Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, Chef Jae Eun Jung was urged by her family to seek a career in a corporate office culture, but she found it unsatisfying. Since some of her best memories were of cooking for friends on photography outings, she decided to pursue what she loved.
In 2008, she applied for and gained acceptance to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Chef Jung worked several jobs to save money for tuition and expenses, while staying up late practicing her language skills in preparation for the move to the United States. A year later, she relocated to New York to attend CIA and learn both classic cooking techniques and a new culture.
Soon after arriving, she began planning her first visit to New Orleans—a friend from Korea suggested the trip to her, knowing she had a lifelong passion for jazz inspired by her father. It wasn’t long before Chef Jung took advantage of a free weekend and headed to New Orleans, where she tried Cajun food for the first time. She quickly fell in love with both the cuisine and Southern traditions, and vowed to someday return to cook this fabulous food. Back at CIA, she spent a lot of nights making gumbo accompanied by the sounds of New Orleans jazz.
Chef Jung’s work ethic and commitment to excellence paid off. She accomplished her first goal in the food world when she was hired as an extern at Restaurant August in New Orleans. After graduation from CIA in 2010, she accepted a position back at Restaurant August under New Orleans food legend Michael Gulotta, quickly rising through the ranks while honing her abilities in the kitchen.
That same work ethic—along with excellent technical skills—made Chef Jung a sought-after chef for collaborations and innovative food projects. She spent time in a number of other notable restaurant kitchens, including Domenica, Herbsaint, Luke, and Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. As Chef Jung continued to cook, she discovered similarities between Korean and Cajun-Creole cuisine such as an emphasis on preparations of abundant local seafood, lots of barbecued pork, enthusiastic use of pickles and preserves, heavy spice and hot sauces, and the importance of sharing food together with family. Cooking New Orleans food made her feel closer to home.
At Dooky Chase’s in 2011, Chef Jung worked under legendary Chef Leah Chase, a titan of American cuisine and the Queen of Creole cooking. She credits Chef Chase with teaching her the spirit and true form of Southern cuisine and hospitality, and with having a huge impact on her as a chef and as a person. That experience has served as the backbone of Chef Jung’s culinary philosophy and personal life.
While working in New Orleans, she also began a series of collaborations with Dinner Lab as a featured chef, showcasing Korean cuisine with New Orleanian flair in cities across the country, including Chicago, Miami, Austin, Boston, Birmingham, Nashville, and New York City. This innovative series of dinners and culinary events allowed her to refine her Korean-Cajun concepts while exposing thousands of Americans to her distinctive cuisine and unique flavors.
That opportunity led Chef Jung to prepare for her next step in front of even larger audiences. In 2014, she moved to New York City to work in some of its most prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants, including Oceana, Le Bernardin, the NoMad Hotel restaurant, and, most recently, as sous chef of the famed Café Boulud. New York’s high-powered kitchens gave Chef Jung the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the industry’s biggest names, including Chefs Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud.
Despite long hours in the kitchen, Chef Jung stayed focused on her dreams. Each job taught her something new—the importance of acting with a sense of urgency at Oceana, how to be versatile in multiple cooking techniques at the NoMad, coordination and working with partners at Café Boulud, and Chef Ripert’s famed attention to detail at Le Bernandin. She started to apply that same strategy to her food and career.
In addition to her work in restaurants, Chef Jung was ever-committed to celebrating diversity and cultural exchange through her culinary art. Her collaborations with partner organizations use food to bridge cultural gaps and tell intimate personal stories. She has partnered with the Korean Cultural Center in New York for a series of dinners and online content, authored a cookbook chapter for the Vilcek Foundation aimed at exploring the diversity of the immigrant experience, and received national attention for her StoryCourse dinner pairing Chef Jung’s dishes with her own personal story of making it as a chef in New York. Her culinary abilities and inspiring personal background have made her a force for cultural change within the food industry.
In 2021, Chef Jung launched her first start-up, KJUN, in the middle of the pandemic, with an entire menu of innovative Korean-Cajun fusion dishes. Working from a basement catering kitchen, she prepped, took orders, cooked, and ran deliveries before returning to wash dishes. Her unique, complex cuisine soon had New Yorkers captivated. KJUN received critical acclaim from The New Yorker magazine, Bloomberg, The Infatuation, and Eater.
Chef Jung competed on the 19th season of Bravo’s Top Chef: Houston, which aired in early 2022. Simultaneously, she began restructuring KJUN for expansion, and opened its permanent location in Manhattan in September 2022. Chef Jung looks forward to continuing to feed hungry guests for many years to come. “Maya Angelou says your legacy is every life that you have touched,” she said. “For me, I feel like my legacy will be the life of every person that I have cooked for.”