—Activist, Chef, and Entrepeneur
Jenny is a professional chef, author and activist. Specializing in multi-platform storytelling, she fuses food with social good! She’s competed in the Food Network show Chopped, ran for Forbes 30 under 30, and can be found on the TED stage. As the founder of a nonprofit events company, Studio ATAO, she runs her own culinary consulting business where she uses food as the spark to ignite dialogue about Asian-American Issues.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is it that you do? Or share with us one of your greatest achievements.
Hi! I’m Jenny. I’m a professional chef, author and speaker who focuses on the relationships between food, identity and vulnerability. I’m the founder of a nonprofit community think tank, Studio ATAO, and also run my own culinary consulting business.
I’m a career changer into food -- out of College, I started out as a management consultant at Accenture and went to Columbia Business School for my MBA, before pivoting to culinary school. Since then I’ve worked a lot of different jobs in food: from cooking in restaurants in NYC & SF to being the neighborhood barista, a juice salesperson and corporate food & beverage associate. I’m really appreciative of how much I’ve learned from these experiences and encourage everyone to explore as much as possible, and not feel limited to any one career trajectory!
Nowadays, I split my time running the Studio and while still doing some consulting and writing on the side. My food writing can be found on outlets like Washington Post, Eater, VICE, Serious Eats, and Narratively. I’ve also written several books, most recently The Infrared Grill Master (Ulysses Press 2020), Healthy Cocktails (Skyhorse Publishing 2019), and the forthcoming Avatar the Last Airbender Official Cookbook (Insight Editions 2021). In my free time, I make ceramics via my Wednesday Ceramics line and hang out with two dogs and one husband.
What was your first encounter with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or the medicinal foods of your culture?
I would eat TCM foods growing up - I'm a 1st gen Chinese-American, so TCM was integrated naturally into what we would eat. For example, sweet soups with goji or wolfberries, or I’d get watermelon rind power (Gui Lin Xi Gua Shuang Herbal Extract) sprayed into my mouth to clear up canker sores.
What are your must-haves in your kitchen (tools, ingredients, books, etc.)?
Tools - microplane (for grating garlic), a good knife (I use Misono), a good cutting board (I use Boos), and a bench scraper to make cutting and scraping things easier. Books I love: The Noma Book of Fermentation, as well as Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri.
What's your opinion of the adage "food is medicine?" What is a food-based item that you take/consume for wellness?
Food absolutely is medicine - it affects how our bodies react with the outside world, it changes our mental well-being, it also shapes our relationship with other people. It is preventative care! Even basic things like drinking enough water is an important part of being healthy and taking care of our bodies. I'm not super innovative in saying this, but something I've done ever since I was young is to drink hot ginger tea when I have a cold, or make myself chicken soup when I'm sick.
Could you share one or two health-conscious recipes with us, in which you used ingredients inspired by traditional medicine or nature?
I had fallen into a pattern of forcing food to bend to my will — pulverizing springy greens into purées for smooth lines, shaving down cuts of meat until perfectly angular, hole punching out circles from leaves and root vegetables.
For this dish, I decided to put that approach aside and retain natural organic edges and veiny pieces of the ingredient. I felt distinctly more invested in keeping its original flavor intact too. I focused on compressing and sharpening what I already loved in the raw materials, instead of my usual modifying and reshaping. Chasing that clarity is honestly not a strength of mine, so this recipe had me in a head-clearing exercise as much as a technical one. It felt good to take a breath at what would’ve once been a halfway point, let go and say, “that’s enough.” Maybe that’s the acceptance I needed to hear for my own self, too.
This dish is Raw spot prawn dressed in lacto-tomato water and Indonesian salt; paired with enoki mushrooms that had been dehydrated overnight, then re-hydrated in a spot prawn and roast duck broth, then pan-fried in shallot oil to golden brown; plus a few flecks of garlic scape and watercress (hidden below).
One of my foundational recipes is my Silkie Chicken Soup. I fall back on this whenever I need comfort or care, when I’m sick. I made this back when I first moved to New York and saw photos of college friends gathered for a group reunion. It was then I realized I was solidly out of their lives, and needed the soothing warmth from my Herbal Silkie Soup.
Which body constitution do you have and how will your daily ritual change after finding out?
Type C: Constitution of Yang Deficiency! Looks like I should be making lamb soup this winter to keep me warm, and that’s SUPER exciting to me!
Find out your body constitution here!