When Laura Kim was a child, her mother used all kinds of tricks to get her to eat. “She made it a sort of theater,” says the formerly finicky Kim, who, along with Fernando Garcia, is co-creative director of both Oscar de la Renta and Monse (the label she and Garcia launched in 2015). In a nod to Kim’s childhood nickname, Tokki, which is Korean for “bunny,” rabbit-shaped egg dishes often turned up on her plate and, she says, “My lunchboxes would always have fruit and vegetables cut up like animals inside.” Clearly, Kim’s mother already knew that her daughter was a visual person. Somewhere along the way, Kim also became a food person and, by the age of 9, was honing her skills at making duk gook, a Korean rice cake soup.
It’s something that Kim, 38, has kept up and even incorporated into her life as a designer, much to the delight of Garcia — who often comes over to Kim’s TriBeCa apartment for breakfasts of soufflé pancakes — and of the rest of her teams. Kim’s mother still likes to look after her daughter whenever possible, though: Monse’s aesthetic is less formal than that of Oscar, best known for its vibrant taffeta dresses, but during Fashion Week its showroom is likely to offer confections of another kind — tiny tea cakes, matcha truffles, petit fours and gluten-free cookies and bars, all homemade by the elder Ms. Kim, who would often fly down from her home in Calgary, Alberta, during the spring and fall shows.
Since the onset of the pandemic and social distancing measures, travel hasn’t been advisable, but Laura has turned her small home kitchen into a culinary atelier of sorts. Her sister, Jeang Kim, an interior designer who also lives in the city, helped her source a four-foot-long vintage wood-topped cutting table that extends her counter space. Since March, tarts topped with zucchini flowers, ombré apple pies and savory pastries sculpted in the shape of leaves — unsurprisingly, Kim is drawn to dishes that require artistry and handiwork — have all appeared on her Instagram feed. A terrace with a small cafe table, along with plumes of flowers and herbs, meanwhile, provides an intimate outdoor setting for Kim and the occasional guest. “For me, it’s not about feeding a lot of people so much as it’s about making something,” says Kim.
One of her favorite things to make — and a dish worth carting elsewhere so it can be shared with a larger group, when that again becomes safe — is her pinwheel pie, a savory medley of thinly sliced carrots, zucchini, eggplant and summer squash that rests atop a base of seasoned ricotta. Kim adapted it from a rice-based version her mother often baked so as to make vegetables more appealing to her daughter; additionally, chromatic and nutritional balance are pillars of Korean cooking: “You need five different colors on the table — and something from the ocean, something from the mountain and something from the land,” says Kim. The pie, a vegetarian dish with flashes of green and ocher, certainly helps on the color front. And, as its name implies, its contents swirl out from a center point like the sort of decorative rosette you might see on one of Kim’s clothing designs.
Laura Kim’s Vegetable Pinwheel Pie
For the crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
½ cup cold butter, cut into cubes
For the filling:
7 ounces ricotta cheese
3.5 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
Paprika to taste
3 to 4 medium-size zucchini or summer squash
1 medium eggplant
1 butternut squash
2 to 3 large carrots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A small bowl of olive oil infused with thyme and rosemary springs (Note: Infuse for at least an hour; the longer the infusion, the stronger the flavor.)
1. To make the crust, combine flour, salt and butter in a large bowl, mixing together until the dough is crumbly. Add 1 tablespoon ice water and knead the dough by hand, working quickly so it doesn’t get too warm. Form a ball and wrap in plastic, then rest the dough in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a round, 10-inch tart pan. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a width that’s bigger than the tart tin. Carefully lay the dough into the tin, pressing it to the bottom and around the sides. Place the pan back in the fridge for another 10 minutes or so to cool.
3. Remove the pan from the fridge, line it with baking parchment paper and fill it with pie weights. (Note: The weights will ensure the dough will bake evenly and prevent it from bubbling up; dried beans will also work.) Bake for 15-20 minutes, then allow the crust to cool to room temperature or chill it back in the fridge. Remove weights or beans.
4. To make the filling, mix the ricotta with the herb-infused olive oil; stir in salt, pepper and paprika. Set aside.
5. Cut the vegetables into thin strips with a mandoline or sharp chef’s knife, and lay on a flat surface; season with salt and pepper.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To construct the pie, evenly spread the seasoned ricotta along the bottom of the prebaked crust. Starting at the wall of the pie crust and working from the outside in, closely layer the vegetable strips one at a time, mixing colors and vegetables as you go. Continue layering in a circular direction until the pie is filled. Brush with extra olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
7. Cover the pie with foil to prevent the vegetables from browning too soon, and bake for about 20 minutes; then remove foil and continue baking for another 25 minutes or so. Serve the pie warm or at room temperature, topped with grated Parmesan.