When Beverly Kim and her husband Johnny Clark of Chicago’s Parachute were leaving for the James Beard awards, their nine-year-old son said “If you don’t win, I know you’re going to get it next year.”
So when they did win for the Best Chefs, Great Lakes category, the first thing they did the following morning was show the award to him. “I was like, this is for you,” Kim tells Journy cofounder Leiti Hsu. “And he goes, ‘Well, what did I do?’ And I was like ‘Every time I look at you, you just inspire me to work so hard.’ And he’s like ‘Okay, I’ll take that.’”
The next thing she did? Call back the mayor. "You can't miss that one," says Kim.
Having grown up in the Chicago area, working in the restaurant industry since age 16, Kim is no stranger to long work days and tough Midwest winters. But it’s her kids—two with one on the way!—that get her out of bed in the morning, always faithful to the maxim her mother’s uncle would write in Chinese calligraphy: wake up early, go to bed late.
“It’s very zen but that’s kind of the secret to success,” she explains. “It really is. You just have to work your ass off. I mean it’s not really secret; you’ve just got to do it.”
And with husband and business partner Johnny Clark by her side, she hasn’t been doing it alone.
They met in 2008 during Kim’s first stint as an executive chef. She was profiled in CS Magazine, with a bio that mentioned her time spent in Korea. He was in Chicago visiting family, having just returned from Korea after a four-month stage under chef Im Ji Ho. His mom happened upon the article and gave it to him, after which he immediately sent through his resume—the “law of attraction” kicking in, Kim jokes. There wasn’t a position open at the time, but Kim decided to meet with Clark anyway.
“I come across a lot of resumes,” she explains “and I was like, well this guy’s been in Korea and his name is John Clark and he’s not even Asian. I was curious, so I called him up.”
The connection was instant, and so strong that they didn’t embark on the traditional path of dating for two years, getting married and settling in for a year or two before having children. Baby number one came within the first year of marriage, followed by Parachute—rendering it more like “a boom, collide and big bang,” Kim says, laughing.
But she had not only found love in someone she could grow old with. She had found love in someone who was compassionate and uniquely empathetic to her line of work—about the stress, the lifestyle and the hours that come with the territory—something that, as a female chef, Kim tells Hsu is difficult to find in a partner. So while it may have been a “crazy and stressful time,” in Kim’s mind it was nothing short of perfect.
“We overcame a lot, just learning about each other, married with kids right away,” Kim says, “and we’ve always encouraged each other to keep growing in order to reach our satisfaction in life.”
Kim and Clark are just one of the many husband-and-wife chef duos in Chicago. Zach and Rachel Smith of Pizzeria Bebu. David and Anna Posey of Elske. John and Karen Shields of Smyth. But as Kim will be the first to admit, the confluence of personal and professional isn’t always easy. Add the industry-laden stress on top of that, and what you’re left with is a recipe rife with challenges.
The key for Kim and Clark has been to talk to each other gently, to listen, to find a way to communicate in a manner that doesn’t feel so practical all the time and, above all, to never sweat the small stuff.
“If we’re not okay, there’s stress in the family, and then the kids feel it. So I think it’s important to listen. Listen to each other and just laugh. Laugh a lot and take things with a grain of salt.”
Other stress-reducing rituals that Kim relies on? Sleep, which she thinks of “the freest thing you can give yourself” and deep breathing. “Sometimes I breathe a little bit too loudly and people are like, ‘Are you okay’?” Kim says, laughing. “And I’m just like, it’s okay. I’m just letting oxygen into my body. And that makes me feel better.”
At Parachute, Kim and Clark’s 40-seat Korean-American restaurant in Chicago’s more under-the-radar Avondale neighborhood, dishes are meant to be shared. The menu changes nightly based on seasonal availability, with the guiding ethos being “food from the heart” served in a space that the two consider their second home. There’s a palpable spirit of approachable elegance to Parachute, a sense of self-assurance that’s never brash. And in 2016, it was awarded a Michelin star—which, if you ask Kim, has been ”a blessing and a curse.”
With most diners equating Chicago Michelin dining with Alinea, they arrive at Parachute expecting the same out-of-the-box molecular gastronomy experience… plumes of smoke included. Or they’re anticipating white table cloths, or a multiple-hour-long dining experience, or something, anything that resonates with what they deem fine dining to be. And Parachute doesn’t align.
“For me and John, food has to be delicious and not too abstract, but you push it a little bit,” Kim explains. “It’s the whole picture, and the whole vibe of the restaurant. There’s some people who want every dish to blow their mind—they want Alinea. And then some people are like, I just want it to be tasty, and I want it to be presented really well, and I want to have the vibes, and I want to be able to wear jeans if I want to. So there’s all kinds of styles. The Michelin stars are changing.”
Dishes like Tuna Bánh Xèo With Nuoc Cham And Sprouts, and Pork Belly With Nasturtium And Ssamjang have tourists and locals alike flocking to Parachute in droves, but it was Kim’s parents who believed in the concept long before the Michelin star, even before the enviable menu came to life or the restaurant started filling with boisterous diners.
“My dad co-signed his house so we could get the loan to open this place,” Kim says, “so there was a lot of pressure on me to succeed here. He took a huge leap of faith with me, especially because it was not a typical career path then.”
Still to this day, Kim turns to her mother—who she calls “a really good cook” for honest feedback. “She’s always the first one to tell me when something’s not right.”
But with a Michelin star and a 2019 James Beard award to boot, there’s not much that Kim and Clark aren’t doing right these days.
“They’re really proud of where we are,” Kim says. “It’s a great feeling. It really is.”
Parachute is just one of the many restaurants that made the cut for our ultimate Chicago dining guide. Find out what other Windy City spots are worth a visit here.
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