Chef News

People to Watch 2023: Penelope Wong, Top Shef

Penelope Wong owns the popular food truck Yuan Wonton.
Penelope Wong owns the popular food truck Yuan Wonton. Courtesy of Penelope Wong
Before launching her popular food truck, Yuan Wonton, in late 2019, Denver native Penelope Wong spent two decades working her way up the ranks and eventually becoming the first female and youngest executive chef at Glenmoor Country Club in Cherry Hills Village — or "Shef," as she puts it. "It’s been an incredible roller coaster," she says of striking out on her own. "We started the food truck as a means to stay in an industry that I absolutely love, to be able to make our own schedule to prioritize a real work/life balance, and as a way to fulfill a missing niche and share the cuisine that I grew up on with Denver."

Although the truck had been in business for just six months when the pandemic led to a statewide shutdown, Wong continued working to find new, safe ways to share her perfectly pleated dumplings and other specialties with the hungry masses, experimenting with ordering and pick-up systems and posting transparently about her wins, and misses, along the way. And fans gobbled up everything Wong dished out. Now she's gearing up for her next project, a brick-and-mortar location in Park Hill.

But instead of opening a solo venture, Wong has banded together with two other small businesses, the Pho King Rapidos food truck and artisan bakery Sweets and Sourdough, both of which will also operate from the new space. "I first met Rachel [Elkon] and Amy [Patterson] of Sweets and Sourdough at our commissary," Wong recalls. "Because they are bakers, they work the overnight shift. And on some initial late nights at the commissary, I made it a mission to find out who they were simply because of the smells coming from their production kitchen. Once we began talking and learning more about their business, I had an immediate respect for their work ethic in putting out such a beautiful product. We shared a similar vision in wanting to grow our business and take it to the next step."

She made a similar connection with Long Nguyen and Shauna Seaman of Pho King Rapidos. "I was so excited for their trailer and to help support the mission of creating a little more diversity in Denver’s dining scene," Wong says. The goal is "to continue to grow our businesses yet still stay small. Staying small and local is a very important factor."

The project will also give her a chance to expand her offerings. "I am personally excited to continue introducing more dishes that I grew up on and intertwining them with fusion and techniques that I’ve learned over the years as a professional Shef," she adds.

For Wong, though, food is about more than just the dishes she serves. "I’d love to see Yuan Wonton synonymous with not only good food, but integrity in food as well as the importance of building communities," she concludes. "We would also love to be a benchmark for other industry peers as far as how to create an environment in which a true work/life balance in this industry really can exist."

Other people to watch in 2023:

"Jami Duffy, Leader of the Band"
"Kourtny Garrett, Downtown Defender"
"Daniel and Luis Ramirez, Hosts With the Most"
"Nga Vương-Sandoval, Welcome Committee"
"Michael Gadlin, Arts Ambassador"
"Cole Chandler, Speaker for the House"
"Michael Spencer: Anchor Man"
"Robert Kenney, Power Broker"
"Scott Gilmore, Playground King"
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin

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