Ann Kim, the Korean immigrant, Columbia-educated, former-actress turned pizza maven has just won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest. Kim arrived in Minnesota with her family, moving to Apple Valley in the 1970’s, went to college in New York before returning to the state and eventually working as an actor with the Children’s Theater Company. In her emotional acceptance speech she shared her unconventional journey, “if my work has made what has been traditionally narrow path a little bit wider, a little bit more inclusive, than that will be my greatest achievement.” and “We cannot be what we cannot see.”
Kim and her partner Conrad Leifur first opened Pizzeria Lola, named after their dog, in South Minneapolis in 2010. The two had stumbled into success, born of an obsession with pizza and an ill-conceived plan to run a Jimmy John’s franchise. As Kim detailed, in a now famous tweet, she had planned to dip a toe into restaurant ownership by first becoming a franchisee of the popular sub shop, but instead decided to go all in on her passion for a neighborhood pizzeria.
8 years ago I almost bought a Jimmy Johns franchise in Cottage Grove b/c I was afraid to open my own restaurant. Fuck fear. Lesson learned.— Ann Kim (@annbkool) August 30, 2017
That first restaurant, which still boasts wait times and lines, is a neighborhood touchstone where photo booth images of evolving families line the walls.
Two years later Hello, Pizza opened with New York style slices and a Korean Cowboy sandwich that’s one of the great all-time meals found between two pieces of bread.
Part of Kim’s success has been mixing in Korean flavors, like the Lady Zaza a pie made with kimchi, Korean sausage, chile and sesame.
Ann Kim, who "gave up a very un-lucrative acting career to be a cook," is the #jbfa Best Chef: Midwest winner https://t.co/t4GD068wv8 pic.twitter.com/CaolbJ6sQ8— Eater (@Eater) May 7, 2019
All of these experiences culminated in the opening of Young Joni, an Eater Best New Restaurant selection. The blending of pizza and small plates wowed customers and critics alike. The back bar speakeasy serves innovated fun drinks. The restaurant design blends rustic artistry with Wisconsin cabin chic.
This was Kim’s second nomination for the Best Chef Midwest Award. She now joins fellow local winners of the distinction, Isaac Becker, Tim McKee, and Alex Roberts.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards