Perhaps the question I get asked the most is, “what is Chez Jorge?” While Jorge is simply a spin on my real name “George,” Chez is actually a French word I picked up when I lived in Paris, where many restaurants use the word to elicit in guests the feeling of being invited into someone else’s home. As such, I translate Chez Jorge to “at the home of George.” It is this same idea I hope to convey in my writing and my videos — like talking to a close friend who is very interested in food and culture.
I am a Taiwanese cook from Taipei, Taiwan. Growing up, I’ve been a witness to the way Taiwanese food has pervaded my life and shaped my identity. As a bilingual boy who attended an international (American) school, I have not always felt like the most Taiwanese person in the room. There are times when I even felt like the least. But when it came down to food, I discovered an understanding and intuition like no other. Food has a way of transporting space-time, allowing us to reconnect with our heritage and preserve our stories. Perhaps it was these very qualities that I was drawn to — food was a medium for me to feel more ‘Taiwanese.’
Summer of 2019, I received my culinary training in the fundamentals of French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. What most people don’t know is that my culinary training largely involved butchering tasks such as breaking down whole chickens, filleting fish, and chopping pig liver, among others. I disliked the gore that comes with those tasks, and as a result I slowly grew apart from cooking meats.
Soon after graduating, I would arrive at the University of California, Berkeley, where I am currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry. Now that I’m thousands of miles away from home, I found myself reminiscing the flavors I knew so well, yet seemed so distant. Strangely, building onto my nostalgia was a budding interest in alternative meat technology. The more I studied the field, the more I believed it. Within the next decade, the majority of people in the U.S. are going to adapt a mostly plant-based diet. I kept this thought in the back of my mind as I continued on with my studies.
Then the stars would align. In March 2020, as the pandemic raged on, I left Berkeley to live with my brother. While staying home in lockdown, I created my food page Chez Jorge. It started off as an instagram log of my everyday cooking, which often involved cooking meats. Change took place, however, when I began to experiment with plant-based dishes, specifically plant-based versions of Taiwanese dishes I was already familiar with. Whenever I did make such a dish, I would find myself awed by not only how delicious it was, but by how surprisingly little I would miss meat.
Eventually I decided to take a leap of faith and dedicate myself to plant-based cooking, although I was not fully vegan yet. Considering I spent 18 years of my life non-vegan, this was quite a seismic shift. I would go so far as to say that I couldn’t imagine a meal without meat back then, not to mention dairy and eggs. But safe to say, I have not looked back since. I would go on to cook nearly every single day, spending each day learning a different dish, discovering a novel ingredient, or creating elaborate spreads over my kitchen counter for the perfect photo. Over time, I fell in love with vegan cooking, and the adrenaline from recreating dishes that might relive moments from my childhood. It was exciting — liberating, almost. I feel that it not only allowed me to bridge between my love for science and cooking, but take pride in my heritage and challenge myself to continually innovate.