A native of Cambodia, Sophie Uong is a self-taught culinary master. With over 15 years of experience at some of the most notable restaurants in the Bay Area, Uong has developed a well-rounded knowledge of the kitchen. With a background including positions as server, bartender, cook, owner, and executive chef, Uong has learned the operational process involved in leading a restaurant. Known for creating passionate and daring dishes, Uong brings her exciting energy to the kitchen at Picán.
After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in horticultural science, Uong kick-started a career in floral design. Installing flowers in businesses like Campton Place, Absinthe and Scala's, Uong created floral masterpieces. Taking her creativity from floral design to the culinary industry was an easy transition for Uong, considering her brother serves as the beverage director at Morimoto in New York City and her mother owned a total of nine donut shops in California. "Floral design taught me balance and how to organize various compositions, like color, texture and flavor," says Uong.
In 1992, Uong started her culinary career as a server for Zare, lulu, and Antica Trattoria, learning the ins and outs of the dining room. Following her years of serving at these renowned San Francisco eateries, Uong became the bartender at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in Hayes Valley. While bartending Uong perfected her hand-eye coordination to work efficiently and quickly in a busy environment.
Then in 2006, she opened 900 Grayson with three business partners; the restaurant was awarded Best Burger by San Francisco Magazine and quickly became a West Berkeley hotspot for those searching for delicious and flavorful dishes. When the partnership at 900 Grayson dissolved, Uong was hired as executive chef de cuisine for Betty Zlatchin Catering in San Francisco, where she focused on using local sustainable food practices for all of her events. It was there, working alongside one of her mentors, Tom Rippey, that she learned the intricacies and technicalities of the palate.
As the new executive chef at Picán, Uong has been learning Southern culinary traditions from Michael LeBlanc. Her hard work ethic and raw talent around the kitchen has helped Picán reach a new level of success. "My whole life has been focused around creativity and good food," says Uong. "Being in the kitchen provides an avenue of expression for me."
Outside of the kitchen, Uong enjoys spending time with her nine-year-old daughter and continuing to discover new ways to embody the feelings, emotions, sounds, and flavors of Southern food.