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LET'S EAT: Minji's owner-chef living the dream: love what you do and never work a day in your life

Minji’s Restaurant served breakfast until the pandemic hit, and then the owner and head chef started serving Korean dishes. Now, his fusion dishes are the most popular items on the menu

The only secret to how delicious (“mashisoyo”, in Korean) the food is at Minji’s Restaurant is how happy the chef is that makes it. 

Kevin Kwon smiles a lot while talking about making rich, flavourful, fusion dishes inspired by Korean and Japanese traditions. With plates full of mouth-watering morsels, it’s easy to see why the chef is full of laughter and joy.

Minji’s Restaurant in Midland was a breakfast spot until the pandemic hit. Kwon says he was ready to quit when he decided to start making and serving bulgogi, ramen, bibimbop, and the most iconic Korean food: kimchi.

The kimchi at Minji’s is not just fantastic, but it’s made by his mother-in-law with chili powder from Korea. The process is labour intensive, and Kwon estimates that his mother-in-law uses about 100 heads of napa cabbage to supply the restaurant with all the kimchi it needs for the year.

For those uninitiated to the splendor and royal feasts set out in Korean cuisine, kimchi is a side dish, a condiment to be added to dishes, and an integral ingredient. The best comparison is to say it’s like sauerkraut, but spicy, and that still doesn’t quite explain this delightful, fermented, hot cabbage that goes with so many Korean dishes, it’s even good with eggs.

One of the best-selling dishes at Minji’s is the dakgangjeong — boneless, skinless, crispy chicken spiced three ways: sweet soya garlic, hot sweet jalapeño, or MJ style. You really can’t eat just one bite — it’s that good.

The ramen broth is so rich with blended spices and flavours that it’s hard to imagine Kwon could improve on the dish, but he says he’s been working on another broth that he hopes to introduce later this year.

Then, of course, there is the bulgogi. Bulgogi means “fire meat” in Korean, or thin sliced barbecued beef or pork. The meat itself is served over rice or noodles, and the marinade for the meat melds together sweet and savoury with as much spice as you like to deliver an addictive umami that leaves you coming back for more.

The portions are healthy, so be prepared to share.

Sharing food is such a large part of any culture, because it is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures of life. In Korean culture, you don’t truly know someone until you share a meal, because the food is often quite literally shared communally with a plethora of side dishes. Every meal is a feast.

“We love to eat in my family,” says Kwon, who fills with joy as he talks about family trips planned around where to eat.

When Kwon first started cooking, he says he was inspired by French and Italian cuisine.

“I really love to cook,” says Kwon. “I’m doing the job I want to do until I die,” he says while giggling.

That wasn’t always the case for the self-taught chef.

Before opening Minji’s Restaurant in 2011, Kwon owned a convenience store, a gas station, and had a small pizza operation out of one side of his store.

“I used to wake up tired. Not wanting to go to work. Now, I wake up, and I’m thinking of the new ideas I have for what to make in the kitchen,” says the 54-year-old chef.

While he talks about his passion, a joie de vie shines through his every word. That’s the secret ingredient in his cooking: joy.

Just last year, Kwon added Poke —  a Hawaiian dish that blends marinated sashimi-grade raw fish and rice and fresh elements, like daikon and seaweed salad — to his menu.

Based on the flavours Kwon and his wife June are creating and serving, it’s surprising to learn that although Kwon was born in Korea, he has only been back twice since he was 11 years old.

Kwon clarifies that his food is not one kind of cuisine. 

“The food is not truly Korean, or truly Japanese,” says Kwon, “it’s fusion.”

Whatever the chef wants to call it, it is truly delicious.

If you’re interested in trying something new, Minji’s is the place to find an inspiring dish to set your tastebuds wondering why you’ve never eaten here before. Be sure to offer up a thank you in Korean: Gamsa Hamnida.

For those that like a good burger, the menu includes a lot of other options, too.

“My menu is huge,” says Kwon.

Minji’s Restaurant is open every day, except Tuesdays, from 11 am until 8 pm. For more information, visit their Facebook page, or find Minji’s on Instagram. Minji’s Restaurant is located at 854 Yonge St, in Midland.