INTRODUCING IMMI: AN IMMIGRANT-INSPIRED FOOD POP-UP
Kevin Law and Rum Chicharoen, two chefs who’ve previously worked at some of San Francisco’s finest establishments like State Bird Provisions, have teamed up to create a new neighborhood food pop-up called immi. immi is dedicated to the immigrants who raised our generation, and the menus they create pull from a number of diverse cultural influences. Find more information at https://immisf.com/ and on social media @immi.sf.
Hi Kevin and Rum, tell us about immi? What inspired you to start this pop-up food series?
Kevin: Over the years, we always talked about what our dream restaurant would look like. But it wasn’t until we took a break from cooking a few years ago and traveled throughout Asia that we solidified immi. First and foremost, we want to be a restaurant dedicated to its neighborhood. We want you to have fun while eating delicious, uncomplicated, yet interesting food.
Rum: immi at its core is dedicated to the immigrants who raised our generation. It is a celebration of the ethnic diversity at the heart of growing up in California. The impetus to start immi as a pop-up was a way to reconnect with San Francisco. We had been working in New York at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and recently moved back to the Bay to start a family.
Now, you’ve both worked at some of the best restaurants in the Bay Area (and beyond the Bay), do you think that this experience has influenced immi in any way?
Kevin: As Chef de Cuisine of State Bird Provisions, I learned how to be a leader and not just a cook. It was always about the big picture, while anticipating and adapting to situations that may arise. I also learned how to incorporate techniques, ingredients and flavors from different cuisines to make a dish without making it “fusion.” My time at Blue Hill at Stone Barns really opened my eyes to what it means to be dedicated to sustainability. It isn’t just about what ingredients farmers can provide us with, but what can we put on the menu that would help them take care of the land and sea.
Rum: Chefs Stuart and Nicole at State Bird Provisions were incredibly open and generous with their time and knowledge, which gave me the opportunity to define my own palate. My time at Blue Hill was unlike any other, because I was working as a Captain with the front of house team. All of my experience up until that point was in the kitchen. That experience made me realize how important personal stories were. We could talk about the science of vegetables and farming all day, but the more relatable the story was the more impactful it became.
immi’s menu also features a lot of local food producers in the Bay, who are they and how did you get connected with these producers?
Kevin: When we first got back to San Francisco, we took a trip to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. Will at Brokaw Avocado immediately recognized us and welcomed us back to San Francisco as if we hadn’t been gone for three years. Those are relationships that will last our lifetime and ones that we hope to cultivate with immi. In addition to farmers we’ve worked with in the past, we really wanted to start working with purveyors in Dogpatch, where we are holding the pop-ups. We started shopping at Olivier’s Butchery after being introduced to them several years ago by Mike Gaines, who owns Glena’s. When we decided to pop up at Glena’s, it made sense to use Olivier’s for our meat. We also work with The Japanese Pantry who are based out of Dogpatch.
How would you describe the four-course menu at your pop-up dinners? They sound inspired by several Asian cuisines…
Kevin: The menu isn’t an attempt to recreate culturally traditional food, but rather an expression of our personal journeys as first generation Asian-Americans. It is a combination of our familial background, our culinary training, and what’s available from the land.
What are you hoping that diners walk away with after experiencing one of immi’s pop-ups?
Rum: We want them to feel the warmth we’ve put into the space and the love we’ve put into the food.
We hope that immi resonates with diners so that we can open our own restaurant.
Tell me about a meaningful dining experience that you’ve had?
Kevin: We wanted to discover neighborhood restaurants in Tokyo and popped into a family-run izakaya around the corner from our Airbnb. They spoke zero english, but it was full of families from the area. We couldn’t feel more like outsiders, but we were immediately welcomed. Thanks to Google Translate we placed our order and the owners took care of us like we were regulars. That is the hospitality we hope to evoke with immi.
Rum: We also went to this tiny husband-and-wife run curry restaurant in Yamagata. It was remote and Google Translate barely helped this time, because of the handwritten menus. We managed to communicate that we were from San Francisco and he was so surprised that we were visiting from so far away that he gifted us a bag of oranges when we left. That kind of generosity is unforgettable.
What are some of your favorite spots to eat at in the Bay Area?
Turtle Tower, Izakaya Rintaro, State Bird Provisions, Liholiho Yacht Club, House of Prime Rib, Nopalito, Hong Kong Lounge II (RIP), and Boba Guys.