How Mijune Pak went from food blogger to “Top Chef Canada” Judge

Mijune Pak is obsessed with food. With unbridled enthusiasm, insatiable curiosity, and a lot of hard work, she has managed to take passion for food and turn it into a successful career. She’s an international culinary expert, creator of the blog FollowMeFoodie.com, and a Top Chef Canada resident judge. Mijune has been featured as one of “The World’s Most Extreme Foodies” in The Sunday Times and named “Must Follow” by The Social Media Awards.

Mijune’s love of food started early on, as a child. “My favourite part of the day would be my after school snack.” Then, while in university, doing her undergrad and studying abroad in Europe, her loved of food reached a new level. Hungry for knowledge, she was tasting, traveling, researching, and learning all she could about different cuisines and keeping a journal of her eating experiences.

On her return home, her sister encouraged her to take her food writing online and create her Follow Me Foodie blog in 2009. She wasn’t trained in journalism or the culinary arts, but she was passionate, obsessive, and inquisitive about what was on the plate, and that began to set her apart from other bloggers. “I started doing it every single day, like 10 page articles, maybe 2,500 words on average per article. My longest one was like 20,000 words on one restaurant, and obsessively writing every single day at a new restaurant Monday to Sunday, for three and a half years straight and it started to pick up an audience. There was no business plan. I’m just going to do it because I love it and see where it goes.” Her in-depth research, drool-worthy food photos and thoughtful descriptions and analysis of restaurants and dishes began to attract a loyal following of readers and fans to the blog.

“I couldn’t be one foot in, one foot out, and I had to make that transition that when you start looking at your hobby as a career, you start treating it differently and realizing that you will need to make a living out of this, and really depend and rely on it.”

At the time, Mijune was working a full-time job in marketing for a large entertainment company. As the blog got bigger, it took up more and more of her time and eventually, she made the choice to quit her day job and start blogging full time to monetize the blog. “I couldn’t be one foot in, one foot out, and I had to make that transition that when you start looking at your hobby as a career, you start treating it differently and realizing that you will need to make a living out of this, and really depend and rely on it. It was really hard. I mean, in the beginning, being able to support yourself as a food blogger is very difficult. Luckily I have very loving and supportive parents that were helpful. Then you save. You save like crazy. You start charging for stuff. A lot of the stuff you were doing for free, you put a number on it and just your time is worth a certain amount and you start asking to be compensated fairly for it, and that’s just the name of the game.”

The blog continued to pick up momentum. She started writing a column for a local paper, doing online videos, and more travel food writing. Even with an ever increasing online following for followmefoodie.com, not everyone in the culinary community welcomed her with open arms. “Coming into the scene as a blogger, it was always really hard to get the credibility and respect from traditional writers or chefs. Bloggers—we’re these new generation of online media, without the background, without the education; we didn’t go to school for it. But I kind of just continued doing my thing. So much of it has to do with just hard work. Like hard work and research. I don’t think there was anyone I could honestly say like, probably in the world that was writing 2,500 words. That’s 10 page, double spaced on a new restaurant every single day for three and a half years. I’m pretty sure no one was doing that. So I think that’s when it started to kind of turn heads a bit. It’s like here’s someone that’s writing on a new restaurant every single day, putting in the time to do the research and being honest about everything.”

With hard work and dedication, Mijune continued to build her culinary cred, international connections, and relationships with the best chefs in the world. This included Top Chef Mark McEwan who suggested producers of the show contact her for a judging position after the two met over a chef’s dinner in Vancouver. She met producers, auditioned, and was cast as one of the resident judges on Top Chef Canada where she brings a unique perspective with her wealth of international dining experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of cuisine. “The best part of being a judge on Top Chef Canada is…I think people always think it’s the food, it’s because you get to eat and while that’s a huge amazing and part of it, it’s actually to see talent. To see these chefs that are so passionate and being in these challenges that we give them that are really difficult. Being able to see them and just seeing the culinary creativity that’s happening in our generation right now and what’s going on. I love seeing that drive and that energy and just that celebration of food that we all have. I love being part of that and having a larger platform to kind of express that on.”

Looking back at her evolving career, Mijune believes that relentless passion, drive and pure curiosity have been the key reasons she’s found success. And even though people see her as a food expert, she is excited to continue this work and keep learning. “There’s still so much I don’t know. I think that’s actually the key and what’s most important is to never think you know everything. Once you think you know everything that’s when you’re going downhill. It’s like I’m constantly trying to learn and improve and there’s so much out there to learn.”

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