Top Chef Canada: All Stars fans will recognize Mijune Pak as one of the show’s four main judges, but few may realize what it took for this Vancouverite to earn a seat at the head table.
Unlike her Top Chef Canada: All Stars colleagues, Pak did not become a resident judge due to her culinary background or professional food critic status. Instead, this foodie is the judging panel’s first-ever food blogger—an appointment that reflects a new appreciation of social media’s role in Canada’s kitchens.
Pak may be new to the cast, but in a way, she has been training for this position for eight years. It all began with a deep love of food, and by all accounts quite impressive appetite, that inspired Pak to create her Follow Me Foodie blog in 2009. She wasn’t trained in journalism or the culinary arts, but she was passionate about what went on her plate, and that began to set her apart from others writers in the blogosphere.
“I loved the learning aspect of what I was doing and that’s how my blog posts started to become more detailed, more researched and that’s how it started to get credibility from people in the industry,” she says. Before long, readers of her blog began to take its title to heart and follow her writing, reviews, videos and food pics on social media on her site. While she gained thousands of followers and likes, those numbers didn’t translate into the warmest welcome from the culinary world.
Initially, she says she received pushback from both chefs, who questioned her qualifications to make comments about how food should be prepared, as well as traditional media, who felt like bloggers and social media users were encroaching on their territory, but not meeting professional writing standards.
But Pak took the heat and stayed just outside the kitchen, slowly building her credibility as a discerning taste in the notoriously cut-throat culinary industry. With time, she started to get gigs writing or talking about must-have meals everywhere from CBC to The Lonely Planet, but it wasn’t until she met Toronto celebrity chef Mark McEwan that she got her big break.
After running into the famed chef and restauranteur at numerous events, he suggested Pak join the Top Chef Canada family, and the producers agreed. Pak didn’t just bring her thousands of followers to the all-star season of the show, she also brought a new voice, one that viewers could relate to because she started out just like them.
Pak’s family had no ties to the food industry, she never worked in restaurants or kitchens. She started out with no ins. Instead, after completing her undergraduate degree in communications, she built her blog from what she knew—and what she knew was how to research and talk about great food in a way that would make you want to put in your order immediately.
Fans of Top Chef Canada (which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada) are getting a taste of Follow Me Foodie’s expertise with this season, where she says her fave dishes included Nicole Gomes’s Quebec-inspired meat pie, but what Pak says viewers miss is just how much discussion occurs for each plate. According to the judge, each dish is served hot and the panel talks about it for up to 30 minutes, even though only a fraction of that is shown.
Pak says that including a food blogger as a judge and guests like YouTuber Josh Elkin sends a big statement, particularly coming from a show that is meant to showcase the best of the best in the profession. And according to Pak, it’s about time.
“We’ve all known that social media was a big deal for a long time, but to get someone as big as Food Network to show that attention to the masses is a huge deal,” she says. “I can’t even say that they’re ahead of the game, I’d say that they’ve joined the game and I hope that a lot of other programs follow suit.”