Food Artisans: Mama O's Kimchi

Food Artisans

A different New York artisan every week.


[Photograph: Stephanie Klose]

Kheedim Oh launched Mama O's Premium Kimchi after a butcher friend to whom he'd given samples of his personal stash wanted to sell the product in his store. "I had to come up with a name, packaging, everything," Oh says. He named the business after his mother, who had taught him how to make the fermented Korean staple, and slapped some stickers on the lids of plastic containers he ordered online. But since kimchi continues to ferment indefinitely, producing bubbles and gases, one of those early packages exploded on the shelf and Oh quickly switched to glass jars.

Oh's take on traditional kimchi is updated for modern tastes and dietary restrictions, starting with eliminating shellfish from all of the flavors. "It seems like no one is a little bit allergic to shrimp," he says, "What you get from shrimp is salt and a briny, fishy taste, and you can get that from fish sauce." But kimchi fans who eschew fish sauce can enjoy the "Kosha" version, which isn't technically kosher ("I can't afford a rabbi," Oh says), but is definitely vegan. And anyone who's been longing for more heat from their kimchi will want to pick up the brand-new super-spicy variety, made with ghost peppers for extra burn. Oh makes his kimchi in the back of a deli he owns in Ridgewood. "It's not an upscale deli," he says, "It's an egg-and-cheese, Budweiser kind of place" where the stockroom just happens to be a kimchi factory. In addition to Mama O's, Oh produces music for television and movies—"We've had a song on all of the Kardashian shows"—and with his band, The Beatards.

The physical, straightforward work of making kimchi is a good complement to some of the more ephemeral qualities of a music career, according to Oh. "You work on an album for a year and some people buy it and listen to it and that's it," he says, "But with kimchi, they buy it one week and if they like it, they'll buy it the next week and the next and it becomes a regular part of their life."

For the most up-to-date kimchi news, visit Mama O's on Facebook.