Arts & Culture

At the table with Don Fecher

From prep cook to restaurant owner, Fecher serves up his cooking philosophies

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2014

Mama Kim’s Don Fecher says this mixed vegetable fried rice dish, made with college students in mind, offers both flavor and convenience.

Don Fecher, owner of the Thayer Street mainstay Mama Kim’s Korean BBQ, got his start in the restaurant industry at 14 working as a prep cook at a small Italian restaurant in Clearwater, Florida. But Fecher has come a long way since his days of dicing onions and peeling potatoes.

A former personal chef, he not only runs the food truck but is also getting ready for the debut of Mama Kim’s in the brick-and-mortar restaurant world, with a Cranston space opening its doors in a week and a half. The spot, which will offer the favorites of the truck at the same prices, will seat about 20 people and feature the work of local ceramists and woodworkers in its plates and tables. Fecher hopes the restaurant will help him carry out his “mission … to bring Korean food to the average person.”

The burgeoning restaurateur sat down with The Herald in a moment of respite from the chaos to discuss his journey as a chef and his outlook on food.

 

Herald: What’s your earliest food memory?

Fecher: At probably around three or four (years old), the biggest thing was a TV show called “Chefs of the World.” There wasn’t very much theatrics or drama or anything: It was just cooking, a camera, a chef and that was it. There was very little dialogue, mostly cooking.

 

What makes Providence a good food city?

We’ve got a great mix of many different cultures just because where we are regionally located — between Boston, New York, Chicago. What makes it so special are the people and what everyone brings from every country. We (also) have a lot of talented people who care about the food they’re creating. I think between the immigrant population here and the  new talent, old talent and a little bit of competition, you’ve got a recipe for a good food city.

 

What was your go-to college food or meal?

I worked in kitchens all throughout college. It wasn’t necessarily a meal in particular, but more so the type of meal. Most of the places I worked at, we had a family meal before service where everyone — front of the house, back of the house — enjoyed a nice meal together. And I definitely had my fair share of ramen in college — that was usually after work.

 

What’s your favorite thing to cook and why?

I’ve cooked a fair amount of different types of cuisines throughout my career. As far as a favorite goes, I really enjoy sushi. I really enjoy preparing it: maki, hand rolls, sashimi. It’s got some grace, it’s got some style.

 

How would you describe your food philosophy?

Anybody can cook. It’s just how far you want to take it.

 

How does food fit into a larger conversation about culture?

Obviously I’m not Korean, and I get that a lot because I own a Korean BBQ restaurant. For me, food is universal: Everybody has to eat. Whether you go to a little town in Italy or a countryside in Korea, you’re going to find things that people hold really close to them, and one of those things is food and how that’s being prepared and cared for. I think that it’s unifying, it’s universal, it’s something that everyone can enjoy, and it also leaves room for people to try new things and understand one’s culture.

 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

 

About the recipe:

Fecher created this recipe for the health-conscious college student who does not want to compromise flavor. Because Korean ingredients can be inaccessible, Fetcher’s adaptation of this Korean staple uses ingredients that college students can easily get their hands on. For best results, Fetcher recommends stopping by the campus farmers’ market to pick up the eggs and vegetables.

 

Mixed Vegetable Fried Rice

Makes three servings

1 carrot

1 onion

1 zucchini

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 scallion, chopped

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

3 cups cooked and cooled rice

3 eggs scrambled

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions

Finely dice the vegetables and combine them in a bowl. Set aside.

Break up the cooled rice so that no grains are stuck together.

Pre-heat one large non-stick pan and add the vegetable oil.

Saute the diced vegetables for about two minutes and remove from pan.

Add remaining tablespoon oil and rice to pan until aromatic and crunchy — this should take about three minutes.

Move the rice to one side of the pan, and add the eggs to the other. Scramble the eggs until fluffy, but not browned.

Fold the egg into the rice, and add the cooked vegetables. Stir well until combined, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Plate the dish, and garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.

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