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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

From soccer dream to celebrity chef: David Shim’s journey to Michelin fame

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Chef David Shim (center) is presented with a plaque by Michelin officials, recognizing the restaurant’s inclusion in the 2022 Michelin Guide. [COTE Facebook]

A boy who dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player became a celebrity chef.

This is the story of David Shim (39), the Korean-American chef at the helm of COTE (Korean pronunciation: “flower”), a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City renowned for its Korean-style steaks.

On November 3, the Michelin Guide featured an interview with Chef Shim, delving into his culinary philosophy and life journey.

Initially, Chef Shim aspired to become a professional soccer player. During his college years, he traveled to Brazil to train, but was not selected for a professional team. When his plans fell through, he discovered a new path during a campus tour of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), a prestigious culinary school.

“There are a lot of similarities between the culinary industry and sports,” Shim reflects, citing high energy, competitiveness, discipline, and dedication as common grounds.

The persistence required on the soccer field found a new outlet in the kitchen. To master culinary basics, Shim practiced for hours every day, deepening his connection with cooking.

Being a chef is a “double-edged sword,” he admits. “I was desperate to start a new path. Starting a second career later in life meant there was immense pressure to outperform everyone,” he shares. “At times, it was incredibly lonely, but that loneliness paradoxically made me recognize the importance of teamwork in the kitchen.”

Integrating Korean culture into the U.S. restaurant industry posed challenges, especially within the established standards of American cuisine. Shim strove to authentically express Korean flavors within this context.

“It took me a while to define what being a Korean American means today through food,” says Shim. Now, he confidently draws inspiration from his upbringing, family time, and memories of Korean food to enhance his menu.

On November 5, he led City Harvest, a food service organization, in serving Korean-style barbecue, including galbi (marinated beef short ribs), to participants at the New York City Marathon—a staple at his Michelin-starred restaurant, COTE.

Shim’s culinary philosophy is centered on ‘sincerity.’ Recalling his childhood, he shares, “When my parents got paid, we would go to a local restaurant and eat galbi as a family.” He acknowledges that most people may not realize the day-long preparation required for marinated ribs but emphasizes the importance of consistently delivering exceptional flavors.

When contemplating his last meal on earth, the celebrity chef says, “A good meal is who you eat with and what you’re eating. I want to be surrounded by all the people I love and enjoy the fanciest buffet in Aisa, where I can eat whatever I want, whether it’s steak and sushi, to everything in between.”

BY YEOL JANG [jang.yeol@koreadaily.com]