your mother which was really touching. Can you tell me more about the support your mother gave to you during the switch and your career?
Yes. So my mom when coming from South Korea, she was a single mom. So she supported me and my sister in very challenging ways. She was a server and she was a massage therapist and as a single mom, that was a lot for her. When I had a career change is it was really challenging because in the financial aspect of it, I couldn’t support myself. So my mom took me back into her house and she supported me with finances and just everything.
How was it when you won? What were your feelings?
When I won the first thing that was my mind was my mom- just imagining how proud she was going to be and how happy she’s going to be and I felt like I did something good for her as a return, as a thank you so that was just enough for me.
How did you decide you wanted to compete on Chopped and what was your reaction when you were selected?
Chopped was one of the very popular TV shows on the Food Network and is respected by so many people. When they were casting I was nervous. I didn’t have my high hopes up because I didn’t feel like I was a good candidate enough, but once the interview went really good and once they did casting for Food Network, that’s when I was really excited like this could really happen.
Wow. Yeah, that sounds really exciting. And what was your experience like on the show? Was it kind of what you thought; was it really to really cool to see how TV and production and all that works?
It was very nerve-wracking, and they have a lot of staff, a lot of cameras and the whole day you’re like what’s going on? And you would think that they would give you heads up on what’s inside of this mystery basket, but they really don’t tell you until you’re in front of the camera and you’re giving it a go to open the basket. You really don’t know what’s inside.
Was it a lot harder than you thought it would be? That show is really like… I could never do anything like that.
It was difficult. It was challenging because you don’t know what’s inside. I mean, frozen sliders. That was a curveball, definitely. For a pastry chef who doesn’t work with you know, sliders. That was one other ingredient that was total shocking.
And can you tell us about the three dishes that you made?
Well as the whole theme, this episode was a boozy basket, so we knew that there was going to be alcohol and every basket and they gave us the first round is going to be something fried and second round will be frozen and last will be something magical or fantastical dessert. So first round what I did was I made cheesecake churros with milkshake IPA coconut foam and with the chocolate anchovies, I made a sauce out of that one.
The second one you did, I have it written down here..a frozen peach schnaps souffle.
Correct. I knew their contestants was going to do something with ice cream or sorbet, so I want to kind of save myself not wanting to or fighting over the ice cream machine. So I had to kind of think out of the box and like what’s something frozen and yet still be different about it.
And then your third one was a rice cereal marshmallow crisp?
Correct, with microwave curry almond sponge and my magical ingredient was I guess it was the cotton candy on top and when once I torched it all melted together.
Yeah, that’s really cool. What was your favorite one out of the three?
I think my favorite one was the first one was the one I had to play with liquid nitrogen and they were all nervous like, “You only have 30 minutes and you’re playing with the liquid nitrogen!” They were making fun of me with my goggles and my safety gloves.
I feel like being on Chopped, not only do you have to be really talented in culinary arts, but you have to be creative and good at time management and thinking outside the box, so that’s a big deal.
The other competitors they were very well. I mean, one guy Max, he was very funny. When I saw the French pastry chef I got so nervous and they were they were very talented and yes, you had to think out of the out of the box and think really quick, and there’s a big clock ticking and you’re rushing and you’re trying to get around an unfamiliar kitchen, you’re trying to get around where everything is so it was definitely challenging.
Did you have something being on that show that was challenging more than you thought it would be?
For me, obviously I don’t know what this is inside a mystery basket, but second thing was, where are all the ingredients? So where’s the sugar? Where’s the milk? Where’s cream and being nervous “Like, “What if the other person took all the cream? And what am I gonna have? What am I going to have a what am I going to do and what’s other people going to make?” And trying to focus on what you’re doing, and there’s cameras everywhere, and it was a lot.
Yeah. Did you practice making things in a really short amount of time like at home before the show?
And yes, actually, I did practice at work. My chef was very supportive of me practicing. Obviously, I couldn’t tell them what it was, but I just told him that I’m going on a competition and it’s time managed, so they gave me time at late at night to practice running around and that really helped a lot.
Would you ever do another competition again?
I would definitely do it again. I’m nervous, but I’m yet excited. I’m looking forward to do another one. I think it’s just the rush that you get. It’s just indescribable.
Well, thank you for doing this interview with me!
Oh, thank you for having me!
And congrats on your win!
Thank you very much.
For AMR News, I’m Abby Dufour