For this year’s Reader Key Ingredient Cook-Off, we asked some of Chicago’s top chefs to create a dish to honor a person who influenced their cooking. The exercise stirred many kitchen memories.

Chef: Won Kim

Restaurant: Kimski

Brisket sliders braised in Sofie beer

Mentor: Sun Hee Kang, Kim’s mother

“My cooking mentor is my mother. I’m her youngest and most special kid—special in the sense that I would eat anything she put in front of us. We grew up pretty poor. I used to be her prep cook. Every time we made kimchi, I was the one that would mash all the ginger, garlic. I was also responsible for making the rice, which was terrifying, because if I fucked up the rice we didn’t eat dinner.

“I would be her taste tester too. I was so fascinated with what she was doing. I loved mushrooms growing up, and I would always say, ‘You should add mushrooms to it,’ and she always would. My older brother was a picky-ass eater, [but] I would eat anything and everything—even if it looked gross I would at least try it. I was a little more adventurous, and I think she always appreciated that.

“The one thing I take into my own kitchen is cooking by feel, touch, and taste. She never used measurements. She’d take the fucking jug of soy and just put it in. It would be perfect.”   v