Possessing a truly insatiable hunger for all things delicious, Mijune Pak takes the term “foodie” to a whole new level. Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, Mijune has spent the last decade eating, sleeping, and breathing food. She first gained notoriety from her popular blog Follow Me Foodie, where she captivated readers with her insights on the restaurant scene, food, culture, and tourism. It wasn’t long before her culinary adventures garnered attention and Mijune became an international food personality, judging prestigious culinary competitions, making frequent TV appearances, as well as becoming a resident judge on Top Chef Canada. With over 1,000 restaurant reviews under her belt, Mijune’s appetite for the culinary arts is still going strong. We caught up with the fierce foodie to find out more.
Did you always know you wanted to have a career in food and travel?
I knew food and travel were my main passions in life, but I didn’t always know if it was something that could realistically be parlayed into a career, you know? I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of eating your way around the world, but turning that into an actual living wasn’t something I initially knew would be possible for me. But here I am. I am actually answering these questions from Shanghai!
You broke into the food industry with your fantastic restaurant and travel blog, FollowMeFoodie. When you first started writing in 2009 did you have a specific vision in mind about where you wanted it to take you?
Honestly, I had no clue. Ideally I wanted it to somehow be a full-time career, but I had no idea how to monetize it. I loved it so much, so I treated it as a passion before a business. I let the blog grow organically. I was persistent and through a lot of hard work, it took on a life of its own. I had dreams for it, but didn’t say them out loud out of fear, but I’ve learned sometimes you really just have to put it out there to the world. I’m currently in the process of launching a brand new website www.mijunepak.com, where I’ll be continuing to post about my passions and my many collaborations. I have a lot of exciting projects in the works that I’m looking forward to sharing with everyone.
Unlike many food writers and critics, you received your education through experience instead of a traditional culinary school. Do you think this gives you a unique perspective on food and the culinary arts?
It’s an asset to have formal culinary training, for sure, but it’s not a necessity. You can learn a lot though school, but you can’t learn everything. By going the non-traditional route, I really got to focus on topics that interested me and set my own curriculum. It’s impossible to totally immerse yourself in food and not learn a thing or two along the way. For more than 3.5 years I was writing 2500 words a day and I’ve never been afraid to ask questions and engage with chefs all over the world, so I’ve picked up a lot over the years. I still study every single day and there’s still so much I don’t know. Travel really gives a unique perspective though because it really takes you out of your comfort zone and you can learn straight from the source.
Coming into the culinary scene as a blogger how did you carve out a place for yourself? Did you ever experience any resistance from traditional writers and chefs?
Yes and no. For the most part traditional journalists were very supportive but I did have to prove myself to gain credibility and respect. I’m not going to get it from everyone, and that’s okay. When I joined the Top Chef Canada cast I’m sure there were people who were like, "Who is this person?" But I know I belong on that judges table and other people seem to agree as I’ve been asked to judge esteemed culinary competitions like Bocuse d’Or Canada and I’m on the panel for this year’s Air Canada’s Best New Restaurants competition. In 2018 alone, I dined at over 600 restaurants, so I think it’s fair to say that I know a thing or two about restaurant quality food.
You have been named one of “The World’s Most Extreme Foodies". How did you get that title?
Yes, that was all The Sunday Times! The newspaper bestowed that title on me and a few of my friends. A small group of us had flown to Alba, Italy just to attend The International Alba White Truffle Fair and they caught wind of the story. When they learned this was not the first time we’ve done something like this, but rather, a lifestyle, they found it fascinating — that we go to extreme lengths and travel great distances just for food and restaurants. We’re definitely not your average foodies!
When critiquing a dish, whether at a new restaurant or on Food Network Canada’s Top Chef Canada, is there a specific x-factor that really impresses you?
Yes, I get really impressed when a chef is well-versed in every type of cuisine. If they can change it up and surprise me and somehow knock it out of the park every time, it’s really special. I’m about to start filming my fourth season of Top Chef Canada and I can’t wait to see what the competitors will cook up. There’s so much culinary talent in our country, it’s very exciting to witness.
What is one of the most unusual dining experiences you’ve had?
Damon Baehrel in New York. Bizarre! It was one untrained chef named Damon Baehrel cooking in his basement. No staff, no sous chef, no dishwasher, no server etc. Bloomberg called it "America’s most exclusive restaurant." So when my friend got a reservation; I flew to New York just to try it. It was hyper farm-to-table: from making his own cheese, getting maple from the forest, making his own ice cubes, vinegars, salts, oil and chocolate etc. It was almost too crazy to be true. A journalist found many holes in his stories and claims, but that ended up adding to the drama and unusual dining experience overall.
At Travelzoo you explore the connection between culture and food. Tell us a little bit more about that.
At the beginning of this year I signed on as the Global Food Correspondent for Travelzoo Canada and it’s a perfect role for me as it combines my passion for both travel and food. I love exploring the relationship between culture and food as it’s the one thing that truly unites us all. We live in an increasingly divisive world, but one thing we can all agree on is the shared pleasurable experience of sitting down to a great meal. I love learning about different cultures and what better way to do so than by eating what they eat and hearing the stories behind the dishes and recipes?
What does "eating authentically" mean and how can doing so enhance our lives?
Eating authentically is a great way of gaining a new appreciation for cultures beyond our own. This year, through my partnership with Travelzoo Canada, I encouraged people to "eat authentically" on their travels and truly dig into the local fare. In every culture around the world, food has a meaning behind just basic sustenance. Exploring local food is a really wonderful way to gain insight into the place you’re visiting. If you’d like to see some of my tips on eating authentically, you can find them here!