Going Against The Grain: Shirley Chung

photography by Albert Law : www.porkbellystudio.com

Born and raised in Beijing China, Chef Shirley Chung was exposed to international cuisine at an early age by her grandmother, Liang Si Yi, former Director of The Red Cross in China. Shirley immigrated to America at age 17 for college and worked in Silicon Valley for a few years after graduating. Shirley decided to follow her passion for food so she left her career in high tech behind and enrolled in California Culinary Academy San Francisco. She is trained in classic French and Italian cuisine, worked and opened restaurants for Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy and Mario Batali.

After she opened CarneVino as Chef de Cuisine for BBHG, CarneVino earned multiple awards for Best Steak House internationally. Prior to being a finalist on season 11 of “Top Chef” in New Orleans, she held the Executive Chef Position at China Poblano, by Jose Andres, which was nominated for the Best New Restaurant Award by the James Beard Foundation in 2011. While working at China Poblano, she fell in love with Mexican cuisine and learned more about her own heritage. In 2014, Shirley opened her restaurant in Orange County, Twenty Eight, featuring modern Chinese cuisine. Recently, Shirley has been competing on season 14 of BravoTV’s Top Chef. She used this opportunity to showcase her Chinese American Cuisine during the competition and she was rewarded by being named the runner up of Top Chef. Shirley is currently working on opening her next concept in Los Angeles. Steamers Co. is a fast-casual counter service seafood driven restaurant with an oyster bar.

Full Name:
Shirley Chung

Beijing, China

Current City:
Newport Beach, California


What does it mean to you to “Go Against The Grain”?
“Going against the Grain” means: follow your heart and chase your passions while understanding that to chase your passion also means you have to shoulder the burden.

What made you decide to pursue a career in this industry?
I have always loved to cook, but to pursue a career as a chef never crossed my mind. I spent a few years working in the Silicon Valley; I didn’t really enjoy being stuck in front of a computer all day. I went out to dine very often and I loved to throw dinner parties on the weekends. 2002, the market crashed, dot com bubble busted, the startup company I was working for started running out of funding. I was facing a crossroad, I can take a pay cut and find another boring job, or I can do something else. My husband suggested culinary school so I signed up for a tour of California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. I was hooked the moment I walked into the school. The aromas, the energy, the sounds, everything intrigued me and I felt like I belonged.

What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in this field?
Being an Asian American woman in male dominated fields, I had to push a lot harder to have my voice heard. Working hard and striving to be the best me, I let my actions show my capability but I never hesitate to voice my beliefs and I fight hard for them.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment and why?
I will keep on pushing forward, continue to cook, to create, to be present in the community, I don’t feel like my biggest accomplishment has been accomplished yet.

What’s up next?
Working on new restaurant concept in Los Angeles, hopefully open by the end of the year.

Quote to live by:
“My glass is half full.”

Sign (Eastern Animal Sign & Western Zodiac):
Dragon / Sagittarius

Passionate about:
Inspiring people to be true to themselves, chase their dreams and embrace the challenges. I am also passionate about the future of modern Chinese American cuisine.

Favorite food:
Noodles and pasta. 

Can’t live without:

I Go Against The Grain #beCAUSE:
It’s ok that you can’t find yourself, just don’t stop searching.

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