Formidable Females: Serena Wong

             New York University is a school widely regarded as having one of the most diverse populations in the United States, if not the entire world. With students from virtually every part of this big blue-and-green globe, it’s hard to imagine that they’d all have anything in common. However, it’s undeniable that NYU’s students are ambitious, inspired and unique individuals with an insurmountable desire to succeed.

            In this profile series, Formidable Females, I’ll be meeting up with a selection of incredible girls and women from within the NYU family and the community of New York City. From artists to musicians to biochemists to entrepreneurs, there’s absolutely no shortage of women within NYU and New York City who are aspiring to utilize their passions to create something innovative: let’s hear what they have to say! 

Serena Wong, from the San Francisco Bay area of California, is a member of NYU’s class of 2017 and is a student at the Gallatin School of Individualized study. Not only is she concentrating in Culinary Entrepreneurship, but she’s also minoring in Food Studies in Steinhardt (pretty sick, right?)

I caught up with Serena for an interview on a semi-dreary Monday night in the Carlyle Court courtyard (very typical NYU). When I texted her letting her know I was almost there, she responded saying that she was still in her “seventh grade boy outfit”—thankfully, she didn’t change clothes for little old me.

Serena Wong in her natural habit

HL: When did you fully realize that food was a passion of yours?

SW: I think when I was really young; I used to be, like, ‘I’m gonna go to UCLA, and then I’m gonna go to Princeton, and then I’m gonna work as a chef.’ But that was kind of put on the back burner when I went though an engineering phase, and then I went through, like…a business-y phase. Yeah, I almost applied to Stern.


HL: That’s terrifying.

SW: Yeah, scary. But anyway, I had a summer job at a sandwich shop as a cashier, and it was nice talking to the customers and being, like, “Oh, you know, this is what you’re paying for, you’re paying for a quality product that happens to be a food product, I really liked that trade-off. You know, I have an appreciation for both sides. I like that aspect of hospitality, like, presenting them with something you’re proud of…. I like serving people!


HL: What else are you passionate about, besides the culinary and hospitality-related?

SW: I like singing! I play guitar and piano and saxophone and ukelele and a variety of Asian instruments. So there’s that, I also play soccer. I’ve recently been getting into welding. When my sister was younger she used to do this summer camp thing, and one of the years she did welding jewelry design, but I think I wanna do furniture design with aluminum.    


Serena performing with her a cappella group, the NYU Cleftomaniacs (Photo: NYU Welcome Week)

HL: I know you probably get asked this a ton, but what’s your favorite thing to make?

SW: I really like using clean, humble ingredients. Because I think that’s a huge part of cooking, just the ingredients themselves, and what you choose to do with them is sort of up to your own interpretation.  I like…I like making Thanksgiving dinner, that’s always fun! I used to [make it every year] kind of, but then after I started coming [to NYU] my sister’s husband, he really likes to cook too, so we kind of collaborate on that.


HL: What about your least favorite?

SW: My least favorite thing? Anything where I have to work with pie crust. Or pastry dough. It’s really annoying, because you have to refrigerate or freeze it, every step, so something can take three days to make. Also, macaroons. They’re really technical, and it’s not like one of those things where like, if you screw up something, you can kind of work it back in, and then fix it, but with macaroons if you screw up one step…you’re done.

Just a selection of the INCREDIBLE cuisine Serena is responsible for (Center photo: Jenna Maslechko; top/botoom photos: Serena Wong)

HL: As you’re majoring in something that probably is often confused with what one could be learning at culinary school, what’s the most common misconception you’ve heard about your major?

SW: It’s a common misconception to be like, ‘oh, I’m majoring in culinary entrepreneurship’- ‘oh, so you wanna cook?’ But I’m not studying to be a chef. I originally didn’t think that it was gonna be so confusing to people, but everyone’s always like, ‘oh yeah, you’re gonna be a cook’ but it’s like…no. If I wanted to be a cook I wouldn’t be at NYU. Like, f*ck that. I am a business student.


HL: What’s the most intimidating aspect of thinking about the future, considering what you want your professional career to look like?

SW: The thing about restaurants is that you really have to predict the dining trends of your customers, so it’s like, where am I gonna open this establishment where my product will be best received by my audience? So there’s that, there’s also, like, investing and concept. You don’t really know if something’s gonna work out until you do it, which is scary because it’s such a huge investment.


HL: Tell us about your up-and-coming food blog!

SW: My food blog I’m starting with my sister, primarily, and her husband. The concept is to create a food blog that starts a conversation. In one of my classes last semester, we were talking about food culture and identity, and someone raised the question of whether Americans have a cuisine. Which is really interesting because we as Americans are so new, you know, this country is so new compared to the more established nations with cuisines, but basically we read and essay that said that we don’t have a national cuisine yet, but we have a national way of eating that’s about convenience [amongst other things].     In order for something to become a cuisine that’s widely accepted, people need to be cooking together, people need to be talking about what they’re eating and really thinking about it.  So that’s the aim for the food blog, to do things that kind of bring together people, whether it’s once a week or once a … kind of have like an open house, dinner/meal-sharing concept, along with exploring different cultures through that. So one thing we’re thinking about (and this is something I would like to extend into my future restaurant), is having community members with different cultural backgrounds come in and teach dishes that they know from their grandparents…so we can keep traditions alive. It’s going to be calledThe Third Wheel.


HL: And lastly…congratulations, I have to say! Today you heard some exciting news about an internship!

SW: Yeah, I’m going to be interning at Bread’s Bakery, located on E 16th street, just around the corner from where I live! Originally I applied as a counter person, a cashier, or barista maybe, doing baking. But I went in and spoke to the manager today and he told me that he thinks with my end goal and what I’m studying, they could better use me in a more qualified position, as an intern for their catering business. So what I’ll be doing is mostly a lot of administrative things, a lot of accounting a lot of marketing, management of catering orders and those operations, and also prepping for events. So yeah, it’s a little less hands-on and in the kitchen than I originally had planned for, but I mean, I’m gonna have to learn the operational side of it so this will be a good look into the industry for me!

(Photo: Jenna Maslechko) 

Is there a lovely lady in your life here at NYU that’s doing something remarkable the world should hear about? PLEASE let us know! Email Hannah Leach at [email protected] and tip her off.