Top Chef Canada resident judge Mijune Pak launched her career back in 2009, with her blog Follow Me Foodie. Read on to learn how her travels, attention to detail and obsession with food paved the way to her success.
Ask anyone in the food industry what they think of food bloggers, and you’re going to get some very strong opinions. While some see bloggers as an integral part of our modern marketing and publishing industries, others (quite often, chefs) see them as unqualified narcissistic hobbyists.
With this in mind, some might find it odd that prominent food blogger Mijune Pak was appointed as a resident judge on the prestigious Top Chef Canada television program last year. After all, with no culinary or journalistic background how could she possibly be qualified to critique the dishes of Canada’s best culinary talent? The answer to that lies in Mijune’s unbridled passion for food.
Actually, scratch that. Passion isn’t a strong enough word.
This woman is OBSESSED with food. That’s the only way to explain the level of dedication she has put into building her career as a food media personality over the last 9 years. A career that started with the launch of her food blog, Follow Me Foodie.
“I was writing 2,500 words every single day on a brand-new restaurant, Monday to Sunday, for 3 and a half years,” explains Mijune. “I didn't sleep - I slept maybe 4 hours a day. I didn't see friends. I didn't hang out outside of my work. I was so consumed with it.”
That level of commitment enabled her to not only create a lot of content, but also attract a huge following in a short amount of time. Soon, Mijune became known for her incredibly detailed restaurant reviews, with posts long enough to be a university thesis paper.
“That Alinea blog post I wrote was over 17,000 words on a 12-course dinner,” says Mijune. “That's not my longest post though. My longest post was 20,000 words. But 17,000 was on Alinea, and I remember because that took me weeks to write it. I couldn't stop. I just couldn't stop, because I was so passionate about what I was eating, what I was seeing, what he (Chef Grant Achatz) was creating, every single ingredient I was trying. He did lamb with 86 different condiments. I wrote about every single one of those 86 condiments. When I look back at it now, yeah it was insane! I have no idea how I did it. “
That dedication and attention to detail has served her well over the years, especially in her role as a Top Chef Canada judge. While the rest of the panel members come from a culinary background, Mijune is able to bring something different to the table.
“I've probably done the most travelling and food research,” says Mijune. “Mark comes from a technical chef background, but I'm coming with travel experience, history, and a geeky nerdy part. Although me and Chris (Nuttall-Smith) fight over that sometimes... Chris is a very nerdy person himself!”
Mijune's travels have taken her around the world, eating her way through Canada, the United States, Asia and more. Although she names Japan as one of the countries whose cuisine inspires her the most, it's a home-cooking experience in Israel that has left a lasting impression on her.
"I went to this cooking class and I was mind-boggled - I didn't know what I was walking into," says Mijune. "It was literally at like a grandma's house, and she was showing us how to cook these very homestyle dishes. And then we sat at a long table and ate a feast together. It was literally like I just walked into a strangers house. It was one of the most weirdest experiences, and something I didn't think I'd be able to do, like ever."
With over 1,000 restaurant reviews under her belt, and her consistent world travelling, Mijune has had the opportunity to learn about various cuisines in an organic, hands-on way. Considering the amount of experience that she has gained, it’s no wonder that she often gives the harshest critiques on the show. Yet, she doesn’t appear to have the elitist approach to food that you might expect from someone with her level of authority in the industry.
“A lot of the time Canadians in the food snobby world will complain ‘that's not authentic’, ‘that's not how my grandma made it’, ‘that's not what it tastes like in Italy’, and we complain and complain and complain!” says Mijune. “But the benefit is that we live in Canada where it's so diverse that it's actually really rewarding to be able to step outside our door and go to a Chinese restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a Jamaican restaurant. We're lucky to be able to do that."
Although she doesn’t blog very often anymore (something she attributes to burn out and a busy work schedule), she hasn’t stopped chasing her ambitions.
“I still think of myself as someone that has a lot to work towards,” says Mijune. “I don't even feel like I'm anywhere close to where I want to be, there's always so much more to learn.”
Catch Mijune on Top Chef Canada every Sunday night at 10:00 pm E/T, on Food Network Canada and online at FoodNetwork.ca.
This is not a sponsored post. However, I am a member of Food Network Canada’s #FNCTasteBuds program, which gave me access to Mjiune for this interview.
These images were provided by Mijune and Food Network Canada, and are used with permission.