CPTC Culinary Arts alumna takes talents to Olympic level

By Jean Borst

Even as a young child, Jo Soeung understood the impact of a meal prepared with love.

“I learned how to cook from the best chef I know – my grandmother,” Soeung said.

That early experience of blending her Filipino culture and family recipes was just the beginning. Today, Clover Park Technical College Culinary Arts alumna is a renowned chef and entrepreneur who has taken her craft to the international level.

Competing among the best

In February, Soeung represented her home country of the Philippines in the IKA Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany, along with more than 2,000 chefs. The event is the largest international professional competition for top chefs from around the globe.

Competing in the Individual Culinary Art category, Soeung crafted a five-course meal on her own in a race against the clock. While she didn’t receive a medal, she was formally recognized as the First Filipino Culinary Olympian to compete in the category.

Chef Jo Seoung races against the clock during the IKA Culinary Olympics.

“The experience was invaluable, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a prestigious event,” she said. “I can’t help but feel gratitude for the role Clover Park Technical College played to get me there.”

Answering the call

Soeung was born and raised in the Philippines, where she became well-versed in the culinary styles of East Asian and Spanish-influenced cooking. She found a fresh, new world of international flavors when her family moved to Seattle.

“That’s when I realized that cooking was my life’s calling,” she said. She decided Clover Park Technical College was the best place to prepare for her journey.

Soeung chose CPTC’s Culinary Arts program because of its emphasis on hands-on training. “The approach resonated with me,” she said. “Practical experience is essential in the culinary field.”

Every plate tells a story

Her time at CPTC was filled with learning and discovery, but it was also marked by personal and professional challenges that threatened to put her education – and dreams – on hold.

“The support and encouragement I received from my culinary instructor, Chef Dean Massey, and his belief in my potential was so important,” Soeung said. “He was more than just an instructor. His mentorship has been a constant source of strength and motivation, and his advice to ‘put a story on your plate’ continues to be my guiding principle with every dish I create.”

Growing recognition

After earning her associate degree in Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management from CPTC in 2012, Soeung worked in various roles in restaurants and hotels in Seattle and Tacoma and her reputation in the industry grew. In 2018, she was offered the position as chef de cuisine at Bistro Molokini in the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Maui, Hawaii.

“It was a significant step in my career that allowed me to immerse myself in the unique culinary landscape of Hawaii,” she said. It was also a stepping stone to a dream to turn her passion and purpose into her own small business.

Soeung left the corporate world and made a move to the island of Oahu where she opened Chef Jo LLC Culinary Services and Merchandise. The business includes personalized chef services and Wow Baguio: A Pasalubong Shop, which features vegan handcrafted products, including homemade jams made using her grandmother’s recipes. The accolades rolled in. Soeung was featured in several publications, including a video feature for Hana Hou!, the inflight magazine for Hawaiian Airlines.

Soeung relocated her business to Germany last year and continues to share her culinary skills and passion for food that brings people together. In addition to her participation and recognition in the IKA Culinary Olympics, Soeung also received the 2023 LUX Life Magazine Hospitality Award for “Best At-Home and Delivered Chef Service in Germany.”

Memories for a lifetime

Soeung’s mission is to keep her family’s legacy alive by melding her culture, upbringing and family recipes with her culinary training.

“I cherish the opportunity to share my culture through my culinary creations and inspire future chefs to be authentic and creative,” she said. “Preparing dishes with love and curated experiences creates memories that last a lifetime. That’s what food is all about.”

Her passion goes beyond the plate. Soeung is also dedicated to empowering women and challenging and redefining stereotypes in the culinary field.

Chef’s special. One of Chef Soeung’s favorite recipes is Kinilaw, a traditional Filipino dish. The raw seafood salad, made with vinegar or citrus juices, chili, ginger, onion and (sometimes) coconut milk, showcases the vibrant flavors of her Filipino heritage.