Even now that they’ve moved into an apartment four blocks away, Kwon and Flores rarely leave Kasama, or each others’ sides. Their days run 15 hours on average — stretching even later now that they’ve added dinner service. Some of their decisions — like not paying themselves that first winter to keep their team gainfully employed — come with the territory of keeping a new small business afloat. But it’s also because the chefs can’t picture themselves out of the weeds just yet.
“This is our life’s work,” Flores says. “It’s not that we don’t care about anything else; we just really, really enjoy what we do.”
“When someone asks me, what are your hobbies? I don’t have any,” adds Kwon with a laugh. “Tim and I, we’re just always going to be cooks; I can’t get out of that mentality, almost to my detriment.”
It’s indeed getting harder for Flores and Kwon to remain “a couple of cooks” as they uneasily assume the mantle of the “first” Michelin star winner for their cuisine, on the shoulders of those who came before. “I don’t look at it like we’re the first ones to think of or do this,” Flores says. “It’s awesome that everybody in the Filipino community is proud. But [winning a Michelin] was never our intention; it just turned out that way.”
The couple approaches it with the same openness with which they’ve tackled every stage of the unconventional, all-day restaurant they’ve created — as much out of survival as passion. “We’re still fascinated by how this is a machine that keeps running,” Kwon says. “And I’m happy even though we’re here all the time, thinking of what we can do next. We’re probably never going to sleep ever again. But I like providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and being able to create different experiences for people no matter their budget.”
Have I mentioned yet that Kasama means “together” in Tagalog?
Maggie Hennessy is a Chicago-based restaurant critic and food writer, whose work has appeared in such publications as Eater, Plate, Food52, Wine Enthusiast and others. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.