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Cooking with Mike “Q” Kim: MasterChef Extraordinaire | Projekt NewSpeak
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Posted: 2010-10-27
Categories: Projekt NewSpeak


The Mexi-Asian Persepctive: A Mexican’s Guide to All Things Latin, Asian, or Both by David A. Romero

I am obsessed with cooking shows. Of all the chefs out there, my favorite is the foul-mouthed Brit, Gordon Ramsay. Imagine my surprise as I checked out Ramsay’s latest show, MasterChef on FOX, and up popped Mike Q Kim, someone I knew from doing poetry in Hollywood!

With his easy-going manner and sense of humor, Mike Q Kim would undoubtedly be dubbed as the “fan favorite” of the show. Like many viewers across the nation, I watched each and every episode of MasterChef with the hopes that Mike’s cuisine would reign supreme.

They say that “good things happen to good people.” I think that’s mostly a load of crap. But, Mike is one of those good people that when something good happens to them, you feel like all is well in the universe.

I recently had a chance to speak with Mike to ask him about MasterChef, fishing, food and his own personal philosophies towards life and love.

You chose to make ssam wraps as your first meal for Chefs Ramsay, Bastainich and Elliot during the season premiere of FOX’s MasterChef. What led you to the decision to make this Korean dish?

I chose to make ssam mostly because I had an hour to prepare my dish. It was something I knew I could make quickly. Ssam reflects me as a Korean American, my background. I mean, ssam in Korean means “wrap.” The lettuce rice cakes are almost like a taco. They’re universal. The way that I made them, reflected my American upbringing with the use of duck, with the use of orange miso, not just the traditional Korean ingredients. I swapped some Korean ingredients with some Japanese. I was bridging the gap between western cuisine and eastern cuisine. It was a mixture of elements and ideas. Cooking with Mike Q Kim

As one of a handful of Asians to be seen on primetime network TV this summer, did you ever feel any pressure in being a media representative for the Asian Pacific American community? Or, did you choose rather, to focus more on your own struggles in the kitchen?

When I was on the show, I was just being me. Off camera, Sheetal [one of the other MasterChef competitors] and I would clown around. We would be crazy. We would talk in a bunch of accents. I would do an Indian accent. I would teach her a Chinese one – – I’m not even Chinese! Bringing humor to it, you know, light-hearted moments. We had conversations about it [being Asian Americans on the show].


[The responsibility of being an Asian media figure] didn’t come up until the show aired. But later, watching it, it did kind of hit me. I realized, “Wow, I’m an Asian dude on primetime TV!” It’s a weird thing, not necessarily being an actor, not playing a caricature, just me. But, it wasn’t like curing cancer on behalf of the world, it was just being me. Still, I was keenly aware that I was an everyday normal Asian guy. Not some goofy Kung Fu fighting guy. I felt happy; especially because I was cooking for culinary idols, big wigs.

Before your time as a MasterChef competitor, you were performing Spoken Word at places like Da Poetry Lounge in Hollywood. What message were you hoping to convey with your poetry? Do you feel that you also use your culinary skills to convey that message?

I’m still developing my grasp, my understanding, capacity for poetry. I was only on the scene for about a year. It was an outlet for me to discover certain things that were going on in my life. I found some principles to live by. Getting love – -focusing on that. The point was on getting love, being love. That’s the message I want to share.  It might seem contrived or cliché, but that’s it. I was combining a lot of Buddhist concepts with the concepts of grace and love, unconditional love; I had grown up with as a Christian.


Giving food is the best way I know to give love. It goes back to sitting around a table for meals with my family when I was a kid. It was when we were all together. My parents split when I was young, so sitting around the table as a family is a fond memory. I’ve been chasing that vibe of one-ness in my life and in my cooking.

I’ve been cooking a lot longer than I’ve been doing poetry. I’ve been working in restaurants for fifteen years. One of the producers of MasterChef asked me the question, “What do you love about food? What do you think about food?” Are you kidding? I studied Anthropology! Food is everything, food is emotional, food is life, it’s artistic, it’s passionate, it’s political, it’s family, culture, love, hate. Food is not a way of life, it is life itself. The dawn of civilization was with food. We say “hunters and gatherers.” Hunters and gatherers of what? Of FOOD.

You have listed deep sea fishing as one of your passions in previous interviews. What is it about the activity that you love so much?

In college, we would have fish taco parties and Japanese sashimi parties. It was a total act of faith. We would invite people before we caught the fish. It wasn’t just about just the cooking, but the feeding of people; the sharing. Fishing taps into something primal. It’s a way of life. There’s someone across the globe that has no iphone or whatever and has a different life that does the same thing. When I fish, I feel like I’m feeding my tribe.


You have recently accepted a job at The Bazaar in the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, what has your experience been like there thus far?

I’ve never worked in a professional kitchen before. Like, officially. I’ve worked in the front. As a manager I would jump in and do what they needed… But this was really amazing to me. Standing for eight hours can be hard on the legs. I basically just diced vegetables, you know, prep work. I wasn’t thinking about anything else besides what I was doing. I was totally focused. I also plated dishes on the line. My experience was really incredible. I had a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. I had the biggest grin spread on my face! Like, “This is AWESOME…” I’m working for one of the best restaurants in LA, for one of the most famous chefs in the world, you know?



During your time on MasterChef, I was impressed by your suave collection of hats. Where do you get all of those wonderful hats, Mike?

I just have a collection from various hats stores. A few from Lids, one from a flea market (it was old). I collected them kind of randomly.

The funny thing is though, during the taping of MasterChef, I had brought a few hats. I was gonna wear them primarily on my off days. The first day I was there, off set, meeting cast and crew, the producers asked me, “Where’s the hat?” I had worn one of my hats to my audition, but I had left it back at my place for the actual taping. The producers said to me, “Go get it! It’s your signature! We like the hat!”

Asian Latin fusion food has become a veritable phenomenon. Do you think that Asian Latin fusion food is just a passing trend, or the future?

It’s the future. There’s no question in my mind. It’s makes perfect sense. Whether it’s Japanese, Korean, Mexican, whatever. When food is good, it’s good. But, people aren’t thinking about the cultural aspect fully. My mom has been making kogi style tacos since I was eight. In New York there was this guy who was making kimchi hot dogs… It’s nothing new.

The flavors represented in Latin cuisine are just good. I’m not talking about Taco Bell, I’m talking about all of it. There are many flavors that haven’t been explored and exposed. If you wanna get political about it, minorities are going to be the majority soon.

Who is your favorite Latin celebrity, historical figure, or fictional character?

My choice would be Che Guevara because of his way of rubbing shoulders with the common people. I’m not sure about all of his political stances… But, you have to respect the heart he put behind them. He was the real deal.

Would you rather date an Asian or someone of Latin descent?

You’re gonna get me in trouble. I think Latinas are beautiful… but then, Asian women have a special place in my heart. Can they be mixed? What about the best of both? Can I have both? You’re gonna get me in trouble on this one! [Laughs]

Any last words or shout outs?

I’m working with Tracy [one of the competitors on MasterChef] to try and do stuff together with her grandmother’s cookbook in Georgia. More details on that soon.

Read The Go Giver and The Power of Now. Those books are incredible. They changed my life. They could change yours, seriously.

I’m also starting up a biz as a private chef. It’ll be like The Supper Club. If you host a dinner of 10 to 12 people, give or take, I will come to your house and put on a cooking demo for you. I want to show people that if I can do this, you can do this!


Contact me for more info! MisterQis@gmail.com

Finally, I want to give a shout out to all who are “doing it,” pursuing their passion. It doesn’t matter even if they’re doing it professionally, just that they’re doing it; doing it with all of their being. Keep doing what you’re doing! Keep chasing! Keep running! Keep dreaming!


David A. Romero is a cheese enchilada-making spoken word artist who knows something about Mexicans. A lover of boba and a citizen of Diamond Bar, CA, he also knows a thing or two about Asians. http://www.davidaromero.com

Have any ideas for the blog? Questions? Comments? Hit me up below! Or email me: davidaromero@projektnewspeak.com

One Response:
  1. Great interview! And what an honor! As coauthor of The Go-Giver (along with my most excellent friend Bob Burg) I am totally tickled to see out little book cited here! Viva la cuisine extraordinaire.