- Yoonjung Oh is the executive pastry chef at New York City’s Michelin-starred Korean restaurant, Jungsik.
- Yoonjung became executive pastry chef last July after starting as a chef then being promoted.
- She talked about what a day in her life as executive pastry chef looks like from 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Growing up in Korea, Yoonjung Oh loved making cakes, but she never imagined she would create desserts professionally — and at Michelin-star standards.
After high school, Yoonjung moved to New York City because her brother was already there. She’d heard of the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, and after she looked at the curriculum, she knew she had to go.
At CIA, Yoonjung studied pastry and baking. She worked at other restaurants before joining Jungsik, a modern Korean fine dining restaurant in Lower Manhattan, five years ago. She started as a cook, was promoted to pastry sous chef in six months, and then was named executive pastry chef last July.
Being a successful executive chef requires good communication with her team so dessert can come out on time, she said.
“I’m here because I like to be here, it makes sense,” Yoonjung said about her job and being at Jungsik.
Yoonjung talked to Insider about what a day in her life looks like as the executive pastry chef at two Michelin-starred Jungsik.
Yoonjung wakes up “late” and goes into work around 1:30 p.m.
Yoonjung wakes up around 10 a.m., which she considers late, because she goes to bed late.
She usually has something small for breakfast with coffee, then leaves for work.
Yoonjung goes to work around 1:30 p.m. When she arrives at Jungsik, she changes into her chef uniform, and checks to see how many guests are coming that evening and any notes with their reservations, like allergies or if they’re celebrating a special occasion. She also checks on which garnishes need to be made.
A lot of desserts are prepared day-of. The restaurant menu changes seasonally, so when planning the pastries, Yoonjung focuses on seasonal produce.
“I usually have a lot of ideas in my head, so I try to keep seasonal fruits and seasonal flavors,” Yoonjung said. “If it’s summer, then I go for sorbet or ice cream.”
The restaurant has pre-dessert, main dessert, and post-dessert, and diners can add on another dessert. For VIPs and complimentary guests, there is a “hidden” dessert. The last part of dessert is three “small bites,” which is currently a macaron, a Korean cookie, and a candied kumquat.
“Small bites” for dessert at Jungsik.
Some desserts have to be pre-made, because they take over a day to make, like a carrot-shaped ice cream with carrot-cake crumble inside.
“There are many components inside, so it’s impossible to make everything on the day of,” Yoonjung said, adding that the dessert, which is currently on the menu, has to be assembled, frozen, dipped in chocolate, and covered in garnish.
Yoonjung preparing the carrot dessert to go out.
Time passes quickly when the restaurant is “crazy” busy
After preparing for service, the restaurant workers share a meal around 3:30 or 4 p.m. It is made by a different chef everyday.
The pastry team works on a different schedule than the savory team because desserts come out last. While Jungsik opens at 5 p.m., Yoonjung and her team don’t have to start setting up their station until 6 p.m.
Yoonjung checking a ticket to start preparing dessert.
Even though Jungsik is a Korean restaurant, Yoonjung said the kitchen uses techniques and ingredients from other cuisines too, like French techniques for pastries.
Jungsik’s kitchen is divided into two floors, so the pastry team is split. Pastry chefs downstairs are preparing and baking pastries, while pastry chefs upstairs are plating desserts to be served.
Yoonjung working on desserts with another chef.
Time passes quickly when the restaurant is busy.
“Sometimes I look at the clock, and it’s 7 p.m., and if it’s very crazy service, I look at the clock again and it’s 11 p.m. or 12 a.m.,” Yoonjung said.
Friday and Saturday are the busiest days, but Monday through Thursday is slower.
On weekdays, she can leave the restaurant around 11 p.m., but on a busier weekend, she leaves around 1 a.m. The last diners are seated at 10 p.m., but some customers stay for three or four hours.
Yoonjung is always creating the next menu’s desserts, so she does taste-testing sometimes while the team is assembling desserts for guests.
At home, she tries to disconnect
When she gets home for the night, Yoonjung said she’s “super hungry,” and has dinner and watches TV.
“If I have energy, then I go exercise,” she said, referring to nights when she finishes around 11 p.m.
Yoonjung said she tries not to think about work when she is home because she wants to disconnect completely.
She usually takes Sundays and Mondays off, and stays at home for one day, then tries to go out with friends on the other.
As much as she loves her job, she said sometimes she wants to go back to Korea. “Next year, in two or three years, I don’t know what I’ll be doing,” Yoonjung said.