The post-college plan was to work and save money for law school. But that all changed for Sandy Yoon during a spontaneous weekend in New York. “I happened to walk by The French Culinary Institute. I went in and it was love at first sight.”

Of course, she loved cooking long before that serendipitous trip.  Born in Korea and raised in Virginia, she grew up eating delicious home-cooked Korean food. Restaurant meals were few and far between and processed food even rarer. To conquer stress in college, she turned to the stove to recreate the comforts of home and found a new passion. She enrolled in ICC in 2008.

After receiving her Grand Diplôme in Professional Culinary Arts in 2009, Yoon headed directly to Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market; she was recruited at the job fair. She went from garde manger to the grill to sous chef in a remarkable 12 months. Two years later, when her sister moved to Hong Kong, she felt compelled to explore her Asian roots and was ready to leave New York. After a short detour to Spice Market in London, Jean Georges offered Sandy the chef de cuisine position at his new restaurant Mercato in Shanghai.

“It was such a short path, I never expected to become a sous chef when I did and never thought I would become a head chef when I did. …It was a great challenge, but when you come to work nervous every day, it’s good because you are on your toes.”

It’s one thing to be a young head chef, another to be a young female head chef. At the tender age of 28, Sandy Yoon meets the challenge head on.  “When I’m working in the kitchen my personality changes, I get much more rigid, much more strict. I can bark from time to time. I would never speak to people the way I do during dinner service. … The hardest part is to maintain a reputation for the restaurant consistently …. Even if it is something not in my area, as head chef you have to be responsible for everything and manage a whole team. Being the person at the top is not easy.” Sandy won “Best Chef in Shanghai” from That’s Shanghai Magazine’s Food and Drink Awards 2014.


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