Brandon Kirksey didn’t plan on becoming a Korean chef.
His career began in San Francisco fourteen years ago at Jardinière and The Grand Cafe, two of the city’s long-standing institutions. After honing his skills on the line, Kirksey relocated to Seattle to establish several area Italian restaurants. He returned to San Francisco briefly to be chef de cuisine at flour+water, but received the opportunity for a partnership at a Korean steakhouse in Seattle called Girin. His background, namely whole-animal butchery and scratch-making noodles, translated well to this new concept.
During his time at Girin, Chef Brandon received numerous accolades, including a James Beard nomination for “Best Chef Northwest” and a spot on Seattle Met‘s “Next Hot Chefs 2015” list. Perhaps more importantly, his tenure there unearthed his passion for Korean cooking. After two years at Girin, he was drawn back to the Bay Area, where he became the chef de cuisine at The Slanted Door, San Francisco’s popular upscale Vietnamese restaurant. He has since left his post in this prestigious kitchen to pursue Korean cuisine full time.
Chef Brandon’s version of Korean cuisine is not fusion, but a recreation of authentic dishes. He models his popup Anju Bar after a modest Korean establishment where people gather to socialize and eat communally. “Anju” literally means “drinking snacks.” Kirksey’s flavors are recognizable, but with something extra to elevate the experience. The dishes are presented in a cleaner and more finessed manner than traditional Korean ones while maintaining a rustic and family-style feel. He also capitalizes on seasonal ingredients from the Bay Area, infusing his Korean dishes with local, high-quality produce and meat.
Kirksey may not be making kimchi meatballs, but he has carried over some techniques he used in Italian cooking. Most notably, he processes his own ingredients and crafts the major elements of his menus entirely from scratch. Kimchi is his proudest accomplishment, and he ferments it right in his San Francisco kitchen.
For his Napa cabbage variety, he soaks the entire head in a salt brine and rubs it with a paste of Korean chili flakes, fish sauce, and salted shrimp. After packing it in earthenware jars from Korea, he leaves it at room temperature. Five days of fermentation yields a fresher kimchi for eating raw, while a couple of weeks produces a funkier, more sour variety suitable for soups or stews. Chef Brandon’s dough applications are also scratch-made, from noodles to wonton wrappers. His dumpling filling is pork and beef that he butchers and grinds himself.
This fall, Anju Bar will morph into Foxsister, Kirksey’s first brick-and-mortar located in the lively 24th Street Mission corrider. Expect dishes like Korean fried chicken, handmade dumplings, fall-off-the-bone ribs, and savory pancakes. These salty and savory plates will pair perfectly with Kirksey’s roster of Asian beers, soju cocktails, and adult slushies.