ICC Alumnus, Michelin Star-Winner and MasterChef Korea Judge Hooni Kim

When it comes to success stories of International Culinary Center (ICC) alumni, South Korean-born chef-owner Hooni Kim has earned himself a place among the culinary all-stars.

Now featured for a second consecutive season as a judge on the Korean iteration of long-time culinary entertainment sensation MasterChef, Kim’s road to success as a chef began in another direction altogether—in the medical field. While in medical school in California, Kim’s roots as a self-proclaimed foodie drew him to his childhood home of New York City—and to his culinary training ground at ICC, then called The French Culinary Institute.

Ever since, Kim’s success has proven time and again that switching paths to a culinary career—no matter how great a leap—is not only possible, but it can result in incredible success.

Learning Essential Culinary Techniques at ICC

In ICC’s Professionally Culinary Arts program, Hooni Kim learned culinary essentials that gave him the technique and discipline that would set the stage for his immense success as a chef and owner later on. It’s also where he found the missing piece to his culinary inspiration.

In an interview for Chefs Feed featured in Food & Wine, Kim explained the revelation he experienced while training at ICC: “I ended up going to The French Culinary Institute [now International Culinary Center]… I felt like I was cooking in France. One thing that I did notice was, as good as a cook as I thought I was, what I lacked was that pride in cooking food from your heritage.” This realization started a journey that would launch the next step in his career.

Finding a Fresh Voice in the Culinary World

After graduating from ICC in 2005, Kim worked in two restaurants with three Michelin Stars each, Daniel and Masa. The latter, boasting an acclaimed menu of Japanese cuisine, allowed Kim—driven by his desire to get back in touch with the Korean food of his family—to test international culinary waters under the direction of chef and owner Masayoshi Takayama.

Becoming a Chef-Owner and Making History for Korean Cooking

It was in 2010, after honing his own brand of Korean cooking with a twist at Masa, that Kim opened his first restaurant Danji in New York, which quickly gained glowing reviews from critics with the The New York Times and foodies alike. One year later, Danji became the first Korean restaurant in the U.S. to ever to receive a Michelin Star.

“Hooni Kim, who opened this place …as a new-style Korean take on a Japanese izakaya, is a terrific cook. Those who take the time and care to explore his menu of both traditional and modernized Korean food will be rewarded.” –From The New York Times’ review of Michelin Star-winning restaurant, Danji

After Danji’s success, Kim launched Hanjan—his second Manhattan restaurant—in 2012 with a menu showcasing small-plate Korean dishes and fresh, organic meats and produce. Kim has had recipes featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many other high-profile publications worldwide, including several in South Korea recognizing Kim for breaking Korean cuisine onto the U.S. scene.

A Culinary Icon of International Proportions

With all of his success as a chef, owner and ground-breaker in the culinary landscape for Korean food, it’s perhaps no surprise that Hooni Kim was asked to star as a judge in MasterChef Korea, preparing to premier its fourth season. Kim’s success is a trailblazer for other chefs and culinary students looking to start their own careers and Korean restaurants. Kim has also brought his extensive knowledge of Korean cuisine back to International Culinary Center, teaching a course titled Korean Cooking with Hooni Kim at ICC’s New York Campus while additionally supporting the culinary school’s program for international students.

Keeping fans and followers in the loop on social media, Kim has posted updates from this season’s MasterChef Korea set on Twitter and Instagram. MasterChef Korea Season 4 premiers on Korea’s OliveTV Thursday, March 3rd at 9pm.

Start Your Own International Culinary Career at ICC

Looking to get to work in the kitchen on your culinary career? Inspired by your own culinary heritage? Explore the culinary course options and educational opportunities ICC provides through their Professional Culinary Arts and Professional Pastry Arts programs.

For international students with a passion for cooking, learn more about how to start your culinary education at our New York City or California campuses, or discover the opportunities available with our ESL+ Food Certificate Program, designed by The New School and International Culinary Center, which allows students to attend ICC after receiving a high-quality English language education.