Fifteen years ago, Hyunnam Kim Degman sat at a bus stop near downtown Jackson, waiting for her new employers to pick her up and take her to Dornan’s, where she would live and work for the summer. Degman grew up in South Korea, and she had always dreamed of visiting Yellowstone. At the bus stop that spring day, she stared at the mountains that dwarfed the skyscrapers of her childhood and worried she had made the wrong decision.
In the summer that followed, Degman forgot all about her initial culture shock as she practiced English and got to know a coworker who would later become her husband. One of the things that stood out to her was how little people seemed to know about her home country.
“I knew that if I returned to Jackson, I wanted to teach people about South Korea,” Degman says. “I wanted to represent my home country and make my culture proud.”
Five years later, Degman did return, and she decided the best way to represent South Korea was through its food. “My mother and grandmother were good cooks at home,” she says. “But I never had any interest in cooking. I studied computer science.”
Degman carried out her culinary goals as systematically as any good computer science major would. First, she enrolled in cooking school and got a job at Jackson Whole Grocer’s juice bar where she simultaneously honed her skills and familiarized herself with the tastes and preferences of her new community. In 2011, she opened her first restaurant, Kim’s Corner, which served Korean rice bowls and salads at Powderhorn Mall. The following year, she opened a location at Snow King next to the ice rink. Finally, in 2019, she opened a full service lunch and dinner restaurant named Bapp, meaning “rice” or “meal” in Korean.
“My goal has changed a little,” Degman says. “I want to represent South Korea, but now I also want to represent the town of Jackson.”
Opening Bapp has allowed Degman to expand her menu to include more traditional Korean dishes such as the dolsot bibimbap, a hot stone rice bowl topped with a fried egg, and la galbi, Korean style barbeque beef. Degman is both an excellent cook and a keen businesswoman, so she also includes Asian fusion dishes like ahi tuna salad, banh mi pork and pickled vegetable sandwiches, and steak burgers for the Western palate.
She loves observing Jackson locals slowly become more generous with their helpings of kimchi (fermented cabbage) and seeing teenagers from the Jackson Hole Ski & Snowboard Club spend their lunch allowance on seaweed triangles rather than French fries. Local fans and Korean tourists—who swear by Bapp’s seafood noodle soup—all agree Degman is making both her homes, Jackson Hole and South Korea, very proud.