Brothers Bounahcree “Bones” Kim, left, and Bounahra Kim share a light moment while sitting at a table in Miyake. Bounahcree, 33, is heading up the kitchen in the soon-to-open Oun Lido’s. Bounahra, 29, is the new head chef at Miyake. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In 2009, when he was 15, Portland native Bounahra Kim took a job washing dishes at Pepperclub and Good Egg Cafe. There, he joined his 19-year-old brother, Bounahcree, who’d dropped out of Portland High School after his freshman year and moved out of the Kim family home; Bounahcree, who goes by “Bones,” had also started in the dish pit before becoming a breakfast cook.

Fast-forward to January 2024: Bounahra, now 29, is named head chef at Miyake, one of the city’s premier sushi restaurants, while Bones, 33, is about to launch the Cambodian-inspired restaurant Oun Lido’s in Old Port with partner Vien Dobui of Cong Tu Bot, a project that has generated buzz on a national level.

The young Kim brothers, born to Cambodian immigrant parents, are bona fide rising star chefs. Their ascendant career trajectories show that if you’re ceaselessly hard-working, humble, gracious, exceedingly polite, joyful, respectful and well respected by seemingly everyone around you, you just may find success.

It certainly helps that the Kims are easy to root for. “Anyone who’s met them, if you just mention them, you’re going to see a smile on that person’s face,” said Eben Smith, a Portland massage therapist who worked with the Kims at Pepperclub and later at Local Sprouts Co-op.

“People in kitchens are grumpy, and they bring their problems in to work, and the food gets compromised,” Smith continued. “I never saw that with them. They made you feel good, like your job mattered, but in a fun way. It’s hard to do that, takes a lot of grace. That’s just who they are.”

“They’re really remarkable people,” said Miyake co-owner and general manager Courtney Packer. “They both have the tools and the energy and the right amount of experience, but with a lot of room still to grow. I feel strongly they’re going to have a great impact on the Portland food scene.”


Bounahra said they’re also eager to prove themselves to their family. “Growing up, our folks would always say, ‘We want a better future for you. We don’t want you to wake up at four in the morning to process seafood, coming home late at night, so we’re working hard for you.’ Now it’s kind of flipped, where we’re working hard for our folks. It’s time for us to step up.”

“We want to make them proud, too,” Bones added. “I was always hopeful something like this would happen, but never thought it would be tangible.”

As the new roles allow their individual cooking styles to emerge, the brothers are poised to make indelible marks on Portland palates. Moreover, because of their shared disdain for old-school, bullying kitchen environments dominated by shouty chefs, they aim to make their kitchens places where staff can feel appreciated, heard and positively motivated.

It took the Kims years of persistent hustling and learning to get to this fortuitous point in their lives, starting back when Bounahra’s older brother was actually his older sister.

Family photo of the Kim siblings, before their youngest sister was born. “Bones” is second from left and Bounahra is at right in one of his sister’s arms. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Growing up in a house on Prospect Street in Woodfords Corner, Bounahra Kim was the only boy in a family of five children. That’s because Bones was born female, though he has identified as a trans queer man since 2014, and has since started hormone therapy.


“I always felt more like a boy,” said Bones, who got his nickname during his brief stint at Portland High from his skateboarding and longboarding friends.

Bones recalled a lively childhood in a “nice, quiet, pretty neighborhood.”

“If anything, my family was the rowdy bunch in that neighborhood,” Bones said. “We kept our neighbors on their toes. There were five of us kids, and we were just running around all the time making a ruckus, loud music, constant karaoke.”

As soft-spoken and mild-mannered as they are, the Kim brothers are quick to smile and laugh, and Bones grinned broadly at the memory of his mother karaoke-singing to Berlin’s 1980s hit, “Take My Breath Away,” partly in English and partly in her native Khmer tongue.

“We would wake up to her blasting music and singing,” he chuckled. “A lot of Madonna, Prince, and she was obsessed with Michael Jackson, the whole Thriller album. That’s how she’d wake us up on the weekends to start cleaning. We all loved the music. It was just so abrupt and super-loud.”

Their father, Chao Bory Kim, came to Maine from Cambodia as a war refugee in 1983. Bones said his father regularly helped other Cambodian families settle here as well.


“He sheltered a lot of families while we were growing up. They would stay in our basement,” Bones said. “I remember families staying down there for months until they found their own spot.”

The Kims’ parents separated when Bones was in middle school, and the kids stayed with their dad on Prospect Street. “I didn’t have the best relationship with my dad, but I was just ready to be independent and be on my own,” Bones said. “I felt like I was ready for life to happen.”

Bones dropped out of school after freshman year when he was 16 (though he’d earn his GED a year later), and got a job washing dishes at Pepperclub. He moved out of the family home and into an apartment on Smith Street.

“When he told me he was moving out, it took a second to kick in and realize it was actually happening,” said Bounahra, who was a middle schooler at the time.

“He was my best friend,” Bounahra continued. “It was difficult for me to hear, but I was excited for him. I knew that’s what he wanted, and it was best for him to explore the real world.”

Bounahra and Bones still spent whatever time they could together; Bounahra sometimes slept over at Bones’ apartment, and Bones took him out to eat on occasion at the Crooked Mile, Sebago Brewing Company, Fuji and the Oriental Table. “We didn’t have many adults in our lives who’d take us out to eat, so that was big for me,” Bones said.


Bones made a strong impression on his co-workers at Pepperclub. “Right out of the gate, Bones was very professional, very driven and really fun to work with,” Smith said. “He was always on time, always really cared about the quality of his work. As a 16-year-old, he brought a work ethic that surpassed the 40-year-olds.”


Bounahra launched his own hospitality career at Vientiane Market on Noyes Street when he was 15, starting as a dishwasher before moving to cooking. By 2009, he’d joined Bones, their older sister Bouradee and cousin Senetra at Pepperclub and the Good Egg Cafe, the breakfast restaurant within Pepperclub.

The next year, Bones took a job cooking at Local Sprouts. “It was a good opportunity to learn something new and get a little bit outside of my comfort zone,” he said.  “I was so used to being at Pepperclub for so long I thought I was going to end up taking it over. Even the owner was like, ‘I thought that you would just buy it from me.’ But I was just 20 years old and I needed to learn more and experience life more.”

Urged to by Bones, Bounahra soon took a job at Local Sprouts, too. The Kims liked how the kitchen there allowed them latitude to develop recipes and create specials dishes practically every shift.

“There was so much room for creativity that you could really just make whatever you wanted as long as we had the ingredients,” Bones said. Bounahra recalled crafting dishes like a maple-soy fiddlehead stir-fry from fresh local ingredients, while Smith fondly remembered a curried root vegetable dish known as the “Bones Salad.”


“They just had the golden touch. Nothing was a flop,” Smith said. “You couldn’t wait to see what they were going to make, and then everyone who was working that day would be eating that.

Bones admiringly describes Bounahra’s cooking style as “meticulous,” an approach he saw emerging at Local Sprouts. Bounahra’s extreme attention to culinary detail made his food instantly recognizable, Bones said.

“Just something as simple as a burger or breakfast sandwich – you’d notice the sear and seasoning, the layering of each ingredient, the way it doesn’t fall apart when you’re eating it,” Bones said. “It’s the little things, but it feels more put-together. Even though I trained him on all kinds of stuff, I feel like he does it better in a lot of ways. It’s like the young grasshopper becomes better than the teacher. And it just makes me proud.”

In 2016, the Kims travelled with their father and oldest sister to Cambodia. The nearly month-long trip was revelatory. While their parents had cooked Cambodian food for them as children, they weren’t always able to use authentic ingredients.

“It was eye-opening to know that this is what the real thing tastes like,” Bounahra said.

Bones describes Cambodian cuisine “a bit of a crossover between Thai and Vietnamese. We use a lot of fresh ingredients, a lot of spices, a lot of fish paste and fish sauce, lots of aromatics and textures and bold flavors.” Cambodian main dishes are often accompanied by a side of beef or pork broth to sip between bites as an umami-rich palate cleanser.


Bones said in many ways, Cambodian cuisine embodies his own values as a chef.

“In general, what I try to create is something comforting, but something cleaner,” he said, like a Cambodian nhoam salad he makes with minced chicken or pork, onions and garlic, lemongrass paste, ginger, turmeric, fish sauce and fresh herbs, a dish similar to Thai larb, “That’s been something I feel like I’m always craving. And you could eat it anytime of the day. You put an egg on it and it’s breakfast.”


The Kims left their leadership positions at Local Sprouts, and individually took stints at restaurants around town, including Salvage BBQ, Ohno Cafe and 158 Pickett Street Cafe. By 2017, they each had landed at venues that would define their professional roles today: Bones took a job in the kitchen at the newly opened Vietnamese restaurant Cong Tu Bot, while Bounahra was working the line at Miyake.

Chef Masa Miyake, founder of Miyake and Pai Men Miyake, taught Bounahra to cut fish for sushi, and said he was dazzled by Bounahra’s deftness with a blade. “In the cut fish, you can see the knife skills. He learned it very fast.”

Miyake, 60, estimated that one out of 30 cooks have knife skills equal to Bounahra, who he said is the most talented cook he’s worked with in his career.


“That’s why I can retire and he can be the chef at Miyake,” he laughed.

“We’ve had other cooks on the Miyake team that have been able to fill in for Masa over the years,” said Packer, the restaurant’s co-owner and general manager. “And for as young as Bounahra is, Masa has always said Bounahra was the best.

“Masa immediately identified him as kind of a gem with ‘good hands’ as he calls it, and felt like Bounahra was one to take under his wing and teach. From the beginning, he’d been an amazing addition to the team. He became one of our key guys right away.”

At Cong Tu Bot, Bones was putting his own best clog forward. The first week Cong Tu Bot was open, Bones came in to trail owner Dobui for a shift before taking the job. After the shift, Bones ordered pho for his staff meal.

“The pho is my dish, in many ways it’s the reason Cong Tu Bot exists,” Dobui said. “I’ve been tweaking that recipe for 10 years, so it meant a lot to me. He knew it was important to me and he knew if he was going to know about me, he’d know through the pho.”

Dobui was nine years older than Bones but with less professional kitchen experience. He nervously asked his potential hire how he’d liked the pho.


“He said to me, ‘It was really good. Your mom must be really proud of you.’ And that stuck with me forever,” Dobui said. “That’s one of the best, most important things another person from a diasporic community can say to me – your elders must be very proud of you.”

Like Chef Miyake, Dobui knew he’d found a gem in Bones. “Everything that people say about him, I’ve experienced firsthand,” Dobui said. “He’s one of the most reliable, beyond competent, thoughtful and thorough cooks I know.

“Cooking can be chaotic and often unpredictable. So it’s important to have people on staff who can ride the waves with good humor and grace, and manage their stress in productive ways that aren’t harmful to others. Bones embodies that to a T. He’s a natural at all those things.”

Bounahra Kim helms the kitchen at Miyake, where he was recently named head chef, as founder Masa Miyake announced his semi-retirement. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


For Bones and Bounahra, establishing a healthy work environment is as important as putting out top-quality food. Like many younger cooks, the Kims have no use for abusive chefs and needlessly stressed-out kitchens motivated more by fear and anxiety than anything else.

“Younger cooks are used to being the ones getting yelled at,” Bones said. “Now that we’re older and we hold leadership positions, we don’t want to perpetuate that type of behavior. There are other, healthier ways of doing things.”


Bones wants his team members to be able to tell him if they’re having a bad day. “There are a lot of old-school kitchen mentalities where you can’t talk about that. You kind of just have to toughen up. But that hurts the team and them.

“If they’re holding it in, it’s going to explode at some point,” he added. “I’ve seen that happen way too many times. People can hear the tension from the kitchen, and they can feel it through the food. The kitchen mentality doesn’t have to be militant or aggressive.”

“Both of our approaches are definitely positivity-driven,” Bounahra said. “If you have a happy team, it’s going to show. The restaurant will feel better overall, and people will want to come in. Creating a space where people feel like you’re approachable is super-important for me.

“My approach to managing a team is to talk to them like human beings,” Bounahra continued. “When you’re critiquing someone, you have to speak in a way that’s soft and gentle, but stern. Keeping it light, but taking care of business.”

“They both have the ability to be leaders and teachers and in charge, and can lead a team almost effortlessly, but they’re also extremely approachable,” said Packer, who worked with Bones during his stint over the pandemic at Pai Men Miyake. “They have a magical way of giving critiques and criticism when needed, but in a way that people want to learn from them. That’s something you can’t really learn – it just comes from within with those guys.

“I hope that their style as kitchen leaders is one that continues to grow and become what other people start to do as well,” she added.


Bounahcree “Bones” Kim is co-owner of the soon-to-open Oun Lido’s, a Cambodian restaurant at the former site of Pat’s Pizza on Market Street in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


The brothers say they’re still developing their culinary styles, though their outward appearances may hint at their differences. Bones wears his hair stylishly unkempt; he has multiple small hoop earrings and arms peppered with colorful tats.

Bounahra is more buttoned-down and tidy. He has just one tattoo, on his chest: an image of Angkor Wat, a Hindu Buddhist temple in Cambodia, which is also represented on the nation’s flag. They both got the temple tattoo in 2013 (Bones put it on his inner right wrist) when Bounahra turned 18.

“Our cooking styles differ because he’s into more bold flavors and likes making more composed, feel-good food,” Bounahra said of Bones. “He emphasizes fresh herbs and bold flavors. He draws a lot of inspiration from our childhood dishes, things you’d see in typical Cambodian households, whether that’s noodle soups or rice plates with a protein, fried egg and a side of pickled veg, or something like flat noodles with a brown gravy and greens and some sort of protein.

“I love dabbling in that as well, but I’m gearing toward Japanese cuisine right now,” he continued. “I draw a lot of inspiration from Masa Miyake, and I’ve learned so much from him.”

Miyake took Bounahra and one of his managers to Japan in November 2019 for 10 days on a cultural enrichment trip. “It was the trip of a lifetime,” said Bounahra, who tried dishes he never thought he would, like abalone, shirako (cod semen) and raw chicken sashimi.


“I drew a lot of inspiration from my experiences there, and I use that inspiration for some of my dishes today,” he added.

Bones and Dobui expect to open Oun Lido’s this winter, focusing on Cambodian food with a nod to China and Vietnam. They’ll start by launching the takeout operation from the kitchen in the basement level, then open the main-floor dining room and upper-floor lounge and karaoke later this year.

Besides Khmer Kitchen, a new food stall in the Public Market House, the Kims can’t point to any Cambodian food in the area. “It’s nice to bring something new to food scene in Portland,” Bounahra said. “It stirs up the pot a little bit. And it feels like Portland needs something like this.”

“It’s a lot of pressure to really do a good job representing for the Khmer community,” Bones said. “I feel like I’m taking a pretty big leap.”

The new restaurant will reflect Bones’ interpretation of Cambodian cuisine as a Cambodian American. He said the menu will include riffs on dishes like banh chao, a turmeric pancake, which he will serve as a garlicky waffle with herbs, maple syrup and pickled veggies.

Bones anticipates some side-eye from elders in the local Cambodian community who might feel his food at Oun Lido’s doesn’t hew closely enough to Cambodian standards.

“I kind of hate the word ‘authentic,’ because what might not be authentic to you is authentic to me,” Bones said. “I’m already apprehensive about (older Cambodians) being critical of my food and how it might not be true to the culture, but it’s true to me. I am Cambodian-American, and I’m not going to be apologetic for who I am. My food is not going to be for everyone and I’m OK with that. But hopefully I can create things that speak to some people.”

For his part, the Kim brothers’ dad says he’s confident his sons will continue to flourish no matter what challenges may arise. “Their work ethic is very strong, so I think they will be very successful in their careers,” he said. “I’m very proud, and fortunate to have them and to see them do so well.”

“Everybody who knows them in Portland already sees them as star chefs,” Smith said. “And now having access to the ingredients they want and having autonomy – I can’t wait to see what we get to eat.”

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