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Q&A: 12 Reasons to Love Solo Stove Ambassador Ann Kim

Jan 20, 2024

From South Korea to the spotlight on Netflix's Docu-series, "Chef’s Table: Pizza" and making history as the first woman and person of color from Minneapolis to win the James Beard Award—Ann Kim's journey to becoming one of Solo Stove’s first ambassadors is an inspiring story. Join us for a Q&A session as we sit down with Ann to delve into her background and uncover the influences that have shaped her into the remarkable person she is today.

Solo: Tell us a bit about yourself. 
Ann: I was born in Busan, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States with my parents, maternal grandmother, and younger sister when I was five. We set roots in Minnesota, where I developed my culinary palate and education by helping my mother and grandmother make traditional staples such as fermented bean paste, gochujang, and kimchi from scratch at an early age. Some of my fondest memories are around the meals shared with my family, and although we didn’t have much money, my mother and grandmother always made delicious dishes from scratch that made our dinner table feel abundant. My college years at New York’s Columbia University laid the foundation for my love of pizza, and my years as a freelance actor fostered my value of creativity.  Fast forward to 2010, when I decided to follow my dream and opened my first restaurant, Pizzeria Lola, followed by Hello Pizza, Young Joni, the Omni Hotel’s Kyndred Hearth, and most recently, Kim’s.  In 2019, I received the James Beard Award for “Best Chef Midwest.”  If you want to know more about my transformative journey, you can check out season 7, episode 3, where I was one of six chefs profiled on Netflix's “Chef’s Table: Pizza.”  More than anything, I love having a job that challenges me to be creative not only in executing a great dish but in every aspect of what I do. Creativity is freedom from the mundane and allows me to do my best work while inspiring others to do the same.

Solo: What is your favorite Solo Stove product?

Ann: My Pi Pizza Oven! It’s a gas-powered workhorse, and I’m so impressed by it. The price of the oven makes it so accessible and exceeds expectations. “The bake” is usually one of the main things that home pizza makers struggle with, but the Pi Pizza oven solves that issue and delivers the same quality pizza from the large wood-fired ovens at my restaurants.  The Pi Pizza oven is so simple to use and takes such little time to fire up. It’s convenient for baking a single pizza for my husband and me or ten pies to feed a crowd. The temperature on the Pi is incredibly easy to control with a turn of the nob, and the heat stays even, which results in a perfect bake. And the cherry on top? The Pi Pizza Oven is lightweight and portable - I can easily transport it to cooking events or take it to my cabin for the weekend. 

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Solo: Who inspires you?

Ann: I’m such a fan of Ina Garten!  She’s intelligent, fearless, accessible, and badass! I love her story and how she’s chased her dreams regardless of experience or age and reinvented herself several times. I’m inspired by people who aren’t afraid to try new things and transform their lives in inspiring ways. I own every cookbook she’s written and utilize her recipes at home more than any other.  It would be a dream to personally cook a pizza for Ina someday!  Can we make this happen, please? :)

Solo: What are your best memories of sitting around a fire?

Ann: We didn’t have much money growing up, so our family vacations involved tent camping in lieu of trips to Disneyland.  Some of my fondest memories are around a wood fire where my mom would fry up an egg and Spam sandwiches for breakfast and grill up a Korean BBQ feast for dinner over the same campfire.  There’s nothing quite like enjoying a meal cooked over a wood fire outdoors.  

Some of my favorite memories currently are around the Solo bonfire by the beach at my lake house. I love going down there to sit by the warm, glowing fire with family and friends after dinner. It’s so peaceful to be there, listening to Lake Superior's great waves and sounds while gazing up at the star-studded sky.

Solo: How do you disconnect and find time for yourself? 

Ann: As a chef and owner of 4 restaurants, it’s hard to take time for myself unless I physically distance myself from them. I have a cabin on the North Shore of Lake Superior, and whenever possible, I hit the road to spend a long weekend up there to unwind, reset, and recharge. I use my time there to slow down and do the things I love - cook, read, go on hikes, cold plunge in Lake Superior, warm up in the wood-fired sauna, and end the day sharing stories around our Solo fire pit.  Connecting to nature and the outdoors is therapy for me.

Solo: We know you’re a pizza expert - tell us more about your love of pizza.

Ann: No other food in the world brings people together, like pizza. I could eat pizza every day.  It just makes me happy, and there’s no better reason to love something than something that brings you joy.

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Solo: What’s the craziest pizza you’ve ever made? 

Ann: I don’t know about crazy, but I have developed some unique pizzas.  When I opened my first restaurant, Pizzeria Lola, I didn’t intend to mix my Korean heritage with pizza. But shortly after opening, I started experimenting with different toppings and combinations, and I thought that flavors like Korean barbeque and kimchi would be a great compliment on my crust.

I started offering a Korean BBQ pizza as a special, and when we took it off the menu, we got a lot of angry phone calls wondering where it went. We ended up adding it to the permanent menu at Pizzeria Lola, and it’s been there ever since. It’s also on the menu at Young Joni, and it’s our number-one-selling pie in both restaurants. 

I also created the Lady Zaza, featuring Korean sausage, gochujang, scallions, and kimchi. Back then, most Minnesotans had never tried kimchi, and many didn’t even know what it was, so I had no idea how it would be received, but people loved it! It makes my day to hear from guests who tell me they’ve never had kimchi and their first time trying it is on my pizza.

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Solo: What’s the next pizza you plan to make in the Pi?

Ann: One of my favorite pizzas at Young Joni is the Amalfi Coast. It’s pretty simple - Italian red sauce, garlic, kalamata olive, red onion, basil, Calabrian chili, colatura di alici (Italian fish sauce made from fermented anchovies) and finished with Parmigiano-Reggiano. This pizza is light and also bright with big, bold flavors. Living here in Minnesota (it’s currently -7 degrees), I could use a blast of sunny Amalfi Coast vibes right about now. 

The other one would be the Perfect pickle pie!  It’s inspired by my love of pickles and my midwestern upbringing.  It features mozzarella, fontina, homemade sour pickles, fresh dill, and smoked onions– finished with ranch dressing and potato chips! It sounds weird, but it is intensely craveable.

Solo: What gets you excited in 2024? 

Ann: Twelve new months of infinite possibilities!

Solo: What’s one thing you want everyone to know about you? 

Ann: I approach every day with a beginner’s mind. I stay open and curious. The day I stop learning is the day I stop living.  Mine is F*ck Fear!

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Solo: How would you explain what Solo Stove stands for? 

Ann: Bringing people together through meaningful and joyful connections around the fire.  Helping us simplify our lives in a complicated world.  Making analog relevant in a digital world.  Accessibility. Community. Connection.

Solo: What is so special about the outdoors? 

Ann: Connecting to nature and the outdoors always helps me to decompress and recharge.  Although I live in Minneapolis, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a chain of lakes and trails, so I often start my morning with a run or walk.  Some of my best ideas and creative inspiration have come from spending time outdoors on a meditative walk or around a campfire, connecting with friends and family.