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Meet Jocelyn Ueng of Playtesº

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jocelyn Ueng.

Jocelyn Ueng is a consultant turned chef. Prior to pursuing her culinary passions, Jocelyn spent four years at Accenture advising Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and federal agencies on brand strategy, experience design, and innovation. Beginning her career in Washington DC, and then in NYC, she quickly became involved in refugee relief/advocacy and currently sits on the advisory board for One Journey Festival, a grassroots movement to amplify the talents, stories, and contribution of refugees in America.

Jocelyn hones in on human design and the power of empathy to curate empowering experiences. Her recent project, playtesº, launched in 2018 out of her Brooklyn loft where she invited six strangers for a five-course meal and engaging thoughtful conversations.

Due to COVID shutdowns however, culinary school has been put on hold and The French Laundry, her current employer, has closed its doors. With the coronavirus outbreak taking a turn on life events, Jocelyn has dedicated her time in quarantine to support Off Their Plate, a 100% volunteer run, grassroots effort to fuel frontline healthcare workers and underserved communities while providing economic relief to local, independent restaurants. She leads the LA chapter as the Restaurant Lead.

Jocelyn is an LA native, holds a B.S in Management Science from the University of California, San Diego, and an expected Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts from The Culinary Institute of America, Greystone.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No journey is a full journey without crashing waves and rolling thunder. My path to becoming a chef & restaurateur has been humbling, empowering, and enlightening. The question that often kept me awake at night is the one that we find most difficult to face: “What scares you most?” To some, that may be failure, losing a loved one, or public speaking. Mine for the past decade was pursuing my dreams of becoming a chef. It took deep self-discovery and professional counseling to build the confidence and clarity I needed to pursue my passions.

Progress was volatile, one step forward and five steps back, along my path to realization. I grappled with irrational thoughts as my mental health spiraled downhill, doubting whether my passions stemmed from sincerity or fantasies. These thoughts compounded with my fear of revealing this dream to my immigrant parents – who still do not see eye to eye on my newfound professional pursuits. These wandering thoughts led me towards a tumultuous period of darkness, falling into a deep state of depression. Each day felt like a year where I lacked power and purpose, feeling hopeless. I was dumbfounded by how I allowed myself to fall into nothingness.

Much of these irrational fears were bottled up where I ultimately reached a breaking point and told myself, “You have nothing to lose but to release.” I learned to communicate my desires to peers and coworkers, built the courage to share the news to my parents, and sought professional therapy to realign my mental health. Through this process, I realized that I wasn’t battling the fear of becoming a chef, or even the perceived impression that I would be upsetting my parents. What I was actually facing was the root of my own evil, self-doubt.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Playtesº – what should we know?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had an affinity for the culinary arts and all that encompasses it – from farming to cooking to plating. I was naturally drawn to the kitchen as a child, admiring the time, love and care poured into creating a dish – and appreciating the candor shared only in a kitchen setting (as compared to cumbersome conversations at the table). Though young, I was grounded in the idea that food would be an integral part of my life, however I would not predict that I would be pursuing a career as a chef/restaurateur. My first step to fully “becoming” was launching a pop-up dinner series during my time in NYC.

playtesº was founded in April 2018 out of my loft in Brooklyn, NY. The concept birthed over a test run with 3 of my closest friends, all of which whom were strangers to each other, who came together to experience a new pop up concept that focused on the mind of a chef revealing the end to end creative process of this platform. Through a few test runs, playtesº grew into a test kitchen culinary experience hosting a five course meal. playtesº serves a monthly thematic, seasonal menu. playtesº is a new format that fosters curiosity and conversation. A down-to-earth evening shared between friends & strangers while unveiling the invisible curtain between eaters and creators. Entering dining establishments you may often wonder what inspired a dish, where they sourced ingredients or perhaps, just want to meet the brilliant minds behind the menu. I encouraged diners to bring these questions to playtesº to dive deeper into the mind of a chef and uncover the undiscovered truth.

I infused flavors and influences from my childhood memories and travel experiences, growing up as a child of Taiwanese immigrants with extensive travel to 40+ countries. playtesº launched as a passion project that was in search of something more than a supper club. Realizing that there was more to dining experiences than cool menus in trendy spaces, I wanted to find a space that allowed for community building and culinary exploration. playtesº takes the intersection of creativity, storytelling and food (the perfect trifecta) and takes guests into a new world while in a casual, no frills setting. playtesº has since expanded to LA and the Bay Area.

And in case you’re wondering what the degree symbol stands for, it’s quite simple: experimentation. By the books, degree is defined as “the amount, level, or extent to which something happens or is present.” When diners enter a playtesº experience, they are fully immersed into a vulnerable, new, yet comfortable environment and allow us to be among others to be seen for who we are and to see.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I would not be who I am today without the love of my family, support from my tight-knit group of friends in the cities/communities I have lived in and been a member of (LA, SD, SF, DC, NYC), my incredibly bright & talented ex-colleagues at Accenture who have helped shape my creative thinking (and continue to push/challenge me till this day), and my grandmother, Chin Lan Ueng, who has shaped me into the woman that I am today. I will only ever be half the person she was with her great selflessness, graciousness, and bravery. I miss you nai nai.

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Image Credit:

Images (2) of Jocelyn w/ apron x Tushar Maganda, Images (2) of dishes on dark brown wood x Kevin Niu, Images (4) of action shots & dishes x Michelle Giang

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