The Juilliard graduate found a love for food which sparked her venture into creating Nom Digital, a marketing agency for food and hospitality.
Kimberly Kong is not an influencer. It’s the one label she balks at during our conversation about multihyphenates and where she falls on the creative spectrum.
“There are a lot of negative connotations associated with the word influencer,” Kong says. “I have a lot of great colleagues in that field who are respectable and legitimate, but there are a couple of bad apples — like in any field — that shine a negative light on what influencers do.”
Kong’s Instagram feed is a tapestry of selfies, personal snapshots and stunning food and cocktail photography. But after amassing more than a hundred thousand followers, there can be pressure to fit into an artistic box.
Listening to Kong, though, there is a sense that she works to maintain ownership over the narrative of her creative and career evolution.
Kong is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a Juilliard and Peabody Institute graduate with a Doctorate in Musical Arts, Piano Performance and Musicology. She’s also a former Strathmore Artist in Residence — academic proof of her versatility.
Growing up, she had her hands in many jars. She trained to become a world-class pianist; studied alongside her father, a world champion martial artist; and found a love for food that would prepare Kong for her second life.
As founder and CEO of Nom Digital, a marketing agency for food and hospitality, Kong helps brands grow and invigorates their digital footprint through content creation and social media management. She also publishes a regular stream of content through Nomtastic Foods, her blog and social media platforms.
If nothing else, Kong isn’t afraid to pivot. Trading sheet music for staging sheet cake photoshoots was an outgrowth of her past experiences and interests.
Kong understands how indispensable composite parts are to a whole, especially to crafting an authentic story, including her own.
“I spent a lot of time perfecting my craft and art,” Kong says. “I see a lot of parallels between what I experienced as a musician and the restaurant industry. It’s provided a lot of insight into what goes into creating effective content to help perpetuate [a client’s] story.”
As a pianist trained since 5 years old, she knows every key, note and hour spent perfecting a line of music is important.
As a digital marketer and content creator, she grasps the nuances of angles, orientation, lighting, negative space, voice, tone, virality and the demands of creative direction.
And as a bonafide foodie and walking compendium of local restaurants, she understands the ingredients, flavors and processes behind designing food and drink recipes that are equally delicious, complex and transportive.
Kong’s blending of passion and purpose is the blessing and curse of being a modern multihyphenate. There’s always something to conceptualize, create and tweak, and no clear line in the sand separating business hours from leisure.
She admits, without reservation, she’s not the best person to ask about conventional work-life balance.
“There isn’t great balance [in my life], and I’m okay with that,” Kong says. “Work and personal are intertwined. Capturing content I’m really excited about is something I would do in my free time because I love it.”
Kong’s also aware of the negative perceptions associated with glamorizing workaholism and grinding hard.
She deflects any assertion that her modus operandi should be a point of contention. For Kong, her agency and the freedom to build a marketing empire and food-centric lifestyle on her own terms is what matters the most.
“That’s what I’m passionate about,” she says. “And that’s how I want to spend my time.”
The Juice Is Worth the Squeeze
The “grind” of maintaining 30 clients stretching across the DMV and beyond — from mom and pop shops to Michelin-starred restaurants — feeds Kong’s creative soul. The work supporting many of D.C.’s emerging chefs, mixologists and establishments is never done. She and a tight-knit team of five spend their days sharpening their skills as marketing chameleons, producing eye-catching food porn.
“Everybody has a unique brand voice or aesthetic they’re going for,” Kong says. “It’s exciting for the team to figure out how to represent each person or client best. Our voices can’t come through; we want the chefs, the dishes or their ethos to shine.”
While Kong admits she could have easily followed an alternate path and filled out her portfolio with large corporate clients, it wouldn’t align with her entrepreneurial integrity.
“It’s not [always] about money,” Kong says. “It’s more about the passion and the story behind it. [My clients] are rooted in D.C. I wanted to use Nom Digital to help amplify those voices and focus on small business owners and community.”
The Myth of D.C.
Kong amplifies small business owners, lifts up the culinary and beverage scene and frequents local restaurants as an act of resistance against “blanket statements” made about D.C. — like one saying it’s a soulless, “one-dimensional city.”
“D.C. is this mecca of culture, from fashion to food to the arts,” Kong says. “It’s an incredible place. You see so many ethnicities and backgrounds colliding. Food is a huge passion for me; endless options and different kinds of cuisines are available here. And it’s ever-changing; new restaurants pop up every other day.”
Kong says the city is flourishing as a world-class destination and she lives to explore it, often alongside her beau Deke Dunne, the bar and creative director at Allegory, before diving back into work.
Kong admits that most of her money goes to food and drink.
“I spend the day shooting food and getting to film all these incredible figures in our D.C. community doing what they excel at, and then in the evening I go eat some more.”