Before mastering the art of baking and cake decorating, Kieu Tran was on track for a career in law, and thought her life goals were set. While procrastinating during her LSAT study sessions, she realized her true passion was not in the courtroom but in the kitchen. With less than a year of experience, she applied for and won a prestigious scholarship giving her the opportunity to study culinary arts in New York, travel the south of France and work with some of the biggest names in the business, including Chef John Besh himself. Kieu’s love for creating tasty treats has quickly turned into a career by creating her own business, Chasing Wang, proving that you can bake your cake and eat it too. Read more about her journey here.
Instagram handle: @ChasingWang
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Occupation: Founder and Cake Designer at Chasing Wang
School: International Culinary Center at New York City
Secretly Obsessed With: YouTube. I can spend hours and hours watching cake decorating videos, daily vlogs, challenges and beauty videos. As of late, I’ve been on an American Ninja Warrior craze.
On My Nightstand: Nail polishes, glass of water, photos of my boyfriend and baby cousins, and a key to a lockbox in New York.
Last Thing You Read: Bouchon by Thomas Keller (A cook book of course)
How did you get started?
I started baking when I was in college. My typical routine was going to class, going home and studying for the LSATs. Procrastination would get the best of me and I would end up rummaging through my cabinets for flour, sugar, vanilla and other dessert-esque items and throw together a cake, cookies or macarons. Sometimes it was an amazing treat and sometimes it would be eggless, dense brownies that haunt me till this day. I would post my creations on Instagram, and one day someone contacted me to make macarons for them. I did and then orders started rolling in, so I started Chasing Wang Cakery on Facebook. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew I loved it and eventually I realized I could make a living from it. I started to raise money for pastry school and then discovered the Chef’s Move Scholarship founded by John Besh and Jessica Bride. I won and spent a year in pastry arts school in New York and traveling the south of France. It was a phenomenal experience, and it led me to starting my own business in full force.
What key elements played into your success?
Winning the Chef’s Move Scholarship jumpstarted my career. Because of this scholarship, I was able to attend one of the best culinary schools in the world, live in New York, travel southern France on a food and pastry expedition, work with renowned chefs and be mentored by the very best within the John Besh Restaurant Group. The experience gave me a deeper appreciation for the pastry arts craft and pushed me to create a high caliber bakery like Chasing Wang. Putting myself out there and applying for the scholarship is the best decision I ever made.
What’s the best piece of advice you received?
When your hobby or passion becomes your job, find another outlet to maintain that balance. My mentor Chef Lisa White told me this and it has made all the difference. I realized that I used to escape to baking to maintain balance from a stressful day of studying. Now I just turn on some Netflix or watch some YouTube and I’m as good as new. Doing something all time time, even something you love, isn’t always a good idea.
What struggles did you face getting to this point?
I went to college for Journalism, and at the time the only acceptable path was law school. I did it because I thought that’s what I was suppose to do and what my family expected. I’m Vietnamese American, and I convinced myself that I had to fit that mold of having a traditional job. I spent a good bit of my college years chasing that goal and then realizing a week after I took the LSATs that I was chasing the wrong dream. I had to convince myself to just let go and do what I wanted. I learned to please myself first, but it was a struggle getting to that point.
Who was the biggest influence in your professional life?
I am so incredibly lucky to have so many great influences and mentors in my life that guide me professionally. From the Chef’s Move foundation, to Chef Besh, Chef Lisa White of Domenica, Chef Kelly Fields of August to Chef Judy Lai of Silkcakes. Each one is so skilled and focused in their craft, and taught me more than I could imagine.
What accomplishment are you most proud of? When do you feel most successful?
One of my proudest accomplishments as of late is finishing at the top of my pastry class. That being said, the one I’m proudest of is opening Chasing Wang. I’m sharing my passion with the city I love. I believe in my craft and the desserts I’m offering. I’m living the dream, my dream anyways.
What advice would you give to girls looking to enter your industry/space?
Just start. Go work in a good kitchen, forego your painted nails and nine to five and work harder than you’ve ever worked before. I interned in New York without pay for five months with some 18+ hour days and I’ve learned more about cakes and decorating than I could have ever imagined and I loved every moment of it. The best way to learn and become the best is to do it.