Farm to Tray Stories: Chef Robert Austin Cho, Kimchi Smoke

Soup Kitchen Stories: 2018

Biography: Robert Austin Cho, Chef/Owner of Kimchi Smoke

Born in Seoul, Korea but grew up in New Jersey during a time when it wasn’t so easy to deal with two cultures. “My parents took Korean food and (smelly) KIMCHI to the park, to the beach.” This made Robert very uncomfortable because he wanted to be “American” and fit in. People didn’t know what kimchi was, let alone know that Korea was not part of China or Japan. But at the same time, he found himself putting that funky fermented stuff on his grilled cheese sandwich, pizza, bologna sandwich, and whatever leftovers he could find because his parents were working double shifts.

His life took a turn in 2007 while Robert was watching Throwdown with Bobby Flay. He was introduced to wood smoked barbecue, which was not popular in NJ. He bought a little grill and went to the park and tried smoking some ribs and entered a church BBQ cookoff. He won for his ribs and defended his title the following year.

His passion for smoking meats grew and Kimchi Smoke was born. He signed up to be a vendor at some local street festivals and eventually at LIC Flea and Food in 2014. The following year led him in a different path doing pop-ups throughout NYC and NJ.

In 2016, he opened a small brick and mortar in Bergenfield, NJ and later moved to its current location in Westwood, NJ. His culinary career came to a full circle as Robert appeared on Beat Bobby Flay on February 2018.