Any Durhamite familiar with David "Flip" Filippini's cooking knows that nothing is off-limits on his fusion menus. The chef-owner of South Durham's Kokyu Na'Mean sometimes comes up with dishes on the fly. But the really special items are rooted in a deep appreciation for people who have influenced his palate. For his coveted white (baek) kimchi, Filippini found inspiration in Song Chun Park, his brother's Korean mother-in-law.
"Song and I communicate on a transcendental level," he says. "I can't speak Korean for anything." Filippini describes Song as the type of Korean grandmother who "has clay jars in her front yard and comes from Kansas with her Korean food and jang (fermented sauces) because she won't eat any of my Italian family's food."
Kimchi is an obvious staple of Korean food. Filippini classifies white kimchi as a "mis-staple" here in the U.S., a delicacy that often takes a backseat to the better-known red kimchi. "No matter where you go, you'll find red kimchi," he explains. "White kimchi is rarely seen, as it is made with a ton more ingredients and is super spicy."
And that's why it's a Big Fucking Deal, or BFD, which is how Na'Mean classifies its weekly special. Every BFD is based on a choice of chilled ramen, fresh greens, or both. This week's includes a to-be-determined seasonal ingredient and, of course, the white kimchi.
A fermented concoction, Na'Mean's white kimchi packs approximately thirty-five ingredients including cabbage, carrots, gochugaru, Chinese jujubes, and raw green chili peppers that include poblano, jalapeño, Thai, and long hot chili peppers. "We pretty much go for anything green and hot," he says.
After fermenting the kimchi for at least thirty days, a prep cook squeezes the liquid out of it each morning before service and replaces it with Durham's own fermented Brood spicy soda. "We found that after fermenting for thirty days, the kimchi was lacking in effervescence. The addition of the highly carbonated Brood soda brought it back and gave us exactly what we were looking for," says Filippini.
The white kimchi satisfies the palate like sauerkraut: the same crunch, the same sourness, but with a spicy kick and a tart, apple-like sweetness from the jujubes.
With Na'Mean's new spring menu in place, any of the daily specials should complement well with the white kimchi. "Maybe we will use it on a bratwurst," says Filippini.
This article appeared in print with the headline "White Hot."