Every time I’ve been to Chick’n & Mi has been a bit of an adventure. Residing at 2319 Brownsboro Rd in between the Crescent Hill and Clifton neighborhoods, this eclectic place has the most compelling menu in Louisville, consisting of not only clever takes on Asian cuisine, but also an array of heavenly cocktails (my favorite is the spicy Burning Down The House). On my last visit, I stopped in for Sunday brunch for a bowl of ramen and a few beers. As usual, I left comfortably full and buzzed, ready to enjoy the rest of the waning weekend.
Sitting in my chair, I looked around to see what everyone else was eating and drinking and became weirdly jealous of literally every person around me. “Shit,” I thought, “why didn’t I order that? Or that? Or damn, I should have asked for that over there!” This was kind of ridiculous considering the fact that I was in the middle of devouring a bowl of what I consider to be the finest ramen in the city. But that’s what this place will do to you — the food and booze will satisfy the hell out of you, but as you’re walking to your car you’ll already be planning on your next Chik’n & Mi menu choice.
Naturally, I had to find out who was responsible for this amazing restaurant and get a bit of story behind it, so I reached out to renowned chef Jason McCollum who opened Chik’n & Mi with his wife Aenith Sananikone back in 2017. Thankfully, he opted to answer a few of my questions about the history and inspiration behind their menu, how they fit in Louisville’s effervescent food community and more…
Never Nervous: Where’d you get your sense of how Asian cuisine works, and what gave you the idea to cleverly fuse it with American comfort food?
Jason McCollum: I believe that in order to understand how cuisine works you must understand the culture and its history. I have always been interested in other cultures. So naturally that led me to the food. The more you study food it is easy to see how many cuisines and cultures across the world are much more similar than you would realize. They are all shaped by many factors such as great wars, poverty, affluence, climate, product availability, geography, the basic need to sustain, etc.
My point is once you realize that all cuisines are basically the same, created out of need and tradition “fusing” disappears and you are left with more of a global idea of how cuisine works. It is a lot easier that way; there should be no rules from which ingredients or cultures you pull from to in order to classify its cuisine. I will never use the word fusion to describe my food.
NN: Does the opening of Chik’n & Mi have an interesting origin story? It has to, right?
JM: Well all I really know is that my wife and I left Seattle to move back home with the intention to open up our first solo venture restaurant. We didn’t know what we wanted to do, but we had some ideas. We had spent the last six years in five cities (NYC, Louisville, Nashville, LA, and Seattle) and we were very busy opening up restaurants and working in top eateries and studying. We felt we had developed a pretty good idea of the nations food scene and where it was at.
At the end of 2016 we made it back to Louisville and had nailed down several good concepts. We decided on our Asian chicken concept, because it was best for our budget and we thought Louisville would really embrace it; that was important, as we knew we needed to get busy right from the get-go. Magic happened and we got this old building on Brownsboro Rd. It hadn’t had any love in a long time. Aenith and I spent like 16 hours a day for four months working on renovations. We cleaned the whole building out, knocked some walls out and added a bar. Aenith laid the floors while I did all the woodwork. So after a lot of hard work, we finally made it look like a real restaurant. We couldn’t have done it without the help of all our awesome family and friends. And the rest is history.
“We decided on our Asian chicken concept, because it was best for our budget and we thought Louisville would really embrace it.”
NN: How would you describe the atmosphere that you’re going for with Chik’n & Mi?
JM: Um.. eclectic, inviting, comfortable, rustic, industrial, funky, fun.
NN: Since opening, how do you feel Chik’n & Mi has fit in with the Crescent Hill and Clifton Neighborhoods?
JM: We were generating a lot of buzz in the neighborhood long before we opened. People would pop in and look around, congratulate us and then warn us of long cursed history of the place then wish us good luck and be on there way. But really the neighborhood has been great; we could not of asked for a better location. Everyone has been very supportive. We have the best guests and have made many regulars!
NN: Your various flavors of Asian Fried FreeBird Chicken have been pretty popular in Louisville over the last couple of years. Where did this idea originate, and are there any more flavors on the way?
JM: It took me a long time perfect those recipes. I wanted to stick with the traditional ones for the first year. I wanted everything on our opening menu to be very special and unique without being overly complicated. I do have some ideas for new flavors. You may see some of them sometime soon this year.
“I do have some ideas for new flavors. You may see some of them sometime soon this year.”
NN: The bar at Chik’n & Mi offers quite a few fabulous cocktails. If you had to choose, which one would you consider to be your “go-to” drink?
JM: Hmm.. There are so many things to choose from. We have the best sake program in the city, over 25 craft beers, and many interesting delicious wines! But if you’re in the mood for a fantastic craft cocktail, you gotta see my girl April Gibbs. Her cocktail list is killer. My favorite being, “Take on Me” Old Forester Signature, Ozeki taru cedar sake, dolin rouge vermouth, apricot liqueur. Kind of a take on a Manhattan/Vieux Carre super delicious! Or if you are in a wild mood have April mix you something up on the fly she has hundreds of cool tastes and flavors behind the bar that will surely not disappoint.
NN: Everybody’s had some form of ramen noodles, but what makes a legitimate ramen dish so damned special?
JM: Ramen takes time and close attention. It is very simple to make and also very simple to screw up. Your broth should be rich and balanced. Also the noodles need to be right. If they don’t have the right chew or consistency the dish is not right.
NN: How important is it for modern restaurants to offer gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan friendly menu options? Is it a specialty or a necessity these days?
JM: I believe it is a trend that is not going anywhere. Absolutely if you are a business owner, you really should have these options for your guest and you should take as much pride in them as you do the rest of the menu. Trust me: it is appreciated and it will pay off.
NN: Considering that you’ve been a part of major food scenes in big cities like New York, Nashville, Seattle and Los Angeles, how would you say Louisville’s culinary community compares?
JM: I would say that it is a very exciting time to be a chef in Louisville. Other big cities like the ones on your list above are already very saturated with multiple concepts and large restaurant groups, and for a talented cook or chef, it can be hard to get yourself recognized or established. I believe Louisville has the potential to become a very great food destination. There are a lot of great commercial opportunities out there right now. We will see the competition become greater in the near future, as new talent will transplant here to take advantage. This will only be good for our food scene, as it will challenge local chefs to be more innovative and be more relevant to the ever-changing trends in the culinary world.
“It is a very exciting time to be a chef in Louisville.”
NN: If you were going to recommend a spot for out of town friends to eat and drink (not called Chik’n & Mi), what local spot would you steer them to?
JM: Butchertown got it goin on! Butchertown Grocery is doing fantasic food, Its one of the best meals in the city! But, if you not in the mood to go all out, Butchertown Pizza is one of my new favorite hangout and a hella good slice.
NN: Do you peruse social media platforms such as Yelp or Zomato for food and restaurant reviews? What are you thoughts on these kinds of services?
JM: No not really, they have their positive attributes. I definitely don’t care about them as much as my wife does. But they have in the past shown us ways in which we can improve and better serve our guest. We love all of the positive feed back too, so thanks! At the end of the day, I try to take everything with a grain of salt. Nothing is ever too big of an issue that can’t be resolved. At the end of the day it is all about the guest and doing everything we can to keep them happy wanting to return. We take great pride in our mission to treat everyone equal and create an experience that never disappoints.
NN: Before you go, tell us about your own personal soundtrack to preparing the perfect meal. What gets your creative culinary juices flowing?
JM: Our Sous Chef, Scott Edwards is usually the D.J. here at Chik’n and Mi, and WE keep it pretty classy! We do jazz on Sunday. But mostly we listen to classical radio and/or choral music on the weekdays. If you are back there long enough, you will defiantly here the Jurassic Park soundtrack come on. Also we have a whole collection of classic throwback albums to get us amped up while closing at the end of a long shift.
Photos by Jessica Fey.