My Conversation with Eric Kim
Cooking, Queerness, and Clapping Back on Asian Stereotypes
Eric Kim is a New York Times staff writer on food and author of the just dropped Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home (Clarkson Potter), a beautifully written collection of recipes set within a memoir of growing up in a Korean-American family in Atlanta. In 2018, Eric wrote a moving essay for Food52 about coming out to his parents. It’s an act I feel a godfatherly connection to: before telling his parents that night, Eric messaged me on Facebook to tell me what was about to go down. I offered my support, though I was a bit of a mess internally—what if it didn’t go as he’d hoped? Happily, Eric’s parents are amazing, and Korean American shows how a new generation can use identity to both preserve and alter family food traditions.
Eric and I spoke on January 31, 2022. Conversation edited for length and clarity.
JB: I want to focus on queerness in your work. Let’s start with that 2018 piece you wrote for Food52 on coming out to your parents over sushi and kimchi fried rice.
EK: I love that coming out essay—that was kind of my first time writing about my queerness. I wrote it because, as a consumer, I didn’t feel like I had seen that many coming out stories from a gay Korean Catholic perspective. I have this joke that my next book is titled My Gay Korean Southern Catholic Memoir. [laughs] A lot of the DMs I get are from other gay Koreans or Asians living in the South, maybe with religious parents, who are surprised that there could be a Korean family like mine that is so open.
I always thought you had a pretty unique relationship with your parents partly because you are queer and out—you can stand outside of their expectations and just relate as an adult.
All of coming out was so unexpected. I was like, Damn, the media didn’t prepare me for this! I mean, it’s not that I was trying to do service for other Gaysians who have to come out, it’s more that I wanted to tell that story, because I came out when I was 26 years old—much later than most of the narratives I see on TV or YouTube. All of my exes had come out to their parents when they were 18, or in their early 20s. I don’t regret coming out to mine later. I’m glad I waited. I feel like I was creating my own narrative that wasn’t the stereotypical white teenager coming out to his very liberal accepting parents who aren’t religious. [laughs] I really wanted to tell the version where there is resistance, but still love and acceptance. And that’s what I wanted to show—our coming out as queer, gay Asian people.