At our table: Chef Jae-Eun Jung
Photo courtesy of Melissa Hom.
Jae-Eun Jung has crafted her extraordinary culinary career and celebrated fusion style around the pursuit of challenge. In A Place at the Table: New American Recipes from the Nation’s Top Foreign-Born Chefs, Jae explains why the most important goal for her, as an immigrant, was to seek growth.
Jae was born in Seoul, Korea, but left in 2009 to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She sought the challenge of learning a new skill — “being a chef” — in a new language and culture. “I just wanted to see how far I could go,” she says.
Jae's recipe from A Place at the Table: Shrimp and Okra Pancakes with Charred Scallion Dipping Sauce. Photo courtesy of Melissa Hom.
Upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Jae began working in New Orleans with the goal of learning the rich, flavorful cuisine of the American South. Two important mentors, Chef Leah Chase, Jae’s “Creole grandma,” and Chef Michael Gulotta of Restaurant August, helped Chef Jae develop a culinary palate entirely her own — one that spotlights the parallels between the coastal cuisine of the Southern United States and that of Korea.
After four years in New Orleans, Jae moved back to New York, where she has since worked in Michelin-starred restaurants across Manhattan, including Le Bernardin, the Nomad Hotel, Oceana, and, currently, Chef Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud.
Jae's recipe from A Place at the Table: Soy-and Sugarcane-Glazed Grilled Pork Chops with Tomato Peach Salad. Photo courtesy of Melissa Hom.
Jae’s relationship with her mother and her love for Korea are at the heart of her passion to create culinary experiences for the people she serves. In 2018, Jae developed a six-course, wine-paired meal for Story Course NYC, an organization that “creates...uniquely moving and delicious experience[s] by taking guests on a coursed dinner that pairs with an interactive narrative.” Through the culinary and performative elements of the meal’s presentation, Jae provided guests with an intimate experience: The six courses began with traditional Korean fare, and progressively took on the flavor profiles and style of New Orleanian cuisine, mirroring Jae’s move. Runny egg yolks represented tears, and a crispy cracker — which guests were encouraged to break by slapping it with their spoons — was a culinary simile for Jae’s face; when Jae’s mother learned of her decision to move to the United States, she slapped Jae across the cheek.
It is this spirit of creative storytelling through the culinary arts that makes her a welcome addition to A Place at the Table. Jae’s openness about how her experiences and journey have honed her passion for her craft exemplify that there is no singular immigrant story. The diversity of immigrant chef’s stories — and the myriad ways these experiences have influenced the contributions of immigrants to the culinary arts — is one of the core values that inspired the Vilcek Foundation to develop A Place at the Table.