Lee Anne Wong is a contestant on season 17 of Top Chef All-Stars. The reality TV competition airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Bravo.
Wong is one of the show’s original cast members. She competed during the inaugural season in 2005, finishing in 4th place. Wong was then instrumental in helping to grow the show, serving as the supervising culinary producer for season 2 through 7.
Wong returned to competition in season 15’s Last Chance Kitchen. But she had to leave the show early after developing altitude sickness during a camping challenge. She was 4 months pregnant at the time.
The current season of Top Chef premiered amid the coronavirus epidemic. The crisis forced Wong to shut down the dining room at her Hawaiian establishment, trim the staff and reduce hours for the remaining workers. She started a GoFundMe campaign to benefit her employees in the meantime.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Lee Anne Wong Studied Fashion Before Switching Her Focus to Cooking
Lee Anne Wong initially set out to work in the fashion industry. She studied design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City while also working as a bartender.
Wong said that during college, the Food Network was one of the only channels she received in her small Times Square apartment. Her interest in cooking piqued and she “started obsessively cooking for whoever was around,” she told Hawaiian Airlines (more on that below).
Wong’s first job was at Aquavit in Manhattan. In 2003, she returned to her alma mater for a position as executive chef of event operations. She remained in that role until 2009, according to her LinkedIn profile, while also working for Bravo.
2. Wong Grew Up In Upstate New York Playing Sports & Eating Pizza
Lee Anne Wong was born and raised in Troy, a city located a few miles north of Albany, New York. She explained on her restaurant’s website that she grew up playing sports such as softball and hockey and eating American foods like pizza and jalapeno poppers.
Wong’s mother immigrated from the Philippines when she was in her 20s, though she was ethnic Chinese. Her father was born in the United States but also comes from Chinese heritage. Wong said that growing up, she never had much interest in cooking with her mother. Her father, meanwhile, “only knows how to fry bologna.”
3. Lee Anne Wong Worked For Jean-Georges Vongerichten Early In Her Career & Has Cooked In Kitchens Across the Globe
Lee Anne Wong told Bravo that appearing on Top Chef in 2005 helped to open doors for her in the culinary world. “Top Chef is a game-changer. It definitely put me on a path. Nobody knew who I was before we went on the show.”
One of her accomplishments included working for globally-acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. She was part of the opening staff at his upscale restaurant called 66, which opened in 2003 in Tribeca. Vanity Fair described the cuisine at the time as “nouveau-Chinese food.” Fellow Top Chef contestant Angelo Sosa also worked for Vongerichten earlier in his career.
Wong has cooked in various kitchens around the world since her initial appearance on Top Chef. She has worked in Charlie Trotter’s of Chicago, Casa Oaxaca in Mexico and Cap Jaluca in the British Virgin Islands. Other establishments on her resume have included the French Laundry, the Four Seasons and Nobu. She has also cooked in Japan, Spain, and Malaysia.
4. Wong Opened a Brunch House in Hawaii & Is the Executive Chef For Hawaiian Airlines
Lee Anne Wong relocated to Hawaii in 2013 and opened her own restaurant in Honolulu in March 2014. The Koko Head Cafe is described as an “island style brunch house.” Eater.com praised the restaurant in 2017 as “Honolulu’s coolest brunch spot.”
Later that year, Wong also became a published author. She debuted “Dumplings All Day Wong: A Cookbook of Asian Delights From a Top Chef” in August 2014.
Wong also became the executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines in 2017. She explained during a 2018 interview for the company that she felt at home in Hawaii because she had family in the area. “I moved to Hawaii in December 2013 in search of something new. I have ‘ohana here in Honolulu so it was nice for the first time to have family close by after living alone for 20 years.”
5. Lee Anne Wong Took Time Off From Cooking After Giving Birth to Her Son
Lee Anne Wong gave birth to her son, Rye, in November 2017. She told Honolulu Magazine it was a challenging birth. She was in labor for four days before doctors performed a c-section. Wong was ordered to stay on bed rest for six weeks following the birth.
Wong told the magazine she was excited to start cooking for her son once he was old enough for solid food. She also gushed about what she felt like after Rye arrived. “I didn’t think I could feel so much love for another living creature. It really is what everyone talks about and more, that moment when you first lay eyes on your baby.”
Wong and her husband, Lyle, moved from Honolulu to Maui in 2019. She explained to Bravo the decision was made, in part, due to a desire to give her son more space to move around. “I grew up in upstate New York with like a yard, a creek, just space to run, and I want that for my son.”
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