A few months ago, I found myself giving a ride to Beverly Kim in my car. We had just finished a Top Chef postmortem with the six Chicago chefs in Chinatown, and she and her publicist were waiting for a taxi that never came. It was a cold March day, so decent human being I am, I gave the two a ride back to the Fairmont Hotel where Kim’s restaurant Aria was located.
During that 15-minute ride north, Kim told me how difficult it was being a new mother and a full-time chef (a chef with an increasing national presence). She said how she dreamed of opening a homespun restaurant with her husband John Clark, a former sous chef at C-House and director of the soup kitchen at the Jane Addams Hull House. The days and nights would still be long, but at least she could exert some control over her schedule as a mom.
Four months later, Kim has announced she is leaving Aria for a new restaurant venture — but it was to take over Logan Square's Bonsoiree.
Current chef and founder Shin Thompson, who in six years has elevated Bonsoiree from secret underground concept to Michelin-starred brick-and-mortar storefront, is moving on to a new restaurant project, though he will retain majority ownership of his restaurant. Kim and Clark will take over the kitchen in late August after the restaurant closes for two weeks for remodeling.
The germ of the idea was planted in March when Kim and Thompson discussed collaborating on a pop-up dinner. Around that time, Kim and her husband sought Thompson's advice about opening their own place. Because Thompson, too, was looking to move on from Bonsoiree, but didn't want to close what he had built, he suggested Kim and Clark take over.
And that's what they'll do after Thompson's last night as Bonsoiree chef on August 11 (Kim's last day at Aria is July 21). Thompson told me: "Hers is more of the soulful Korean influence, John's a bit more of the avant garde techniques. I really like where they're going with it."
I mentioned to Kim the conversation we had in the car a few months back, and how Bonsoiree would be dialing up her culinary ambition, not the more homier mom-and-pop as she had once planned.
"This is more risky, more complex, but I still think you're going to get that soul," Kim argued. "Johnny and I are two different chefs, but we have a lot of the same sensibilities. He has Japanese influences ... he studied in Korea. I don't want to say it'll only be Korean and put myself in a corner. But it'll be me and my husband more naked on the plate."
It'll be a different style of thinking than at Aria, where the a la carte menu meant dishes had to be more self contained. They'll continue Bonsoiree's tasting menu, and that'll allow Kim to focus on smaller bites and sequencing flavors, such as following up a sour tone with a bitter note. She wants to place more emphasis on plating. Kim will also employ artwork by Skokie artist Young Sun Han, who like Kim is Korean-American and competed on a Bravo reality competition. Young Sun was a contestant on season two of Bravo's "Work of Art." In addition, Bonsoiree will now add a liquor license, and move to a Next-like ticket reservation system.
Said Kim: "I'm sad to leave Aria. When you're cultivating something, and you're starting to see things come together, it's hard to leave it. At the same time, I was always looking for a place to work with my husband. We couldn't pass this up. It'll be a beautiful expression of us."