Even though restaurants are in his blood, Chef Guy Wong wasn’t always drawn to the kitchen. While his parents ran a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, Wong headed down a traditionally more lucrative path, studying finance, and then landing a much sought after position with AIG. From the looks of it, Wong might have stayed in a suit his entire career.
But when Wong headed to Japan in 2007, to study at the Institute of International Finance, his inner-culinary passion sparked—and then roared to life. Taking a break from his studies, Wong apprenticed at a local izakaya, learning the fundamentals of the cuisine and falling in love with the concept of the comforting, casual Japanese locale.
Wong returned to Atlanta with this newly invigorated appreciation for his family legacy. And when his parents’ restaurant closed, that culinary passion really came alive: his brother asked him to team-up and re-launch the family property, and Wong left the financial industry behind, for good. The two did what they always said they wouldn’t growing up: they put on chefs whites and ran the restaurant.
Wong might have had financial savvy, but it turned out he was also a natural in the kitchen. And in 2009, he actually broke out on his own, opening Miso Izakaya, a stateside take on his original Japanese inspiration. Not only is Wong’s traditional Japanese cuisine a favorite of in-the-know locals and chefs alike, but his life on the line, working with a tight-knit crew, has eclipsed any former fiscal aspirations. Wong hopes to grow old working alongside his dedicated cooks. It may not be Wall Street, but it’s an uptick in its own right.
Interview with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Guy Wong
Katherine Sacks: What got you into cooking?
Guy Wong: My parents are chefs in Georgia. I studied finance and worked with AIG. When my parents’ restaurant closed, my parents didn’t want to do it anymore, but my brother wanted to reopen and asked me to join. And I did it with him. Growing up, we always said we wouldn’t do restaurants and now we are.
KS: Where did the idea of Miso Izakaya come from?
GW: In 2007 I went to Japan to study and I apprenticed at a local izakaya.
KS: Who are your mentors?
GW: My parents.
KS: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
GW: Balance between being owner and chef. When you’re [an] owner, you have to look at all aspects, not just the food, but whether the lights aren’t working properly, etc. When I opened, I struggled a little bit; you have to pay your vendors, and when you are strapped for cash, it’s hard to focus on food.
KS: What are you most proud of?
GW: My staff. I’m proud of my staff [for] staying with me and continuing to grow. As I’ve grown, they’ve grown along with me. To have people stay with you this long, for 3 years, makes me pretty proud.
KS: Where will we find you in five years?
GW: I don’t really look that far ahead. For me the ultimate career success is that I want to work on the line until I physically can’t do it anymore and then have the freedom to do what I want to do. To me, there is something about an honest day’s work.