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Friday, October 23, 2009

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Lee Anne Wong Chef, Producer, Culinary Consultant

Since she traded her burgeoning fashion career for the culinary world, Chef Lee Anne Wong, has been bringing her modern-global fusion cuisine to the people. Born and raised in Troy, New York, Lee Anne, a 2nd generation Chinese- American, was not drawn to the kitchen, favoring sports – softball and ice hockey – instead. Though her mother encouraged her to eat unique cuisine, Lee Anne’s tastes were intrinsically tied to American favorites such as pizza, jalapeno poppers, and burgers.  Lee Anne’s passion for cuisine ignited during her first year studying Fashion Design at FIT and when she started cooking for friends.   Once she donned her chef whites she never looked back.

After graduating from The French Culinary Institute (The FCI) Chef Wong jumped into the restaurant world.  She immersed herself in New York’s fusion cuisine – working for several years at Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit, later serving as an integral part the opening staff at Jean Georges Vongrichten’s Chinese venture, restaurant 66.  She has also cooked and staged in kitchens all over the world, including French Laundry, Charlie Trotter’s of Chicago, Nobu, The Four Seasons, Trio, Casa Oaxaca in Mexico and Cap Julaca in the British Virgin Islands – picking up global flavors and techniques along the way. 

Lee Anne’s skills go beyond the stove.  She returned to The FCI as the Executive Chef of Event Operations –where she honed her event production and recipe development skills, customizing unique menus and events for the clients of the school’s International Culinary Theater. While at The FCI she coordinated the Chef Demonstration program, working alongside culinary heavy-hitters such as Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner, Ferran Adria, Tyler Florence, and Martin Yan. 
Chef Wong brought her culinary skills to an even wider audience when she appeared as a cheftestant on Season One of Bravo’s Flagship Series “Top Chef.” A fan favorite, Wong’s fusion of flavors took her to number four in the competition.  The show’s producers saw her innate talent and media experience, and brought her on as the crucially important Supervising Culinary Producer on Top Chef, and its spin-off Top Chef Masters.   For the past six seasons she helped shaped the show into the powerhouse that it is today. She also made the show more accessible, demonstrating the winning recipes on’s popular webisode series “The Wong Way to Cook.”  She has also worked as a culinary consultant on Warner Brother’s “No Reservations,” as well as PBS’ “Chef Story.”   Lee Anne has also garnered attention from numerous publications, including People, The NY Daily News, Food & Wine, and
While developing a media presence, Lee Anne continues to cook: participating in countless events and competitions.  Recently, Lee Anne was featured as a chef at the 2009 Scottsdale Food and Wine Festival – where she connected with her audience during a weekend of cooking demos, wine, and tastings. She is an active member of the James Beard Foundation and has hosted and cooked many events at the James Beard House  -- including an extravagant New Year’s Eve 2006 dinner. A guest chef at The Celebration of Vegetables at The Culinary Vegetable Institute at Chef’s Garden, Lee Anne has been a friend of Chef’s Garden for six years and maintains close relationship with Lee Jones. She has also used her culinary skills to help further charitable causes. She participates in Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR), Project By Project – a volunteer based organization that supports Asian-American Non-profits, and she currently serves on the Board of Directors for The Gohan Society, dedicated to fostering US-Japanese culinary and cultural relations. 

A culinary polyglot, in her personal time Lee Anne loves to travel and experience new cultures and flavors. Mexico holds a soft spot in her heart.  For the past twelve years she has made a yearly pilgrimage to Oaxaca for the food, people and culture.  Lee Anne also has a deep love for everything porcine – many of her recipes incorporate pork in its many incarnations.  Even with all of her haute-cuisine experience, she is at heart the same girl from Troy – with a passion for all things fast food – including tacos, hamburgers, and fried chicken.

Chef Wong’s role in the culinary industry continues to evolve.  She is working on a food art book – Sexy Food - with noted photographer John Mark Sorum and also continues to work with The FCI as a visiting chef and alumni ambassador. While she’s keeping a foot in the media world, Lee Anne is leaving her role as culinary producer for Top Chef to pursue several exciting projects on the horizon that are going to put her back in the kitchen.  Whether via TV, web, in print, or in person, Chef Lee Anne Wong will continue to bring her global cuisine to the public as she explores new, exciting areas of the culinary world.  We are so pleased to present her as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan met Lee Anne Wong recently at the French Culinary Institute, and Peachy interviewed her for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: How did you first become interested in hockey?  Did you play?
Lee Anne Wong: My brother and I took figure skating lessons when we were young. After a year he got into hockey. I used to go watch his practices with my dad and eventually said, "I want to do that." My dad signed me up for organized hockey. Back then girls playing a predominantly male sport was uncommon. I played throughout my youth and when I got to high school I tried out for the boy's JV team and was the first girl ever to play for the Troy High hockey team. 

What was the catalyst that led you to transition from fashion to food?
Since I could work I have always had a job at a restaurant or bar. I think I was working three jobs in college and just burnt out on the whole fashion industry, which was not all it was cracked up to be. I started cooking for my friends, who were the ones who eventually suggested I attend culinary school. 

Can you combine both fashion and food professionally?
I excelled in art throughout my younger education and would not be where I am today had I not had that experience. With cooking, you eat with your eyes first, so art and food go hand in hand. While studying fashion, I learned about color, texture, volume, positive-negative space, and beyond the aesthetics, I learned the logistical and practical aspects about one of the most seasonal, fickle, trendiest businesses around (I could be talking about fashion...I could be talking about food.... see my point?). Now that I've come full circle, I find beauty in both food and fashion, which has fueled a terribly indulgent side of me, as now I have a taste for caviar and shoes.

Of the restaurants you have been with where did you enjoy cooking the most and why?
I think most cooks always remember their first job. I learned so much during my time at Aquavit from both Marcus Samuelsson and the Chef de Cuisine, and my friend, Nils Noren. They really mentored me and gave me homework and made me write menus from an early start. And the camaraderie between the cooks was the best I had ever experienced at any restaurant I had ever been in. My job at the FCI the last 6 years was a gift. During that time I got to not only work with some of the greatest culinary luminaries in the world (Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner, Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud...), but in the end reunited with Nils when he came on as the new VP of Culinary for the school. 

When will Sexy Food be released?
Haha, this has been a pet project for my friend, John Mark Sorum- the photographer, and myself. We've got a ton of work done, we just need to sit down and put together the proposal. It doesn't help that I've been on the road for the past four years, but I am still proud of the work, which I feel is timeless, and know that it's too good to just let go to waste. 

Do you have more book plans in the future?
Let me get this one done first.  

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
I am pretty self motivated, but there have been numerous people who have shaped my ideals. My parents, Nils, Andre Soltner, and pretty much all of my colleagues in this business; We motivate each other through inspiring, creating, sharing, and tasting. 

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Union Square Greenmarket at 8:00 a.m. 

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
(In no particular order) DiPalo's, Russ and Daughter's, and Kalustyan's 

What is your favorite drink?
Maker's Mark on the rocks is the usual suspect.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Ssam Bar and Inoteca

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
American Psycho

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
Bowling with Shannon is always fun.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
The Gehry Exhibit at the Guggenheim years ago. The Whitney Biennials are always fun. 

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Underrated: Tuesdays. Overrated: Saturdays.  

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite W hom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Earthy Peachy because of its Environmentally Friendly Pursuits/Items. Because everyone needs to be a little more responsible and do their part, for our own sake and for future generations. Check out to see how me and my friends are showing how to throw "green" parties with a cool, hip vibe, slated to air front page You Tube "How To"

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
Comedienne, Lover, Workaholic, International Food Fighter

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Facebooks it.

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