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Immigrant chef brings comfort to Tenderloin’s vulnerable through cooking

Cho Wing Chung, head chef of the meals services department at Glide, poses in front of the building on December 22, 2021. | Camille Cohen

Cho Wing Chung’s alarm clock will buzz at 3:45 a.m. on Christmas Day. He will arrive in the Tenderloin about 5 a.m. and immediately get to work making meals for San Francisco’s most vulnerable.

This has been Chung’s holiday schedule for the past decade. Chung, a 70-year-old immigrant from Hong Kong, knows hardship, which he says is part of what drives him to help soothe the souls of those who are suffering in the Tenderloin through his food.

Chung works for GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals Program, the well-known charity that feeds the city’s homeless and hungry, serving 2,000 meals a day all year long. The historic Glide Memorial Church is operated by the GLIDE.

“When I get to work every morning in Tenderloin, I see those people laying on the streets,” Chung said. “I can’t imagine how they are feeling.”

So he fries chicken, mashes potatoes, and bakes turkeys for them in the tiny kitchen on the basement level of GLIDE, aiming to bring comfort to the crime-ridden, drug-plagued Tenderloin community.

Chung immigrated to the U.S. during the late-2000s. As a middle-aged, Asian immigrant speaking limited English, finding a job was not easy. But he loves to learn and explore, so he attended a Chinatown cooking class and started volunteering at GLIDE in 2011. Soon, one of the chefs retired, and Chung was selected to succeed him, making him part of the full-time staff there. This year marks his 10th anniversary.

Cho Wing Chung, the chef of the meals services department at GLIDE, chats about his daily routine of cooking for the homeless residents of the Tenderloin District on Dec. 22, 2021. | Camille Cohen

“As long as they don’t complain about the food I cooked, then I am happy,” Chung told The Standard. And he doesn’t plan to retire — in fact, he hopes to work for several more years.

Back in Hong Kong, Chung was a technician in a manufacturing factory. He has always been a hard worker — when he was 13, he used his elder brother’s ID card to fake his age so he could start working. At a young age, he lost part of the middle finger on his right hand due to a work accident, but that didn't change his positive outlook.

“I feel lucky in my life,” Chung said. “There are ups and downs for sure, but in general I think I am lucky, and I like my life in the America.”