photo by Hannah Burton for Bustle
Hello! I'm Jenny. I'm a professional chef, food writer, speaker and social entrepreneur based between Los Angeles and NYC. I use food to express the full range of human emotions and provide social commentary on the
- even those not well-suited for Instagram. I believe food has a special way of exposing the banal routine and social norms we find ourselves in. It can be a powerful medium for storytelling and create a place for genuine interaction -- if we choose to use it as such.
My mission is to use culinary arts as a platform to evoke introspection, empathy and real emotion. Sometimes my food or the environments I create make people uncomfortable, and that's the point. I don't plan on being complicit with the way things are; I want to change the world with my art, even if it's just one honest conversation at a time.
Before I started my journey in food, I was addicted to social acceptance (I still am, just less so). I started my career as a very (literally) hungry management consultant in the fashion industry before moving on to become the youngest MBA candidate at Columbia Business School. Shockingly, resume accolades do not make us truly happy and I found myself depressed and lost. I decided to take a sabbatical and go "find myself" -- which led me to culinary school, various fancy-schmancy starred restaurants and a bizarre set of jobs (ironic highlight: selling cold-pressed juice door-to-door to Silicon Valley VC firms). Through these twists and turns, I parlayed my abilities into a culinary consulting business, which I feel lucky to say has been successful and rewarding while forcing me to grow up and be a professional.
But I wanted more. At the beginning of 2017, I had an epiphany (at acupuncture) that I should use augmented & virtual reality to make my work more impactful. My experiments with these emerging technologies in the 'immersive' world has helped me narrow in on which social issues I'm particularly passionate about, and with that has birthed Studio ATAO. The Studio is my nonprofit baby that keeps me up at night as I rack my brain of ways to keep pushing people's boundaries with food & art and make them feel something. Where does this road lead? I'm still not sure. It's been a hell of a ride so far, but there's no saying what excitements and failures it still has in store. What I do know, however, is that I'll never wake up and wonder "what if?".
And yes, that's a photo of me being doused in honey mustard, because life is about living and the internet is forever.
My company Studio ATAO (pronounced a-tao, stands for all together at once) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit immersive events company that creates exhibitions & live experiences at the intersection of food, art and social impact. We're a scrappy, nimble org with 3 main branches: public programming, community initiatives and our agency arm.
Public Programming: we concept, build, execute and tour our own proprietary culinary-based public programming experiences across the United States. Our flagship series, Asian in America is an award-nominated experience fusing food & drink, virtual reality & poetry examining the trials & tribulations of the Asian American identity and has been on tour since 2018. Our series HIDDEN, a multi-sensory food, art and dance journey, debuted in 2019 and will be traveling globally in 2020. We are also in pre-production for our newest series, Glass Through Skin, a therapeutic exhibition & dining experience exploring the invisibility and normalization of female pain on the axes of the body, pleasure and beauty.
Community Initiatives: we gather industry professionals together for small-group dinner-and-discussions we call Experimental Salons, where we tackle a social impact topic pertinent to their work. We then use these conversations to create toolkits and resource documents for the general public to use. Most recently, we worked with food media professionals to dig into the question How Can Food Media Better Represent Non-White Cultures Without Tokenizing Them? (Toolkit here.) For COVID-19, we also launched a virtual, expert-led learning series called Community Skillshare.
You can learn more about Studio ATAO's mission, vision for the future and work at our official site www.studioatao.org. If you love what we do, please consider supporting us by via Patreon (monthly patrons) or GiveLively (one-time donation). If you're also a thoughtful, mission-driven individual, come join our digital FB community Social Impact Professionals where we discuss current news and cross-pollinate learnings across industries to grow and become better humans.
Drink Cocktails in Outer Space with this VR Experience -- Thrillist Supercall
Sommelier Chad Walsh on Why All-American Wine Menus Matter -- Michelin Guide USA
How One Chef Is Rising to Obama’s Call for Action -- Taste.Company
Chef Tatsu and the Art of Edomae Sushi -- Michelin Guide USA
Naem: The Art of Fermentation with Sticky Rice -- Life & Thyme
A Chef Uncovers the Secrets of Umami -- The Takeout
The Best Ramen Restaurants in America -- Thrillist
The Two Signs of a Great Recipe -- The Kitchn
Yes, This Meal Is Supposed to Make You Feel Uncomfortable -- Narratively
Sitting at the Table with Shame -- Sumac Magazine
I Left My MBA To Become A Chef... And This Is What Happened -- The Huffington Post
Asian in America: A Symbolic 3 Course Meal -- Hyphen Magazine & Goldthread
4 Life Lessons I Learned From Being On Reality TV -- Thought Catalog
Khao Piak Sen Is Lao-Style Chicken Noodle Soup With Soul -- Serious Eats
Kanuchi and the Search for a Native American Soup for Thanksgiving --- Serious Eats
This Mochi Soup Is How Japan Welcomes the New Year -- Serious Eats
Obe Ata Is Saucy, Spicy, and It's Good With Anything -- Serious Eats
Kodawari -- Omakase Room by Tatsu Restaurant, 2018
One Pot Meals -- Dash, 2018
Air Frying for Everyone -- Dash, 2018
Mastering the Instant Pot -- SkyHorse Publishing, 2019
Joie de Vivre -- Boucherie Restaurant, 2019
Healthy Cocktails -- SkyHorse Publishing, 2019
The Infrared Grill Master - Ulysses Press, 2020
4 Unexpected Foods to Pair with Sake -- Eater
See complete food & styling & photography portfolio.
If you are interested in my custom ceramics that are often paired with my food, click here.
I've been fortunate to work with a wide range of interesting companies, from Fortune 500 brands to nonprofits to local chains. My background in finance, management consulting, and global R&D has given me a unique perspective on what makes for a successful food-based venture, and I enjoy tackling age-old problems in creative new ways. I've launched new restaurant and culinary concepts (nationally and internationally); developed recipes and wrote cookbooks; planned and executed custom events large and small; made experimental content (branded and non) for audiences from social media to editorial. I love projects where I have the freedom to take big, abstract ideas and turn them into culinary content or experiential events. If you have an interesting concept you'd like to make even more delicious, please contact me below.
Fair Trade USA
Panda Restaurant Group
Hill's Pet Nutrition
Blue Marble Dreams: Bel Rev
Food Arts Center
Milk Money Kitchens
National Honey Board
Food Loves Tech
Well + Good
Everyday with Rachel Ray
Well + Good
awards & speaking engagements
2019 Regional Finalist (North America), San Pellegrino Young Chefs
2019 The Art of Plating "On the Rise" Honoree
2019 James Beard House Featured Chef
2018 Finalist, Future of Storytelling "Bridging the Divide" Award
2017 Les Dames D'Escoffier Legacy Awards
2016 Winner, Beat Bobby Flay on Food Network
2016 James Beard Foundation Jean Louis Palladin Professional Work/Study Grant
2015 Bocuse d'or Ment'or Continuing Education Grant
2012 Les Dames D'Escoffier New York Culinary Arts Scholarship
I've been fortunate to share my story in front of a wide variety of audiences these last few years. In everything from keynotes and workshops to moderating panels or judging, I pride myself in being authentic and honest about all parts of my journey, even the ugly, scary, and disappointing moments. I've had the great pleasure of speaking at many companies, organizations and conferences I respect, and just gave my very first TEDx talk in March 2020.
Future of Storytelling Summit
ReThink Conference, Culinary Institute of America
Charleston Wine + Food Festival
Crushing the Myth
Happy Family Night Market
Red Dot Annual Art Show
When to Jump: NYC
Union Square Hospitality Group
Tiffany & Co.
Apex for Youth
Institute of Culinary Education
International Association of Culinary Professionals
If you're looking for a culinary voice for an event, please contact me below.
Knives & Ink (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Adventures of Women Entrepreneurs (Radius, 2017)
Dark Horse (HarperOne, 2018)