Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2022: Tim Flores and Genie Kwon – Food & Wine

Khushbu Shah is the Restaurant Editor at Food & Wine.
PHOTO: AUBRIE PICK
The most painful thing about eating at Kasama, the debut restaurant from chefs (and couple) Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, is deciding what time of day to visit. By day, Kasama is part fast-casual operation, part bakery. At night, it transforms into a fine-dining restaurant. The power move? Pop in during the morning for breakfast and pastries, and return in the evening for the restaurant’s thoughtful, highly calibrated tasting menu.
You might kick off the day with one of Kasama's extraordinary breakfast sandwiches stacked with squares of fluffy soufflé eggs, tater tot–like frozen hash brown patties, and longanisa sausage. (They sell 600 of these a week, and yes, it's inspired by the Egg McMuffin at McDonald's.) Or you might order their mushroom adobo, served with a pile of garlic rice and a sunny fried egg. The mushrooms are satisfyingly chewy in texture after being cooked in a mixture of equal parts water, soy sauce, and distilled vinegar. They have some sweetness to them, too, thanks to a pinch of brown sugar. "You can pretty much adobo anything," says Flores. "And we wanted a vegetarian option on the menu that was hearty and satisfying."
Meet all of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2022
The pastries are unskippable. Kwon's selection of baked goods somehow manages to marry elegance with Midwestern portion sizes, and she has engineered each pastry to provide diners with an eating experience that offers maximum flavor and minimal mess. Take the ham-and-cheese Danish, long, thin, and eclair-like in shape, with wisps of ham layered along the top. "When I eat a square Danish, I never get all of the filling in every bite," says Kwon. "We shape the Danishes the way we do so that they're easily eatable." The one exception to this rule is Kasama's truffle croissant. It's filled with a sauce that is equal parts cream and Délice de Bourgogne, mixed with truffle oil and paste, drizzled in honey, topped with sugar pearls, and then showered with fresh truffle. It's a sticky, flaky mess that will rock your taste buds. "It goes against every fiber of my being," says Kwon with a laugh.
Kasama transforms into a completely different restaurant in the evening, swapping the casual vibes for a more refined atmosphere. Dinner starts with a theatrical dish of kinilaw, for which Flores cures raw fish with calamansi vinegar, drizzles it with a fruity olive oil, tops it with golden caviar pearls—and then smokes the entire dish. It's a dish that evokes his memories of the Philippines. "When I would go visit the Philippines, I remember the distinct smell of burning yard leaves early in the morning," he says. "That smell is super nostalgic for me."
The team continues to weave their way through a menu of modern interpretations of Filipino staples until the meal ends with Kwon's understated take on halo-halo, a classic Filipino dessert that can feature a dozen ingredients, like bright purple ube ice cream. At Kasama, Kwon swaps shaved ice for a fruity seasonal granita, embellished with nutty grains of toasted genmai rice and airy freeze-dried fruit like satsuma mandarins. "I always think about that last course as being a drink of ice-cold water at the end of a meal," says Flores. "Your palate's fatigued. You're kind of already pretty full, you're done, and this one thing should be a cleansing course."
Before opening Kasama, Flores and Kwon worked at Oriole, the legendary fine-dining Chicago restaurant from 2017 F&W Best New Chef Noah Sandoval. At the time, as they planned Kasama, Flores was adamant that he only wanted to serve à la carte dinner options. "We wanted to do something a little more accessible … the way we liked to eat." When the pandemic hit, they realized ticketed dinners were the only way to be able to pay staff more without creating more labor. "Rather than serving 120 people a night, we do 34 to 40 people," says Flores. He also realized that there were so few proudly Filipino tasting menus "available around the country and even around the world." At $215 per person, Kasama's is one of the spendier options.
Read Tim Flores and Genie Kwon’s Chicago City Guide
Flores and Kwon have seen an outpouring of support from both the local and the broader Filipino community—some of Kasama's customers travel from as far away as the Philippines. Lines form down the block most mornings, and the tasting menu sells out well in advance. "One of our regulars came in with her kids for dinner one time, and after the meal, she was like, 'I'm very proud of you,'" says Flores. "And her kid burst out laughing, saying, 'You've literally never told me that in my life.'"
In many ways, Kasama represents a full-circle moment for the couple—an opportunity to revisit and deepen their roots. Though Kwon spent most of her early career cooking in Boston and New York, Chicago is where her parents landed when they immigrated to the United States from Korea. And the restaurant sits mere blocks away from where both of Flores' parents first lived when they arrived from the Philippines. "They met here in this neighborhood," he says. "And then to open a restaurant right here is kind of crazy."
Kasama, 1001 N Winchester Ave, Chicago, IL, kasamachicago.com
Meet all of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2022: Warda Bouguettaya | Damarr Brown | Ana Castro | Calvin Eng | Tim Flores and Genie Kwon | Melissa Miranda | Justin Pichetrungsi | Emily Riddell | Rob Rubba | Caroline Schiff
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