Law grad turns culinary passion into TikTok fame and a brand-new cookbook
Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House. Photo by Johnny Miller.
Like many others, Jon Kung figured that law school would be a safe harbor to weather the storms of the Great Recession. But after emerging from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 2011, Kung changed course.
Kung, who is nonbinary, says the realization that the practice of law was not for them hit after they helped the local prosecutor’s office achieve a conviction in a murder trial. They received a full-time job offer with that office but decided to turn down the job offer and look for other work.
Over the next several years, they established themselves in the Detroit culinary scene, hosting secret pop-up dinners and dumpling classes, and honing their take on “Third-Culture cuisine.”
Kung was born in Los Angeles and spent their childhood in Hong Kong and Toronto before landing in Michigan for college and law school. Their recipes combine elements of Chinese and North American cuisines and cooking techniques.
“This new fusion that I’m referring to as ‘third culture’ takes a more thoughtful approach to the genre,” writes Kung in the introduction to their new cookbook, Kung Food: Chinese American Recipes from a Third-Culture Kitchen. “Third culture embraces each side as equal, drawing from a lived experience that is immersed in both or multiple cultures, once again taking the mentality of the American culinary renaissance that came around in the 2010s and granting the rest of us the ability to take part in it.”
In this episode of The Modern Law Library podcast, Kung discusses their new cookbook with the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles—who made the Beef & Broccoli Potpie, the Shrimp Paste Dumplings and the Parmesan-Curry Egg Fried Rice from the book—and shares their favorite meal tips for starving law school students. Kung also shares how they went from word-of-mouth pop-ups to social media fame.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic made their pop-up meals impossible and the murder of George Floyd prompted massive protests in their home state, Kung began using their TikTok account @jonkung as a place to find community and share recipes. They quickly began gaining followers and started being approached to partner with brands on projects, such as developing recipes based on anime series. Kung shares the story of how they were offered the publishing deal for Kung Food and what it’s like to be a social media influencer.
In This Podcast:
Jon Kung is a self-taught cook who was known for their pop-ups and intricate dinners served out of their secret kitchen Kung Food Market/Studio. Kung completed their JD from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 2011. They are now a full-time content creator on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. Kung lives in Detroit with their partner, Jon, and their dogs, Mochi and Boba.