As the youngest—and first—female executive chef of Glenmoor Country Club (Cherry Hills Village, Colo.), Penelope Wong is one of the few women in the country to head the kitchen at a major country club.
Wong is a Denver, Colo., native whose grandparents on her father’s side were both born in China. The remainder of her family (mother, father and extended) are all from Bangkok, Thailand.
Chef Wong’s culinary career started at the age of 14, when she was included as a helping hand in the family business—her parents’ restaurant in northern Denver, which they owned for 20-plus years.
Throughout her teen years, Chef Wong continued to learn all aspects of the foodservice industry, from front-of-the-house skills to preparing a variety of cuisine in the back of the house. As she began to experiment in the kitchen, she developed her baking skills prior to learning anything savory. Her first baking lesson came from her grandfather, as she assisted him in making Chinese cookies and treats, followed by lessons from her mother in making American pastries. Her father then began teaching her savory Chinese cuisine, while her mother worked with her on traditional Thai cuisine.
Meanwhile, at home, Chef Wong assisted her grandmother in the kitchen and learned “country-style Chinese cuisine”—or what she describes as “the scary stuff that Anthony Bourdain would host a show about!”
Chef Wong soon took on the responsibility of preparing dinner for the family at least three or four nights per week. Eventually, she was included in the ritualistic kitchen gatherings with the matriarchs of her family, for large family dinners and special events. “It was during these times when I learned the skills of combining the cultures of my families into different menu items,” she says. “My childhood memories are nostalgic of food— and lots of it.”
After graduating from the University of North Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, Chef Wong came back to the Denver area to join the culinary team at Glenmoor Country Club, starting as a pantry cook and prep hand on the first day of the club’s Highlander golf tournament in 1998. She then rose through the ranks, holding the positions of Garde Manger and Pastry Chef.
Then, after three years as Sous Chef, she was named the club’s Executive Chef. “I accepted this position with open arms,” she says, “welcoming the bold new challenge of being the youngest person, as well as the first female, to lead [the club’s] culinary team.”
In addition to her role at Glenmoor CC, she is also a blogger for C&RB’s Chef to Chef. Follow her here.
Outside the club, Chef Wong still loves entertaining at home with dinner parties—“it must be a trait inherited from my mother,” she says. Her family now includes her husband, Rob Jenks; son Tyler, 17; daughter Stella, 3: and an extended family of more than 50, as her father was the middle of five children.