Chef Alan always says, “Good luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Concrete evidence of this can be found in James Aung’s journey from the rice fields of Burma to our kitchen in Honolulu.
Growing up, James knew that he wanted to do something different with his life. He had a desire to discover more of the world, and this drove him to take English classes in school. After completing high school, James received an offer to work at a small beach hotel restaurant as a waiter because he was one of the few people that could speak English and communicate with the tourists.
While James worked as a waiter, he developed a friendship with someone that visited the restaurant every time he was on vacation in Burma. Over the years, James forged a friendship with this person that would eventually be part of his host family, and one day, this man helped James go to the American Center to study more English. Eventually, through their friendship, James received the opportunity to come to the United States to pursue his studies.
Although James was committed to this step in his journey, leaving Burma meant more than just moving to a new location. It meant James would be leaving his family without knowing when and if he would be able to return.
James said, “When I said goodbye to my parents, I had to tell them that I might not be able to come back if something happens because plane tickets are so expensive. My family said it was okay to go even if I couldn’t go back. My family knew I wasn’t the kind of person to stay on the farm.”
The pursuit of higher education brought James to Seattle where he stayed with his host family and immersed himself in learning everything about the American language and culture. One of the things that James enjoyed learning about the most was cooking new foods. The first thing James cooked was his favorite Western dish, Spaghetti Bolognese.
As his interest in cooking grew, James knew that he would not be able to attend culinary school because the tuition for international students was too high. In order to pursue his culinary interests, James applied for a program, and he became one of the few people to become approved to work and stay in the US.
James knew that he wanted to move to Hawaii because he visited once, and he fell in love with everything in Hawaii because it was similar to his home country. The first job that James ever got in America was at Alan Wong’s Honolulu. Through the years, James has proved himself to be a hard worker. He has learned and worked every station in the kitchen and is now a Sous Chef, the second in-charge of our flagship restaurant in the back of the house.
It has been nearly a decade since James left Burma, and the team at Alan Wong’s Restaurants would like to congratulate James for his dedication and commitment to pursue his dreams. We know that his journey has been difficult and challenging at times, and we are proud of him for never giving up. As James continues on his path, we would like to extend a warm welcome to James’ wife. The couple agreed to live apart, so James could work towards a better future for them. After many years, James’ wife was finally granted a visa to join him in Hawaii. Congratulations, James. We are all so happy for you and your family.