King Phojanakong: A Culinary Visionary

King Phojanakong, an esteemed American chef, left an indelible mark on the culinary world with his innovative approach to food. His passion for cooking and dedication to introducing Filipino cuisine to the masses defined his illustrious career.

Early Life and Education

Born on August 18, 1968, in the vibrant borough of Manhattan, King Phojanakong’s roots were as diverse as the flavors he would later master. His mother, Zosima “Emma” (Arceo) Phojanakong, was a Filipino nurse, while his father, also named King, hailed from Thailand. This rich cultural heritage would become a significant influence on his culinary journey.

Phojanakong’s educational path led him to the renowned Bronx High School of Science. Later, he pursued studies at the State University of New York at Purchase and the City College of New York, setting the stage for his culinary career. In 1998, he earned an associate degree from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, marking the beginning of his culinary odyssey.

A Career Defined by Innovation

King Phojanakong’s culinary career was nothing short of remarkable. He honed his skills at some of Manhattan’s most esteemed restaurants, including Daniel, Jean-Georges, and Danube. His culinary prowess and inventive spirit set him apart in the competitive world of gastronomy.

In 2003, he embarked on a groundbreaking journey by founding Kuma Inn on Ludlow Street. The restaurant’s name, inspired by the Tagalog term “kumain,” signaled a new era for Filipino cuisine in Manhattan. Kuma Inn quickly gained recognition as one of the earliest sit-down Filipino restaurants in the city, paving the way for others to follow.

Phojanakong’s commitment to innovation didn’t stop there. In 2009, he introduced Umi Nom in Brooklyn, a culinary haven that celebrated Filipino flavors paired harmoniously with delightful drinks. His creative approach to food and dining experiences continued to captivate patrons.

While the restaurant landscape evolved over the years, King Phojanakong adapted and continued to leave his mark. He ventured into pop-up dining at Jimmy’s No. 43 and shared his culinary expertise through the Cook Like King cooking classes.

A Fond Farewell

On January 2, 2023, the culinary world mourned the loss of a true visionary. King Phojanakong passed away in Manhattan at the age of 54. His legacy lives on through the flavors he crafted and the experiences he shared with countless food enthusiasts.

King Phojanakong’s impact on Filipino cuisine and his contributions to the culinary world will forever be cherished. His innovative spirit and passion for food continue to inspire chefs and food lovers alike, ensuring that his memory lives on through every dish created in his honor.