With his lacerating wit, pop culture savvy and equal fluency with humor and pathos, the Emmy-nominated screenwriter, playwright and producer Jason Kim is one of the most dynamic young voices in the entertainment world. He has written for Girls and Love and is a producer on HBO’s Barry. He also wrote the book for KPOP, an off-Broadway show that won Outstanding Musical at the 2018 Lucille Lortel awards. Currently, he’s developing a series for Amazon called Neon Machine, starring Korean hip-hop star Tablo. Born in Seoul, Jason immigrated with his family to St. Louis, MO when he was ten. He talks to Catherine and Juliana about fleeing the midwest for NYC immediately after high school, his quarter-life crisis as a young staffer at The New Yorker, his decade-long process of coming out to his parents, his grandmother who encouraged him to be a writer and — last but not least – his devotion to his dermatologist.
Michelle Zauner is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who records dreamy, melancholic indie pop under the name Japanese Breakfast. She’s also a talented writer whose debut book, a memoir titled Crying in H Mart, is being published by Knopf this spring. In it, she recounts her experiences growing up half-Korean in her mostly white town of Eugene, OR, her path to becoming a musician and her struggle to reclaim her Korean heritage after her mother’s early death from cancer. From her home in Brooklyn, Michelle talks to Catherine and Juliana about her idyllic childhood summers in Seoul, her tumultuous relationship with her mom, her channeling of grief into creativity and the importance of Korean role models in her life, from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen Oh to You Tuber Maangchi. Stay tuned to the very end, when she shares her favorite snacks and staples from H Mart! Photo credit: Peter Ash Lee
Edward Lee is the acclaimed chef of several restaurants in Kentucky and the DC area, most notably Louisville’s 610 Magnolia, where he first made his mark on Southern cuisine almost 20 years ago using ingredients such as gochujang and soy sauce aged in whiskey barrels. He won a James Beard award for his 2018 book Buttermilk Graffiti and he was nominated for an Emmy for his work hosting the PBS series Mind of a Chef. Lee is also the co-founder of a remarkable nonprofit called The Lee Initiative, which during the pandemic has been supporting restaurant workers, struggling farms and other communities in need. Catherine and Juliana talk to Edward about how growing up in Carnarsie, Brooklyn—where there were very few Korean Americans—shaped his palate and his identity. He also shares stories about Clay, the hip Korean restaurant he opened in New York in the late ‘90s, his recent guest appearance on Top Chef: Portland, and his newfound mission in life to help others.
Chang-rae Lee is the author of Native Speaker, On Such a Full Sea, A Gesture Life, Aloft, and The Surrendered, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His latest novel, My Year Abroad, is a dazzling tale about an American college student whose life is upended when he travels to Asia under the wing of a mysterious Chinese American entrepreneur. From his home in San Francisco, where he’s on sabbatical from his position as a professor at Stanford, Chang-rae talks with Catherine and Juliana about overcoming the pressures of being “the first” well-known Korean American novelist, developing his early love of writing as a student at Exeter, and the way his mother’s early death from cancer at age 52 may have influenced his decision to pursue writing as a career. He also shares stories about his parents (we learn his mother was featured in Time magazine in 1956!) and his fond memories of the Korean church summer camp he attended as a kid.
Jim Lee is one of the most influential and revered figures in the world of comic books. The chief creative officer and publisher of DC Comics, Jim was born in Korea and immigrated to the States when he was nearly five. From Superman to Batman to Iron Man to Wonder Woman, Jim has drawn just about every superhero you can think of and holds the record for the best-selling comic book of all time, X-Men, #1. Jim tells Catherine and Juliana about his earliest childhood memories of life in Seoul; his lifelong obsession with drawing; his teenage years as a Korean American prep schooler; and the epic blowout he had with his parents when he announced he wasn’t going to medical school. He also shares his thoughts on the importance of representation in the industry and the possibility of Americans embracing an Asian superhero. Joining our co-hosts for this special episode is K-Pod audio engineer and Jim Lee superfan AJ Valente.
Designer Carol Lim has been at the leading edge of American fashion since 2002, when she and Humberto Leon co-founded the retail shop Opening Ceremony in downtown New York. She and Humberto went on to design their own acclaimed fashion collection, also called Opening Ceremony, and to become co-creative directors of Kenzo, a position they held for eight years. In January 2020, Opening Ceremony announced that it would be coming under new ownership and closing all its retail locations. In a Zoom call, Carol chats with Catherine and Juliana about the major changes at the company. She also shares stories about growing up in Los Angeles, her favorite dress in middle school (Benetton), her SAT scores, her famous friendship with fellow Berkeley classmate Humberto, and her belief in the value of nunchi (눈치).
Margaret Cho needs no introduction. In 1994, the comedian was the first Asian American to have her own sitcom (All-American Girl, loosely based on her experience as a teenager growing up in San Francisco). After the show was cancelled, she returned to standup, where she built a reputation for her confessional, bawdy and subversive material, which targeted racism, homophobia, fat shaming, the entertainment industry, and most mercilessly, herself. From her Los Angeles home where she and her chihuahua, Lucia, have been sheltering during the pandemic, Margaret tells Catherine and Juliana about her minister grandfather, her dad’s deportation, becoming financially independent at age 18, a shaman’s surprising prophecy and her favorite K-dramas (Itaewon Class, Replay 1988, Mystic Pop Up Bar, Prison Playbook, Hospital Playlist, It’s Ok Not To Be Ok, Flower of Evil, Stranger 2).
Ben Baller & Jeanne Yang
Los Angeles-based siblings Jeanne Yang and Ben Yang have both made their mark on the fashion world, but in very different ways. Jeanne Yang is a highly sought-after stylist known for her work with Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Bale.
Diana Son is a television writer and producer whose credits include The West Wing, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Southland, Dirty John, Blue Bloods and Thirteen Reasons Why, where she served as showrunner. She first came to fame as a young playwright in 1998 with the acclaimed play Stop Kiss, which premiered at the Public Theatre and starred an unknown Sandra Oh. In a Zoom interview, Catherine and Juliana learn about Diana’s recent bout with Covid-19, her experience being the only Asian or Asian woman in countless writing rooms and her most recent project, an adaptation of the novel If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha into a series for Apple.
Author David Yoon became a breakout star in 2019 with his critically acclaimed YA debut novel, Frankly in Love, which hit the New York Times bestseller list and has also been optioned for a movie. In a Zoom interview, Juliana and Catherine talk to David about his path to becoming a writer, the “surreal” experience of seeing his first novel take off, and his partnership in love and literature with his wife, YA superstar author Nicola Yoon. (“I feel like I won the love lottery with her.”)
Ashley Park is a Tony, Grammy, and Emmy-nominated musical theater actress who has dazzled Broadway audiences with her performances in Mamma Mia, Sunday in the Park With George, The King and I and Mean Girls. She has also appeared in Netflix’s Tales of the City and off-Broadway in KPOP and Grand Horizons. But Park didn’t waltz her way into stardom without struggle. As a teenager in Ann Arbor, she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, necessitating eight months in the hospital. Ashley tells Catherine and Juliana about how her passion for performing fueled her recovery and shares some of the secrets to her success.
Visual artist KangHee Kim, best known as @tinycactus on Instagram, uses Photoshop to transform images of everyday street scenes and apartment interiors into surreal dreamscapes, all featuring portals into dreamlike worlds. On a visit to KangHee’s home and studio in Queens, Catherine and Juliana learn that the artist’s very distinctive work is directly connected to her status as a DACA recipient, which has prevented her from leaving the U.S. for over a decade. These images of “surreal escapism,” as she refers to them, have since become a form of visual therapy and have been called emblematic of today’s digital aesthetic.
Eunjo “Jo” Park is the executive chef at Kāwi, the fine-dining Korean restaurant opened by David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group in New York City. Jo is at the forefront of a growing group of chefs putting modern Korean food on the map. After culinary school at CIA she climbed the ranks in some of the best kitchens in the country, including Daniel, Per Se and Momofuku Ko. She tells Catherine and Juliana about her childhood in rural Korea, learning to cook for herself while her parents ran a dry cleaners, a devastating injury early on in her career, and the challenges lying ahead.
Juliana Sohn & Catherine Hong
Welcome to Season 2 of K-Pod! For our opening episode, we’re turning the tables on the show’s co-hosts, writer Catherine Hong and photographer Juliana Sohn. The longtime friends chat with the founder of KoreanAmericanStory.org, HJ Lee, about their first meeting (at summer school in the 1980s!), their work for magazines, and what’s most surprised them about doing the podcast.
For our season finale of K-Pod we interviewed Young Huh, one of the most sought-after interior designers in the country. Young is known for creating stylish interiors based on classic proportions, luxurious materials and an understanding for how people live.
Jenny Kwak put Korean food on the map when she opened the restaurant Dok Suni in New York’s East Village in 1992 when she was just 19. Later, she opened a second successful restaurant, Do Hwa, where Quentin Tarantino was famously an investor. Catherine and Juliana catch up with the pioneering chef-restaurateur at her new Brooklyn restaurant, Haenyeo, where she’s flexing her creativity with dishes like cajun-inflected dduk boki. Jenny talks about her thwarted plans to be a painter; the rollicking early days of Dok Suni; her ambivalence about celebrity chef culture and her close relationship with her mom (who still keeps her kimchi recipe a secret, even from Jenny).
Byron Kim is a Brooklyn-based artist who works in an area known as the abstract sublime. Part of the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, his minimalist paintings sit at the threshold between abstraction and representation, conceptualism and pure painting. Catherine and Juliana learn about Byron’s original plan to become a poet (he switched to art, thinking it would be “easier”); his physician parents, who immigrated to New York back in the 1950s; the gigs that got him through his early years as a struggling New York artist (four words: Skadden Arps graveyard shift); his career breakthrough at the landmark 1993 Whitney Biennial; and his ongoing series known as “Sunday Paintings,” arguably his most personal work to date.
Soyoung Lee built her career at Metropolitan Museum of Art where she was the museum’s first curator of Korean art, organizing such landmark shows as “Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom” and “Diamond Mountains: Travel and Nostalgia in Korean Art.” Last year, after 15 years at the Met, she was appointed Chief Curator of the Harvard Art Museums. She talks to Juliana and Catherine about her childhood as the daughter of a South Korean diplomat living in Jakarta, Stockholm and London; her early love of Japanese art; and the challenges of making ancient art compelling to modern American audiences.
Romon K Yang aka Rostarr
Romon K. Yang — aka Rostarr — is a Brooklyn-based artist, currently living in Bali, who works in painting, drawing, sculpture, digital and film. His signature works are large-scale black-and-white abstract paintings that recall both calligraphy and street art. In 2016, he collaborated with Nike on a much-coveted collection of sneakers and apparel; he has also created work for the Standard Hotels group and Moncler. Rostarr tells Catherine and Juliana about his rebellious childhood in Virginia, his fraught relationship with his parents, and the years he spent as a break dancer, graphic designer and music industry art director before finding his calling as an artist.
Writer-performer Karen Chee is a rising star in the comedy world and the youngest member of the writing staff of Late Night with Seth Meyers. A 2017 graduate of Harvard, she’s known for smart, quirky humor that’s unafraid to take on issues of gender, race and politics. Thanks to the recurring segment “What Does Karen Know?” she’s also known for her millennial ignorance of fax machines and Nirvana. Karen tells Catherine and Juliana about her childhood as a “square” (she only watched PBS and C-Span), her early ambitions to be a political speechwriter and how she got her first big gig, writing jokes for Sandra Oh at the Golden Globes.
Peter Kim grew up in New Jersey knowing he wanted to do one thing in life: act. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he made his Broadway debut in Thoroughly Modern Millie and has since built a solid stage, film and television career. This past fall, he astonished audiences with a funny and heartbreaking performance in the play Wild Goose Dreams at the Public Theater. Catherine and Juliana learn about Peter’s family (spoiler alert: his parents weren’t exactly thrilled about having a “gay actor son”), the casting challenges he’s faced, and his growing role as a mentor, teacher and activist.
Oejong Kim worked as a translator, chef and corporate housing specialist in Tokyo and New York before discovering her true passion: knitting. In 2004, Kim co-founded the yarn and knitwear company Loopy Mango, which has become a creative force in the knitting world. Loopy Mango’s signature product is Big Loop, a luxuriously thick, chunky merino wool yarn that has inspired many imitators. Catherine and Juliana travel to Beacon, NY to meet Oejong and see for themselves why this artsy, eccentric Korean-American in the oversized glasses has become a cult figure in the DIY world.
Facebook creative director Ji Lee is one of the most influential graphic designers working in the country today. Born in Korea and raised in Brazil, he built his career in advertising, working for Google Creative Lab, Droga 5 and Saatchi & Saatchi. But it’s his wide range of witty and subversive personal projects — like the Bubble Project and the Instagram sensation Drawings for my Grandchildren, which features the artwork of his 76-year-old father — that are dearest to his heart. Catherine and Juliana learn about his Korean-Brazilian childhood, his unique creative process and his passion for challenging the way we see the world.
Jin Soon Choi
Celebrity manicurist Jin Soon Choi has been a force in the beauty world for the last two decades. Her pioneering work has been featured on countless magazine covers and has made her a backstage fixture during New York Fashion Week. In the industry, everyone loves Jin — she’s the fun-loving, ageless cool kid who hangs out with Marc Jacobs and the Hadid sisters, always with a smile on her face. But what Catherine and Juliana learn is she’s never forgotten her humble start in the States when she spoke just a few words of English and worked as a waitress at GamMeeOk in Koreatown.