Featured Chef: Soojin Lim

Chef’s Roll was thrilled to feature Soojin Lim as a winner of our Center Stage program at the MAPP Restaurant Reset Conference 2022.

377 amazing women in culinary applied to Center Stage, and Soojin was one of four chosen to receive an all expense paid trip to the event and be introduced to prestigious female mentors like Mary Sue Milliken, Tanya Holland, and Emma Bengtsson. Along with the other winners, Soojin was given the opportunity to let her skills shine at our showcase on Monday night. Check out the video below to see her incredible dish!

After the event, we asked Soojin a few questions.

Tell us about your journey so far!

I’ve been working in the industry since I was 16. I started in front of the house and worked for more than seven years in positions from server to bartender to manager. Eventually I transitioned to the back of the house.  I was very confident and knew exactly what I wanted in service when I was in FOH.  So, I was given a sous chef role from the get go at a fine dining restaurant, but this led to many conflicts down the road.  Lack of experience on the line led to lack of confidence and many mistakes.  I had to learn the hard way, and still am learning now.  Being in a kitchen as a woman, especially in a non fine dining environment, means most of the time you are undermined.  I’m 5′ 2″, soft spoken, and I look young, which just adds to that.  If you are too nice, you’re seen as weak.  If you are stern, you’re a bitch.  There is a fine line of what chefs deal with- but I learned through this conference that I am not the only one dealing with this. You have to persevere.  And keep pushing.

Who have been the most important mentors for you? What have you learned from them?

I wish I can name one single person as my mentor.  No doubt I’ve had the opportunity to work with great chef,s but sadly I can’t say there was ever a mentor.  One of the reasons I entered this contest was to find someone I can relate to, or maybe in hopes of finding one.  One person that has had a great effect on me however, is my mother.  She is a strong, independent, caring and forgiving person and I strive to be like her everyday.  I have had guidance, however,  from Chef Ken Takayama at Melisse, and Chef Steve at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (now at Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills) along the way.

Seared Wanderer free range barley beef MB4+ ribeye steak / charred spring onion puree / green garlic chimichurri / pickled celtuce / crushed fava beans / crispy potato nest by Soojin Lim, plated on Fortessa Tableware

Tell us all about your experience with Center Stage and the MAPP conference.

The MAPP conference was a breath of fresh air, a long awaited lifesaver, in what seemed to be an endless cycle of fake work-relationships, the kind that builds you up and tears you down behind your back.  It was invigorating to hear that all these accomplished female chefs went through the same shit that I’m going through, and that I am not alone.  The conversations I had with the other winners of Center Stage; I’ve felt so close to them and wanted to prevent them from feeling the pain I went through, and wanted to do everything in my power to help them.  My experiences from different establishments have taught me that women are more “accepted” in fine dining, but in regular restaurants, it’s a lot of male-driven ego and we as females are looked down upon from the start. I have, from this event, learned that I am not alone.

What does the future hold for you?

I know what I want to be in my career, and I won’t let anything stop me from becoming the best version of myself.  I am excited and more driven than ever to make my future happen for me, whether it’d be opening my own restaurant that I can tell my story through food about my life as a Korean American, or being a part of a team to earn the first Michelin star for the restaurant.  

Chefs Sarah Betcher, Soojin Lim, Samantha Etienne, and Tanya Jimenez in Chef’s Roll Apparel at the MAPP Conference
Chef Soojin Lim