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Jennifer Kim’s Alt Economy – ARTnews.com

Jennifer Kim is a Chicago chef working outside the traditional confines of her profession. Her Alt Economy project rethinks how meals are prepared and sold in order to avoid the exploitative policies of traditional gastronomy, which in the past have been particularly harmful to immigrants and people of color.

As the ongoing pandemic forces restaurants to spin and evolve, Kim’s project provides a space to explore safer and fairer practices in hospitality. She conceived Alt Economy in September 2020 after closing her critically acclaimed Korean-Italian restaurant Passerotto in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. The project began, in her words, as a “virtual house for underground economies, artists and micro-businesses that could not afford or access their own websites and ordering platforms”.

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Since then, the old economy has expanded its spectrum, offering financial instruments for entrepreneurs and initiating numerous collaborations that emphasize the connections between nutrition, social justice and art.

A case in point was the “Neon Surreal Valentine” project last February, an immersive sensual experience that celebrates love in all its different forms. Alt Economy has partnered with Chicago-based micro-companies Immortal Milk, Juanita’s Bebidas, Exfolia Botanical, and Zed. Together, the participants first considered which sensory experiences they would like their “guests” to experience, and then developed a box kit that buyers could use to organize a Valentine’s Day celebration at home.

How I did it: Jennifer Kims

Neon Surreal V-Day Photoshoot.
Jennifer Kim / Old Economy

The finished product consisted of a box that cost $ 149 and served two to three people. The box can either be picked up at the Hopewell Brewery (a local craft brewery) or delivered within Chicago city limits for an additional $ 10 fee. In addition to the 20 boxes sold, 5 boxes were made for each employee and one was donated to the Hopewell Brewery.

While knowledge and experience in the restaurant industry were their common link, the staff brought a variety of talents to the project. Each box contained a filling bento box of cheese and sausage designed by Kim and Alisha Norris Jones of Immortal Milk, a loaf of bread from Lounge Bread, a sensual yamamomo (candied bayberry), and a white ganache dessert from Zed’s Zed Everhart as well as a distinctive milk punch cocktail with pine -ple rum and soju from Roshelley Mayen from Juanita’s Bebidas.

In addition to food and drink, shoppers received a baby bouquet (by Cassie Stadnicki of Exfolia Botanical), a dynamic playlist from Jones, a handmade Valentine’s card from Mayen, and a menu and guide that explains how to enjoy the Neon Surreal experience. Guests had the option to order add-ons like an upgraded bouquet (+ $ 36), an extra loaf of bread (+ $ 12), and a sakura leaf goat cheese from Blakesville Creamery (+ $ 15). “We gave people the tools to end the loop we started by creating their own immersive experiences in their homes,” says Kim.

How I did it: Jennifer Kims

Zeds Neon Surreal V-Day Dessert.
Jennifer Kim / Old Economy

Covid-19 limited personal interactions between employees who communicated via email or SMS up to two weeks before the pick-up day. At that point there was a one-time group meeting in a large warehouse to style and photogr -h the food.

The guide informed guests that staff would enjoy their meals separately on Valentine’s Day at 7 p.m. Posts, tags and direct messages. The employees decided not to arrange a video dinner together, as zoom fatigue had set in by February 2021. Also, according to Kim, “so much intimacy is lost when you videoconference dinner; you are so busy looking at 20 small squares that the connection to the people in the room with you is confused. ”Instead, the participants could keep their distance and still be connected by a common, concrete box of goods.

“The box was about the intimacy, creating your own experiences and how they connect to a larger, but tertiary network,” explains Kim. “It was cool to think that somewhere out there someone was listening to the same playlist and eating the same food, but also having their own experiences.”

How I did it: Jennifer Kims

Neon Surreal V-Day
Jennifer Kim / Old Economy

The old economy continues to develop. Last summer, it broadened its horizons beyond Chicago and worked with mutual aid communities in the Midwest and South on a 30-day summer tour. The tour supported and celebrated alternative economies led by BIPOC, LGBTQIA +, and femme groups in cities like Detroit and New Orleans as it raised funds for charities in each city. “Each collaboration has a different process that is dictated by the group of people who have come together in an authentic way,” says Kim. “It’s one of the most exciting aspects of this type of job: the ability to be fluent and honest.”

An upcoming three night pop-up, Bistrot Futura, will take place November 19-21 at Dorian’s, a cocktail bar and record store in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. For this four-course dinner (with vegan option) inspired by Eastern European bistro cuisine, Alt Economy is collaborating with Vargo Brother Ferments and Rye Humor Baking, two small companies that arose during the pandemic. (Tickets are sold out, but there is a waiting list.)

Kim believes that linchpins, such as those she created in creating community-based events, will always be necessary as people look for different ways to connect with food. She plans to continue the old economy as part of a broader movement towards a more humane and ethical hospitality industry.

How I did it: Jennifer Kims

Summer picnic boxes with Vargo Brother x Rye Humor x Alt Economy. 06/26/2021.
Jennifer Kim / Old Economy

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