By Erin Asis/Staff writer/@erin_asis

Photos by Darrell James/Staff writer/@darrelljames_

Coming from a Cambodian family with 9 kids, Tarak Ouk, a 34 year old Culinary Arts Alumni had a passion for the culinary arts from a very young age. His family moved from Oakland, Ca., to Long Beach’s Cambodia Town when Ouk was 8 years old. His mother and grandmother were his cooking mentors until he enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at LBCC in 2006, but ended up dropping out shortly after to take time off, and ended up heading down a dark path.

It was the tragic passing of his 26 year old sister, who was only three weeks away from receiving her master’s degree at Cal State Fullerton that brought him back to reality, and he re-enrolled in the Culinary Art program in 2010. Going back to school was no small feat for Ouk, as he had little money to his name, which resulted in him walking all the way to and from school from his home in Eastside Long Beach, a 2 and a half to 3 hour walk both ways. Ouk relied on fee waivers, financial assistance, and borrowing books from classmates to get by. He had no support from his family and friends, as they thought he was up to no good since he was routinely coming home late.

All of Ouk’s hard work paid off when he graduated in 2011 with an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts. Ouk received his first job at the Westin Hotel, working there for 3 months before moving on to work at Quizno’s, Boston Market, Chili’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Applebee’s, and Tavern on 2. Ouk got his culinary big break when he got a position as a sous chef at Creperie La Rue in Bixby Knolls. 3 years ago, Ouk moved on and took a pay cut and demotion to be a member of the opening staff at The Federal Bar in Long Beach, taking a position as line cook. 2 and a half years after starting at The Federal Bar, Ouk was promoted to the position of Executive Chef at 34 years old.

Now Ouk is one of the most sought after chefs in Long Beach. He is currently trying hard to to build up Cambodia Town to be an area of trendy nightlife, with a good restaurant and bar scene. Ouk wants to encourage the message that no matter what troubles one may go through in life, they can always persevere and be successful.