Kimchi Club: handmade with love
A passion for sharing Korean food and culture inspired Korean Australian Minka Park to create Kimchi Club. This plant-based healthy food brand has not only given Park the means to produce premium traditional Korean food for Australian consumers; it has also allowed her to generate work opportunities for migrant Korean women.
Growing up in Seoul, Park was always in the kitchen, helping her mother and aunties to make a variety of Korean food, especially kimchi. Happy childhood days spent making kimchi with her family and neighbours during Kim-jang, the annual kimchi-making season, are a special memory that she has always treasured.
“It’s an annual process, making kimchi as a family group,” Park says. “Kimchi is one of our staple foods, and we make large quantities before winter. It takes a whole weekend. My mum would start preparing cabbages on Friday afternoon. Then on Saturday, our whole family came around to help – my aunties, my uncles. Even our neighbours. When I was young, our door was never locked; it was always open. And neighbours would just pop by.
“That’s one of my favourite memories, all that Korean food and love. Sharing things with no conditions. We just do it because we’re family, we’re neighbours, we’re a community.”
Creating a connection
Park moved from Seoul to Adelaide in 2000, where she studied Le Cordon Bleu cookery and hotel management, immersing herself in Australian culture and food from around the world. But she still enjoyed making seasonal kimchi and other Korean dishes for her family, friends and neighbours. Over time, she adapted kimchi recipes for vegan friends and less adventurous eaters, introducing many people to Korean food for the first time.
It was while Park was working as a volunteer, teaching Korean to young Korean Australian children, that she began to meet many other migrant Korean women. She discovered that they found it challenging to find work in Australia, having English as a second language.
“I ended up meeting all these Korean mothers whose stories were all very unique,” she says. “But these women, they didn’t speak English well. And also, it’s an entirely different culture, a totally different environment. They were having difficulty finding a job. I wanted to create a connection with those women. So I had the idea of starting Kimchi Club. Making Korean food, healthy food together, and offering them employment.
“I’m happy working with Korean people. It’s even better making Korean food with them by hand, using local ingredients. And what we make, we love sharing with Australian people. That’s why we say, ‘Handmade with love from Adelaide.”
Something for everyone
Park founded Kimchi Club in 2018, and the business now distributes to more than 100 stores across South Australia. There are also plans to expand distribution across the country. And in time, Park also hopes to explore export opportunities.
Kimchi Club’s range of kimchi and condiments are made by hand in small batches using local organic produce and traditional Korean wild fermentation techniques. Traditional kimchi contains fish sauce or shrimp paste, but Kimchi Club products are completely plant-based. They’ve all been designed to appeal to a broad range of palates and dietary requirements.
“Our products are for everyone,” Park says. “For some, kimchi can be a bit too spicy. So we offer kimchi that is less spicy. For example, our Naked Kimchi and our Beet Kimchi are not spicy. But some Australians love spicy food. So we also have mild spicy and extra spicy kimchi. Our products are also all vegan and gluten-free.
“All our products go well with Asian food, but you can have it with anything. Yoghurt, scrambled eggs, smashed avo, pasta, barbecue. And it’s all made in our kitchen. We buy direct from local farmers, and we process and prepare all the vegetables by hand.”
“I’ve seen some kimchi that uses an added culture,” Park says. “When we make traditional kimchi, we don’t need a mother. Like with kombucha, you must use a mother. We don’t. The beautiful ingredients we use, that is the mother. It’s all naturally fermented.”
Sharing our story
In Korea, there are more than 200 varieties of kimchi. You can basically kimchi any seasonal vegetable; it’s an age-old method of preserving food.
“For example, we say, ‘I am kimchi-ing cucumber today’ or, ‘I am kimchi-ing spring onion this afternoon,” Park says. “Here in South Australia, we love using local ingredients to make Korean food. And I’m passionate about sharing our food and meeting people in person. I go to a local farmers’ market every weekend to share our products and talk to customers.”
Park is proud to call South Australia home, but she is also proud of her heritage. Being able to share the food and culture of Korea has brought her an immense amount of joy.
“Korean people know how to make Korean food,” she says. “We lived in Korea; we have Korean food culture in our blood. And through Kimchi Club, I love sharing our food and our story. Everyone knows kimchi is from Korea. We are a group of Korean women who make kimchi. That is our brand. That is our product. But at the same time, that is our story.”
You can find Kimchi Club listed on the new EATIVITY Local Food Directory. The EATIVITY Local Food Directory is on a mission to support the local food movement by connecting consumers with local, sustainable and artisan food producers, growers and farmers right across the country. Are you an Australian food producer who’d like to sign up or find out more? Go to the directory or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org