We had the good fortune of connecting with Jocelyn Ueng and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jocelyn, what are you inspired by?
On June 15th, 2020, we lost the patriarch of our family. Grandpa Liu, gong gong, passed peacefully in his sleep. My gong gong fostered my love for food and culture. He instilled in me advanced techniques from Shandong province (northeastern China) that date back to the tail end of Qing Dynasty. One particular dish that transcends through generations is his dried cabbage chili; a dish that we’ve spent the past year trying to replicate but remains a mystery. The process requires weeks of air drying, rehydrating, and lastly, braising. A product of love, labor, commitment, and mindfulness. This dish, aka gong gong’s chili, I believe, was never meant to be written down as a recipe but resolved through relentless trial and error.

I analogize this discovery process to my philosophy towards food: a spiritual, earnest, candid, and sacred relationship. Food provides lessons that traverse past textbook pedagogy as it deepens our perception of the natural elements and time. 2020 was the year of time. A year that broadened my horizons and paved my path to higher purpose with food.

Like most in the industry, I was furloughed from my gardener role at The French Laundry and sent home from school without further notice. With this newfound time, I launched COVID relief efforts with Off Their Plate, a nonprofit that provides economic relief to women and BIPOC-owned restaurants by serving food-insecure communities. To date, we’ve raised $8M and served over 760,000 meals to those impacted most by the COVID crisis. My path forward spawns a unique opportunity to further my role in food: to combat food system inefficiencies as a chef, restaurateur, advocate, and member of society. Where it was once noble to power through 12-hour shifts, the new noble presents a path for community aid, equity, and innovation. I am fueled by this higher purpose and re-invigorated inner compass.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
An outdated intro in today’s world might be, “Hi, I’m [insert name], a [insert role] at [insert company]. I’m a graduate of [insert university], child/parent/partner to, etc. etc.” I’m a firm believer in identifying our values and beliefs to express our self-image and worth. So, I’m Jocelyn, a first-generation Taiwanese-American, curioso, entrepreneur, storyteller, and social impact champion.

I am currently pursuing my lifelong passion for food at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Napa, CA where I’ll be completing my studies this August. My journey to the CIA is rather atypical, but no different from any change/pivot in one’s lifetime. My career began in the Silicon Valley at a food delivery startup (thinking that this would satiate my passion for food). There, I sought for a more established and rigorous setting, which then led me to strategy consulting at Accenture where I specialized in building value propositions and new business models (and very immaculate PowerPoints). I soon realized that consulting was my launchpad, a place to develop the tools and skills necessary to launch my own ventures and concepts – and when I say “soon” I mean years worth of pondering where I might end up after consulting.

This past year was particularly resounding. A silver lining of quarantine was meeting a group (270 or so) of like-minded, problem-solving, socially conscious individuals that were urgently trying to find a solution to aid food insecurity and surplus – inefficiencies that have long existed in our country’s system. Off Their Plate was founded in March 2020 as an immediate response to the COVID crisis to support local restaurants and serve those most impacted by the pandemic. Phase 1 was serving frontline healthcare workers, phase 2 (current) is providing warm, nutritious meals to food insecure populations across America. To date, our 100% volunteer based organization has raised over $7.5 million which gets directly routed to supporting women- and BIPOC-owned restaurants. Our work has been recognized by many notable names and figures, Barack Obama, John Mulaney, James Beard Foundation, to name a few. But our work does not amount to status awards, but the collective effort and impact that we can provide to our neighborhoods in need.

Back to the launchpad analogy, I started culinary school expecting to master sauce making and menu development, and have since found higher purpose in the world of food. Food is not just a means for creative expression and future profit, but solace for nurturing others and self. An intersection of culture, conversation, health, innovation (and tradition), and community.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
San Gabriel Valley, aka “SGV”, aka “the 626.” By far the best kept secret of our nation. SGV is THE food hub that every foodie and culinary connoisseur dreams of. An area that spans 200 square miles from Pasadena (West) to San Dimas (East) where you can find anything from stinky tofu to tea leaf salad, Michelin-starred Chinese food to dollar street tacos, lumpia that’s better than any auntie’s recipe, the list goes on. Beyond food, SGV has hundreds of local hidden hiking trails, vintage shops, gardens, day spas, and farmers markets to explore. A weekend itinerary might include…

– Trying stinky tofu (no ands, ifs, or buts)
– Eating your way through Monterey Park’s noodle and dumpling houses (my top pick is Kim Kee Noodle Cafe)..then grabbing boba tea
– Afternoon strolling old town Pasadena
– Spending an afternoon at Huntington Library or LA’s Arboretum and Botanic Garden
– Snapping a selfie with a peacock in Arcadia
– Taste testing street tacos in La Puente from vendor to vendor
– Hiking Eaton Canyon (there’s a waterfall at the top)
– Visiting Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights (one of the largest Buddhist temples in the US)
– Catching the sunset at “the top of the world” (a local’s only hangout spot)

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Off Their Plate

Website: www.offtheirplate.org

Instagram: http://instagram.com/jossywossy

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jocelynueng/

Image Credits
Jackie Barr; Off Their Plate

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