Chef Kelly Kim is sharing the food she loves and empowering local teens along the way
By Jessica Koslow
Yellow Fever: The phrase has some pretty negative connotations attached to it. But Chef Kelly Kim has plans to change that, one Asian bowl at a time.
After years of working in corporate sales and marketing research, Kim decided to turn her after-hours passion of cooking and catering into a career. After all, she had watched her Korean dad open and run three Texas BBQ restaurants in Houston.
“I was the oldest daughter of my family,” explains Kim. “My dad worked all of time, and I was in charge of feeding my two stepsisters. My dad would bring home leftover brisket and homemade sausage links.”
Kim is not a classically trained cook. But she’s very sure of what she likes to eat — and how to make it — and started her venture from an innovative idea: an Asian version of Chipotle.
Her Asian bowls top a base of rice, noodles or greens with recipes inspired by Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Hawaiian and Californian cuisine, each with its own artisanal sauce and various customizable toppings.
As Kim and her husband were brainstorming what to call the restaurant, he shouted out “Yellow Fever” and the name simply stuck. To Kim, Yellow Fever means “love of all things Asian.” She agrees the name is “kind of shocking” but adds that it’s memorable, which was likely to play in the restaurant’s favor. Pushback, she says, has not been as drastic as she thought it might be.
Yellow Fever opened on Lincoln Boulevard about 10 months ago in what was formerly Uncle Darrow’s — one of those rare spots in Venice with plenty of parking (in a back lot off Washington Boulevard). It’s the second one in SoCal. The first, in Torrance, launched more than three years ago.
Without much formal promotion or foot traffic, people are finding Kim’s “Asian bowls for your soul.” Her lunch crowds are growing, and local companies — online flower retailer The Bouqs in Marina del Rey, Red Bull in Santa Monica, and The Honest Company in Playa Vista — have sampled Yellow Fever’s creations at catered events.
But reaching hungry people is only part of her mission. One of Kim’s goals is to get involved with the local community. Enter the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice.
It’s 4 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon in mid-March, and nine high-school students dressed in Yellow Fever hats and aprons are wielding knives and learning to cook on the restaurant’s back patio. Today is part of a four-week immersion program, which begins with kitchen safety and ends with the students making their own bowls: Tokyo, Shanghai or Californian.
Kim obviously gets a kick out of teaching teens.
“One of the guys wrinkled his nose at the idea of making a vegan [Californian] bowl,” she shares, “but by the end of the class, after tasting it, he said it was delicious!”
But this is about more than trying new things or learning about nutrition and healthy eating choices.
“I want them to think of cooking as a life skill,” she adds. “When they can learn to cook for themselves, then they can fend for themselves — and that in itself is a power and a life skill.”
Kim prides herself on giving young people a chance. Four of her part-time kitchen staff are high-school students. After the first class of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice program, one student expressed interest in employment.
Along with Yellow Fever’s cooking classes for local teens, Kim also ran a three-month fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice under the restaurant’s RAY (Random Acts of Yellow) program. Kim created a special bowl, PB&K (a pork belly and kimchi soup bowl), and for each bowl sold from January through March, the restaurant donated $1.
Stylish, fit and with a blonde burst of hair framing the left side of her face, Kim looks like a walking advertisement for DIY entrepreneurial success. Yet she considers herself the black sheep of her family. Her father discouraged her from following in his footsteps and entering the restaurant business. He wanted her to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, which is why she majored in biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her two stepsisters are in investment banking, and her older brother is a chemical engineer.
But Kim was convinced her concept of giving people what she liked — fresh vegetables, lean proteins and bold Asian flavors — was too good a calling not to pursue.
“I’ve always had to fight to do what I want,” says Kim, who enjoys the food business because it brings people together and has big plans for Yellow Fever. “We want to conquer the world.”