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Living culinary legend Jacques Pépin has one. So does Hazel’s Rob Rubba. Ditto for Katsuya Fukushima from Bantam King.
All three chefs are the proud owners of watercolors of cute animals flipping the bird. The sweet ‘n’ snarky pieces are the work of 17-year-old Julia Chon, who creates the paintings as gifts for chefs and other restaurant industry pros.
The high school junior—and daughter of Elaine Chon-Baker, a restaurant investor with a stake inButtercream Bakeshop, Whaley’s, Espita Mezcaleria, and other ventures—was first inspired by a chef who had just opened his restaurant. “He was exhausted and a little grumpy,” Chon says, “but whenever a customer would come in, he would greet them politely and thank them for coming in.”
Chon thought the contrasting imagery of a cuddly creature waving its middle finger in the air (like it just don’t care) would perfectly encapsulate hospitality professionals, who must always be warm and welcoming despite how they’re feeling inside.
So far, Chon has painted 63 of the animals in her basement studio in Vienna, Virginia. Other chefs who have been lucky enough to score one include Erik Bruner-Yang of Maketto, Amy Brandwein of Centrolina, and Bobby Pradachith of Thip Khao. But how does she choose recipients? “Usually, I eat a meal that they’ve cooked and it’s awesome, so I want to give them a sign of my appreciation.”
Before embarking on a painting, Chon does a little social media stalking to try and sniff out a chef’s spirit animal. She riffed on Bantam King’s crown wearing chicken logo for Fukushima, while she worked off of Hazel’s “Fire Panda” hot sauce bottle for Rubba. For Pépin, she painted a portrait of his black poodle.
Usually, the paintings are a surprise gift. But she does take commissions, which cost between $45 and $120 or more, depending on the complexity of the requested image. She posts many of her creations on Instagram @kimchijuicexyz, though she is working on a website for selling her artwork.
In January, Chon had an art show at Maketto for nearly three weeks, where she sold 43 pieces. Additionally, a quartet of her artwork was displayed during Ramen World at Mess Hall in late February.
There’s no end in sight for the series, and Chon is currently working on several new pieces she hopes to present soon. The chef she would most like to gift a painting? Dominique Crenn, who earned a pair of Michelin stars for Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. “She’s pretty dope,” says Chon.
Full disclosure: She gave me one of an octopus, which has eight middle fingers, of course. If others are interested, they can contact Chon at email@example.com for a quote.