From Pantry Chef to Award Winner: The Inspiring Story of Chef Penelope Wong

Denver-native, chef Penelope Wong, has made waves in the culinary world for years. As a first-generation Chinese-Thai American, she grew up exploring the kitchen alongside her parents and other family members on Sunday gatherings, as well as in her parent’s Chinese restaurant in North Denver, focusing on Cantonese cuisine. “I was always curious in the kitchen, asking my grandparents about cooking. My family would teach me in the house, and around 12, my Dad let me start working in the restaurant’s kitchen,” reflected Chef Wong.

Chef Penelope Wong (middle). Photo courtesy of Yuan Wonton on Facebook

Her love for cooking and passion for sharing her cultural cuisine led her on a remarkable journey, including working her way up from pantry chef to becoming the first and youngest female head chef at the Glenmoor Country Club in Cherry Hills Village.

After a successful 20 years, Chef Wong stepped away from the club’s kitchen to enjoy spending time with her children. But, her passion for cooking and curating new dishes never waned. Chef Wong and her husband started brainstorming their next big project, and soon enough, Yuan Wonton, the now top-rated food truck, was born. With the help of her husband, Chef Wong began serving various fresh and authentic dishes, including wontons, dumplings and baos (to mention a few). 

Signature Chili Wontons. Photo courtesy of chef Penelope Wong

Although Penelope’s journey involves exciting, groundbreaking moments, she has also faced many challenges—one being a female chef in a male-dominated industry. Despite these obstacles, Chef Wong is a fighter determined to help pave the way for other female chefs. She proudly speaks of her sous chef at Yuan Wonton, Ngoc Nguyen, who she met back at the Glenmoor Country Club. Wong loves being called “SHEf Penelope Wong” as it “…emphasizes my role as a woman in a heavily male-dominated industry”. 

SHEf Wong’s culinary skills, authentic style and use of fresh ingredients have not gone unnoticed. While her food truck has gained massive recognition and popularity in the Denver area, she was recently nationally recognized, receiving a James Beard Award Semifinalist nomination—a massive deal for anyone in the culinary industry. This award acknowledged her exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality and more. SHEf Wong reminisced about her complete disbelief and shock upon hearing the news of receiving this nomination. “I never thought I would be eligible for this in a million years. The morning they made the announcement, I thought this was a mistake. It was so emotional, I started crying,” SHEf Wong said. 

Jiaozi. Photo courtesy of chef Penelope Wong

As the popularity of Yuan Wonton continues, SHEf Wong and her husband are already planning their next move, and it’s a big one—opening a Yuan Wonton brick-and-mortar. Located in North Park Hill on 29th and Fairfax, Yuan Wonton anticipates its grand opening alongside two other small local businesses — Pho King Rapidos and Sweets and Sourdough Bakery — in (fingers crossed) May or June 2023. Keep an eye out for more updates on Yuan Wonton’s Instagram page.

For now, you can visit the famous Yuan Wonton food truck in numerous locations around Denver. One of the most common spots to catch the truck is outside the Long Table Brewhouse on Fairfax Street. 

Check out where the truck will be next on the Instagram page (@yuanwonton).