Byung Jeoung, 27, Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar, Kīhei
What inspired your career?
My mother cooks professionally in Korea. I was born there, but moved to Maui to live with my aunt when I was ten. My family felt I’d get a better education here in the States. I attended Ka‘ahumanu Hou, a private Christian school in Kahului, and the program offered an elective in culinary. Honestly, I took the class because it was easy. Then I found out that I really liked cooking and I continued on to UH–Maui College in culinary arts.
Which chefs do you most admire?
I was lucky to be in the Class Act Restaurant [UH–Maui College’s training venue] when Chef Kyle Kawakami was teaching the advanced cooking course. I was inspired by his menu and cooking skills. I got a job at Sansei [Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar] in Kīhei and was mentored by Chef Carl Yeh for four years. I can go to Chef Carl and he will always help me to work through any management or technical problem. And Chef Kyle and the menu at his food truck [Maui Fresh Streatery] still amaze me.
Was there a defining moment that made you realize you weren’t meant to be a career line cook?
I always had a passion to do better. I started at Sansei when I was nineteen and worked the tempura station, then the sauté station, and after two years I was promoted to sous chef, [my] position for five years. Last year, I became executive chef at Sansei. I try to learn every day, whether it’s managing the employees, or learning about new cooking techniques, or flavor profiles. Eventually, I’d like to own my own place, food truck or brick-and-mortar.
How do you balance work and personal time?
I work five days a week, but I’m on call 24/7. I honestly couldn’t do this job without the support of my wife, Tonya, who’s the backbone of the family. Also, I get a lot of help from my in-laws—and my six-year-old son.
What cookbook would you recommend to an aspiring young chef?
I don’t read a lot, but I do like to watch cooking shows. The Cut, Top Chef. It all started with Iron Chef when I was in high school. Cook! Create! WOW! It’s amazing how quick they can come up with all those ideas!
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Maui chefs don’t just create delectable meals; they’re inspiring the next generation of chefs. For twelve weeks, some of the island’s top culinary professionals did some hands-on mentoring with students as part of the American Heart Association’s Teens Cook with Heart. Get the web-exclusive story, plus videos and a recipe for whole-wheat pancakes made by some cute little kids, at MauiMagazine.net/AHA-Teens.