One of Chicago's most talked-about restaurants was, believe it or not, born out of desperation.
"Opening our own place was sort of a last resort," Johnny Clark, the co-owner and co-chef of Parachute, along with his wife, Beverly Kim, says. "We were both chefs with a young child, but only one of us could be working at a time. Our own restaurant was a dream we always had, but the despair made us jump into it."
"It was a leap of faith. And it helped us name the restaurant Parachute," he says.
The couple, who met in 2008, knew that the menu would lean toward Korean American flavors, given Kim's background, Clark's stint cooking in Korea and passion for the cuisine. But the restaurant, which opened in May 2014 in the Avondale neighborhood and has been packed ever since, is more than that: "We wanted to create a restaurant with the type of food we wanted to eat," Kim says. "We hadn't found it in Chicago. We also wanted a real neighborhood feel, not in a restaurant row."
"We cook what we want—we don't really call it Korean food," Clark says. "There might be Indian flavors or Chinese flavors."
"We want a balance of Korean flavors with things people are comfortable with," Kim adds.
That translates into creations like their transcendent fried cauliflower with crisp chicken skin and cilantro-spiked raita (see the recipe), a dish so nuanced with flavors and textures that you won't know what hit you. At the restaurant, it may be on a table among plates of duck hearts with gochujang and grapes, herby Brussels sprouts with tonnato and nam prik pao, and a pork belly and mung bean pancake with kimchi, black garlic, a hen egg and pineapple.
"Korean-style eating is communal, so it's meant to be shared," Kim says.
Even as the couple continually tweaks the menu, one thing is for certain: Each chef puts one's own stamp on every dish.
"Inevitably two heads are better than one," Kim says. "One person is always more out there, and another is more grounded, so it pulls the dish together. We lean on each other's strong suits."
We can't wait to see what leap they take next.