The restaurant MUN in Haidhausen district is known for its fine Asian food. We talked to chef Mun Kim about how his time in Honolulu, Argentina and L.A. influenced his menu – and why he now likes living in Munich so much.
Mun Kim used to be a banker in L.A. before he quit his job and opened a restaurant in Argentina. In the last few years he has made a name for himself with the restaurant MUN and won the SZ Gourmet Award in 2018. We met the chef for an interview about Honolulu and Haidhausen, the perfect day in Munich, why rice is the most important ingredient for good sushi – and why nobody really wants to eat fresh fish.
You come from South Korea, but grew up in Honolulu. How did this happen?
After almost all eleven of my father's brothers and sisters had moved to the USA, we wanted to join them. However, on the way to Houston we stopped in Honolulu to visit my father's siblings. My father immediately fell in love with the island and then didn't want to move anymore. We stayed for about three years, I went to high school there. Hawaii is a beautfiful place with amazing weather, but it is an island. There were things I really liked about it, but in the end it was too small.
So far you have lived in Hawaii, Argentina and L.A. – how does this places influenced your kitchen?
Honolulu is a melting pot of Japanese, Chinese and Filipino food. One of the dishes I have on my menu right now is from that time. Hawaii influences my cooking very often. We were in Buenos Aires for like two years and what I take away most from this time is my knowledge about wine. I had a restaurant in one of the winerys and worked a lot with the winemakers there. In L.A. you can get any food of the world. I tried a lot of Chinese and Taiwanese food there, in my opinion they have the best asian food – better than in Asia. So L.A. gave me a lot of ideas, what I wanna do in my own kitchen.
Before becoming a cook, you worked as a banker on Wall Street for 19 years and quit after the financial crisis. Why didn't you want to continue after that?
I don’t regret being a banker, I learned a lot and did a lot of different things. But my job was to make sure that my customers' wishes came true. So one day I was asking myself: What about my dreams? After the crisis I got paid pretty well to get off, so I thought, now it’s time to think about what I wanna do. It was always cooking, that made me happy – in the kitchen, I have a zen moment. When we we're living in the States, I did a lot of shopping every Sunday and cooked for all our friends. That was my relaxation from the working week.
But where to start, when you want to be a professional cook?
I wanted to become a sushi chef in L.A. – but I was turning forty, so I knew nobody's gonna hire me. I asked the famous sushi chef Makoto Okuwa, if I could do an cooking apprenticeship with him. And I told him that I don't want money, I just want to learn something! So I worked for him for free. I was financially okay, so I could do that, but it was hard: I worked ten hours a day, five to six days a week, for a year without earning a penny.
"It was always cooking, that made me happy – in the kitchen, I have a zen moment."
And after this year you made your great Sushi, which you are famous for in Munich?
Oh no, I’m still learning when it comes to sushi – and I'm doing it now for 13 years. Sushi is really difficult, the rice is 90 percent of it! Everybody can buy the best fish, but doing the beste rice is practice. So that's the only difference I can make in my restaurant. And although I get it from the same company every time for three years now, the rice is different every time. Now after all that time I have a little of a feeling, when I touch the rice: How dry is it? How much water needs it? But of course, the quality of the fish is also very important. When I get my salmon, I wait for seven days, till i serve it.
Seven days? But everybody wants to eat fresh fish, right?
No, fresh fish is bad! It has no taste, it’s really chewy. If you catch a tuna, you don’t wann eat it right away, because its taste is really bloody. So even with tuna, you wait seven days before you eat it until the flavor comes out.
You have a lot of exotic fish in your menu – where do you get it?
The Munich Fish market is getting better compared to three years ago, when we came to the city. But when it comes to exotic fish, I work with suppliers from Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf. I’m too small with my restaurant to buy it directly from the market, so I use suppliers. I tell them which ingredients I need and they search it for me. Like the white tuna, I think I’m the only one in Munich who has it – it comes from Alaska, is exported by a Korean company. It took me one year to get it.
How do you know, what you want to do. Creating a new menu – how does this works?
In my time as a banker, I spent a lot of time eating in restaurants. My menu is more of a memory I had in the past. Of course, I can’t remember everything I ate, so I do my research. For example: I had this wonderful dinner 20 years ago in a restaurant in L.A. and then I try to find it again on the internet.
"My menu is more of a memory I had in the past."
And also what you remember from your childhood?
Yes, also a lot of Korean dishes my mum made me. I have a fusion restaurant, so I modify it, but I call my mum often and ask her: "You cooked me this one, how did you do this?" Last month I had that crazy dish, its called Nattō, one of my fathers favorite food. Usually he does it a specifically way, but I can’t serve it here that way, because its smelly (laughs) – so I made my own version of Nattō and combined with the Alaskan halibut. Or my favorite Korean dish: A soup with all kinds of different seafood, which doesn’t look really pretty. So i did it the French way, a sort of Bouillabaisse but with Korean taste.
Do you have a own favorite dish in your restaurant?
Right now I like my fish dish, the black cod. It’s really expensive and really good, I marinade it with miso-sake and a Korean spice, then put it in the oven. I just love that dish!
Which restaurants in Munich are you faves?
Unfortunately I haven’t that much time to go out for dinner, because of my own restaurant. I come home at midnight for six days a week. In the morning I take my two dogs out for a walk, but separately, because they hate each other (laughs).
Right now you live in Haidhausen – what do you like about it?
Haidhausen is really quiet. Sometimes I feel like I’m living on the countryside. I walk to my restaurant every day and when I go back at night, there is no one on the streets and I can calm down really good. Besides, I always feel safe here.
"One thing I like about Munich is that there is history behind every building. And I love those kinds of little stories – just like that one from the step of the devil at Frauenkirche."
When your family is coming, what do you show them?
The first thing is Marienplatz: I like the Rathaus and its beautiful Glockenspiel. I’ve never seen anything like this, but Munich has a lot of tradition. After that I would take them to the museum: I like the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum better than the Pinakothek. If the weather is nice, afterwards we go to the Englischer Garten (park) to sit at the Chinesischer Turm in the beer garden. One thing I like about Munich is that there is history behind every building. And I love those kinds of little stories – just like that one from the step of the devil at Frauenkirche.
You won the SZ Gourmet Award and got fifteen Gault-Millau points. What else can follow after that?
I want higher points (haha). No, I don’t cook to get points. Gault-Millau is nice, I’m glad they like me, but that is not the point. I cook, because I want to send out a message to people. Every dish that leaves my kitchen is judged – on a Saturday I send out about 300 dishes and my guests are judging me for every dish. As a chef, my dream is to present my product with honesty and by heart. Also I wanna push the boundaries a little bit and show the guest something new, something I like.