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Alumni of the Month

Ms. Lena Jung, Food Director & CEO of Lena's Table

Diplôme de Cuisine 2017 and French Wine Master Class 2018

What made you learn cuisine program at Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung Academy?
To answer this question, I must go back to when I was a college student and went on a trip to Europe where I first encountered shockingly tasty food and this led me to fall in love with France, and especially Paris. Everything I ate there, not only traditional French cuisine but also dishes ranging from burgers to Japanese food, was all extremely delicious. Even after coming back from this trip, I would think back to these dishes and felt that French cuisine could be a strong foundation to reinterpret cuisine from all over the world. That is why when I decided to learn cooking properly, I didn’t hesitate to choose Le Cordon Bleu, the French culinary school. It was the same process after I finished this first course and decided to learn about wine. I felt like I had to know better French wine, which is the origin of all wine in some way, to understand the variety of wines available from the new continent and more; this led me to register for the French Wine Master Class at Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung Academy.

What did you do before joining the Academy?
Before joining the academy, I worked for 7 years in the LG group, within the HR personnel development team. I was in charge of company training, so I continuously developed training programs and built my career over the years. Nevertheless, I always had a passion for cuisine deep inside. That is why I ended up joining the Academy after dreaming of it for so long and boldly decided to change my career after completing the Cordon Bleu’s Cuisine Diploma.      

What do you do now?
My main job is to collaborate with various brands and develop new menus. For two years ago, I have provided F&B consulting and catering services to a global luxury brand. Each season, I work closely with talented Michelin-star chefs to develop and serve menus that go along with the season’s collection. On a personal level, I have a channel called “Lena’s Table” where I hold weekly cooking classes and I am also writing cookbooks. 

What are you interests outside of cooking?
I recently grew an interest in art collections. Many ideas are necessary to develop menus. Artworks provide inspiration and often a change of perspective and thus help me greatly in this process.    

What do you think are fundamental qualities to have as a food director? 
I think that having an explorer’s spirit is key. Don’t stop discovering new food, studying, and testing new ideas.

You have already written 3 books since graduating, what do you consider to be most important when writing a books?  
Considering that I used to work in an office, I boldly exclude menus that are too complicated or take too long to make. I aim to share tasty and healthy menus that are easy to make and allow you to find joy in cooking amidst a busy schedule. I also aim to share many basic but important tips such as basic cooking principles, how to choose good ingredients that I learned while attending Le Cordon Bleu. One must understand the principles to be able to apply them easily. I hope that my readers can apply these techniques themselves and can appreciate the joy of cooking.

Where do you get your inspiration to develop new menus?
In my case, while I cook a lot myself, I also go out to eat often. Every week, I go out at least 4 times to discover rising restaurants and Michelin-star restaurants. These days, I unfortunately cannot go abroad, but before COVID, I used to visit major culinary cities such as Paris, Bologna, or Tokyo for quite some time to discover and study the local ingredients and menus. After seeing, hearing, and experiencing, I try to reinterpret these experiences in my own way to develop new menus. Taking the time to test ideas yourself is very important for a chef in my opinion; I see it like digesting properly after a meal.

What is your favorite ingredient?
It has to be olives. For around 4 years, I worked with an Italian olive oil brand and worked on a project to develop recipes every month. Naturally, from there, I started to take a great interest in olives and olive oil; I even went to where they produce olive oils to study them. Olives make ordinary dishes tastier and healthier. Building on this, my 3rd book that was recently published is called “Everybody’s Olive”.

What are your plans and objectives for the future?
Having collaborated with numerous Michelin star restaurants, I realized that culinary culture is not only about ‘taste’. Of course, ‘taste’ is the foundation of it all but ‘beauty’, ‘pleasant milieu’ and ‘new experience’ are also necessary to create a complete culinary experience. That is why I have a personal goal to plan and run a project that expands the diversity of culinary experience. As part of this, I am planning to collaborate closely with artworks in the future. I hope that, through cuisine, I can help many people escape the mundane and immerse themselves in new experiences; and through the collection of these experiences, I hope to make their lives richer.

What is your advice to those who study cooking and why?
I hope that, at Le Cordon Bleu, they can learn more about the ‘basics’ than the ‘trends.’ When first learning cuisine, it is easy to want to learn trendy recipes that can be applied straight away but this can prevent one from creating their own creative dishes. Personally, when trying to decide on a concept for a menu, I would often go back to regional traditional cuisines we learned in the Academy. I would try to understand why such a dish came to be in that region, what combinations are used and I would try to make a variant of it. I believe there is a difference between mimicking a variant and making a variant after understanding the origins of a dish. Furthermore, I would recommend them to learn properly how to handle each ingredient such as meat, fish, spices, and so forth. Regardless of how good the steak sauce you developed is, if you are not able to choose, sear and rest a proper steak, that dish will not be complete. I believe that Le Cordon Bleu is the best place to learn these basics.

Any advice to those who are considering transition their career towards cooking?
I had many worries and concerns about studying cuisine after working in a company for 7 years already. “Is it not too late for me to start cooking for a career?” “Could I settle in well in the culinary industry?” I was also afraid of the career I had built until then disappearing. However, they were unfounded fears. In fact, I believe that my previous career also helped me differentiate myself in the culinary industry. When working in a company, I would work often with other companies when planning new programs. This experience helps me greatly today when I collaborate with different brands or when I am writing my book. Despite all these advantages, learning cuisine was not an easy task. However, whenever things became hard and I wanted to give up, my classmates were there to cheer me up and help from former alumni was also a great help. It was an honor to be chosen as this year’s alumnus by my fellow alumni last year. Had I not been determined enough to change careers, I could not have imagined meeting these amazing alumni nor building a career with something I love like cooking. If you are considering changing careers, I want to tell you that it can open a new career that will allow your previous experience to shine even brighter.

To Lena Jung, Le Cordon Bleu is?
Le Cordon Bleu, to me, is a turning point. It was the first step in becoming, from a food-content consumer to, a food-content producer.

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