A mix of New York City locals and out-of-towners gathered in a small, warmly lit apartment in Chinatown. They came to learn the art of kimchi making from Kala Sung. 

“Eat this everyday, your stomach is clean,” said Sung, a sous chef from South Korea who considers herself a kimchi experts. “They say to exercise and all these things; eating is most important.”

Kimchi is a staple side-dish in Korean cuisine made from fermenting vegetables and adding chili powder, giving it a sour, fresh flavor with a crunchy texture. Sung describes kimchi as the “miracle food” because it counteracts “soju nights,” has good bacteria, and helps prevent cancer. “It is why Koreans have super strong immune systems,” she claims.

Sung lured guests in with her French hip-hop music playlist, homemade matcha-aloe soju, and oyster mushroom steamed buns drizzled with sweet balsamic sauce.

One of the six guests was Nadia Jabri, the owner of a Middle Eastern store on the Upper Westside. “I eat fermented food everyday,” she said, as she took out two bags of purple and green cabbage. “It helps maintain my weight.”

Fermented food has grown increasingly popular with people making their own kombucha and sauerkraut at home because it benefits gut health and saves money. Lately, the trend has extended to kimchi, especially in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Sung traveled to Korea to learn more about Korean cuisine after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and receiving her masters in Food Studies from New York University. Her passion for kimchi deepened and she started hosting cooking classes in 2013, charging around $40 to $60 per class.

Her workshops fill up without public invites. The people who show up are usually her friends or friends of friends.

“I’m here for Kala,” said Tommy Roth, who works at an app company in Chicago. “We met six days ago.”

The class split into two, each receiving different instructions from Sung. Some were assigned to finely chop scallions and radish, and peel ginger using a spoon.

While everyone was at work, Sung shared about her time as a “baby chef” at the Gramercy Tavern, an upscale American restaurant in Manhattan. “I like to think the kitchen is elegant, but it’s a mean, mean environment,” she explained.

In some ways, she took to the same attitude during the class, floating around the room, making honest and blunt comments. “This is good,” she’d say, or “Oh, but why are they cut so small?”

The guests cautiously followed instructions, chopped scallions and waited for Sung’s approval.

In the middle of cutting a radish, Bassam Kamati, an architect from Lebanon, dropped Sung’s chef knife. “Oh no! My knife!” she exclaimed as she ran over to pick it up by his feet. Then later followed with, “Oh, and are you ok?”

After two hours, the Tuesday night came to a close as guests scooped their radish kimchi with plastic gloves into glass jars, topped with a sticker of a cartoon-style illustration of Sung.

Many came to the class with an open mind. “I only had kimchi once and I didn’t like it,” said Kiel Brunette, who works at an advertising firm in Chicago. “But I look forward to trying this in a few days,” he added, gesturing to the jar in his hand.

Similarly, Roth was new to Korean food, but was open to the experience. “I didn’t even know what to expect, but I fucking loved it. Two out of two,” he commented.