"I grew up hungry."
We're sitting in the tiny dining room [seats 8] of Pit Stop Barbecue in Temple, Texas talking to Hyun Sun [Kim] the diminutive pit boss of this Korean/Cajun/Texas barbecue restaurant. Kim is in the process of putting out a feast worthy of the 3 nations. We've sampled almost everything on the menu when she mentions that she had a poor childhood in Korean and in fact, grew up hungry.
It gives us pause.
The abundance of this woman's kitchen stands in stark contrast to a childhood of privation a world away in Korea. Everything she's feeding us is fine but her Korean food [kalbi, kimchi and bulgogi] is as good as any we've had in Korean kitchens scattered all over the USA from New York to San Francisco.
Pit Stop Barbecue originally opened up in 2008 in Belton, Texas. Kim and husband Chris Dunn spent a lifetime working in military affiliated food services all over the USA as well as Japan and Germany before opening their own operation.
The time was well spent as Kim is a dynamite cook.
The Korean short ribs are marinated for up to 10 days before being grilled per order on a giant smoker out back. The red hot pecan wood fire can get an order off in about 20 minutes. That's lightning fast for barbecue in Texas. Kim explains that to get the "fresh aromas" these ribs must be cooked per order. It's the only way to to do it. She is uncompromising.
Traditional Texas style ribs smolder for 5 hours before being pulled off the fire. They're spoon tender with a broad, deep smoke ring. Outstanding.
Sausage is of the commercial variety. We'd love to taste what Kim could put out if she put her considerable will to making the scratch variety.
The lady pit boss also knows her way around Cajun food. She served time working for the Popeye's Corporation during her world travels and this Al Copeland disciple didn't waste one moment under the tutelage of the NOLA based company.
Her jambalaya is some of the finest we've ever sampled.
"Education-I don't got none". Kim's speech often arrives in stream of consciousness-style bursts. We're covering every subject under the sun and the flow is like the Salado River after a heavy rain.
This self taught cook [neither grandma nor mother trained] is a fireball.
The food comes in a torrent. At one point the table is completely covered with pulled pork, brisket, Texas ribs, red beans and rice, sausage, jambalaya, kimchi, kalbi and bulgogi.
Fusion cuisine has come to Temple, Texas.
Chris Dunn sits quietly smiling as his wife explains their lives up to this moment. His days as a powerlifter are behind him but he looks as though he could hoist the bungalow the little restaurant is inside on his broad shoulders and move it across the street if need be.
The talk turns to authenticity in the kitchen and Kim announces that she refuses to compromise her flavors for the American palate. "This is real Korean food" she proclaims, smiling as she watches us attack the bulgogi and kimchi.
Texas is a state filled with world class smoked meat and we've traveled to the four corners to hunt down the finest. As the years continue to pass we'll find it difficult to resist the tractor beam-like power that Pit Stop Barbecue will surely hold over us til the end of our days.
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