At Honolulu’s Koko Head Café, chef Lee Anne Wong brings brunch to the people all day long. But whether it’s a truly innovative brunch, a near-finish showing on Top Chef Season 1, a stint at New York restaurant Aquavit with chef Marcus Samuelsson, or acting as executive chef of events operations at the French Culinary Institute (from which she graduated), Wong brings it.
Her reach is in just about every area of the food world. She’s gone from cheftestant to culinary producer for Top Chef Masters and she’s fought and won on Iron Chef America. She’s had her own web series, on Bravo, The Wong Way to Cook, and consulted for Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. She’s even written a cookbook, Dumplings All Day Wong.
Like a lot of chefs, Wong didn’t start out cooking. She grew up in the small upstate town of Wynantskill, New York, and when she headed to college at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, her mind was more on patterns than pastry. But after cooking for friends, her passions shifted and she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute to study. In addition to doing her stage with Samuelsson, Wong did quality time in the kitchens of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, Charlie Trotter in Chicago, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Restaurant 66 in Manhattan, and Mexico’s Casa Oaxaca.
And when the opportunity to go to Hawaii came along, after having met and fallen for a farmer on Oahu, it was, she said, “the universe speaking to me.” In 2013, she launched Koko Head, with a menu that does a mash-up of all-American, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, and European. Take her Chicky and Eggs (Japanese-style fried jidori chicken, French-style scrambled eggs, house-made pickles, and maple Tabasco), Eggs Haloa (poached eggs on a poi biscuit, coconut luau, sour poi hollandaise, and local greens), or Elvis’s Revenge (peanut butter, banana tempura, billionaire’s bacon, local honey, and toasted coconut on a sweet bun). It’s not exactly Mel’s Diner.
And when she’s not behind the stove or in front of the camera, Wong is active in Project by Project, a volunteer organization that supports Asian-American nonprofits; in the Gohan Society, dedicated to fostering U.S.-Japanese culinary and cultural relations; and in Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR). Wong says, “I want to see more young women cooks, more coming out of cooking schools ready to take on the world.”