An Asian man in a white top and dark pants and apron, stands in a kitchen, holding a tray of vegetables and throws an apple in the air.

Peter Som may just be the ultimate multi-hyphenate

Fans see his Chinese American heritage show brightly in his work, from fashion to food

Food has always played a big role in Peter Som's life.

Yumi Matsuo

Words by Pooja Shah

To most people, fashion and food are diverse interests, but not for Peter Som, award-winning fashion designer, culinary creator and lifestyle expert who seamlessly blends his two passions in inventive ways.

Born in San Francisco and raised in a Chinese American household, Som started his career as a fashion designer and founder of his namesake brand that’s known for his signature use of color, patterns and feminine silhouettes. His love for fashion was rooted as a child, demonstrated by the fact that he was sketching stylish clothes by the age of 2.

“When I was in fifth grade, I realized that I wanted to be a fashion designer, and I made my dream come true,” he tells JoySauce. “After university, I went to Parsons School of Design and over the years have created designs that are true to my artistic visions.”

An Asian man in dark clothing and glasses sits on a window sill of a light-colored living room.

Although Peter Som is still involved in fashion through Rent the Runway, he is focusing on his connection to food and cooking.

Yumi Matsuo

Som’s feminine, color-drenched clothing collections have attracted celebrity fans like Michelle Obama and Beyoncé. When he started his fashion career, the fashion universe was smaller and not as dominated by social media and e-commerce trends, which gave him an opportunity to experiment with his style.

“My philosophy was simple: I wanted to make beautiful clothes to make people happy. But, sometimes you just know when it’s time to go and for me it was time to leave the party,” he jokes, referencing his decision to leave fashion. 

Food has always been central in Som's life, serving as a tool to align, focus, and decompress. More recently, he has been exploring food as a vehicle for change. Though still involved in fashion through his work with Rent the Runway, he is pursuing new directions towards his lifelong connection to food and cooking, with a nod to his mother and grandmother, who he admired growing up. “My grandmother was a trained pharmacist in Hong Kong and that training helped her become very detail oriented. She had a spiral bound, handwritten, numbered book where she would record each recipe. It helped me learn so much,” he says.

An Asian man in a dark blue shirt and pants, with glasses, sits on a white couch with blue pillows and white and blue artwork in the background.

Peter Som has gone from fashion designer to culinary creator and lifestyle expert.

Yumi Matsuo

The intersection of fashion and food may not be obvious to everyone, but for Som, it comes down to creativity and personal preference. If you’re lucky enough to be able to choose what to put on your body and what to eat, then you should allow the creative process to guide your career choices.

“Food was what I came back to and it kept me grounded and centered,” Som says. “I realized that it was just as important to me as fashion and it was something I wanted to explore further.”

Som’s Chinese American background has influenced both his passions; for instance, in his clothing designs, he would often embed a red lining in his garments (even if it’s not visible) to pay homage to his Chinese culture, where red symbolizes good fortune and prosperity. When it comes to food, he views it as the gateway to the world and draws inspiration from the women in his family. Plus, both fashion and cooking require mastery of technique and mechanism, which he has excelled in over the decades.

Despite these successes, Som is no stranger to the challenges that come with pivoting through two saturated and demanding industries. One of the challenges he has faced in trying to fuse his different interests is how to find a middle ground where it all works. “In the beginning I didn’t know how to reconcile my different interests,” he says. “When I was growing up you had to pick only one path, so I picked fashion, but now mindsets have shifted as more people are embracing a multi-hyphenated lifestyle.”

An Asian man in a gray top, dark blue apron and glasses holds a stack of bowls and behind a long table.

Peter Som enjoys entertaining, including hosting a Lunar New Year celebration every year for his friends.

Yumi Matsuo

Trusting his instincts and digging into the core of who he is has empowered Som in his career pursuits. When he’s not busy working on The Extra Taste, a culinary-focused brand vertical on his site, or developing his upcoming cookbook, he enjoys entertaining. For more than a decade, Som has hosted an annual Lunar New Year party at his home where he cooks his signature dishes and celebrates the holiday with friends, who also bring their own dishes for a potluck. His favorite dish is a sweet rice cake called niam gao, which is a Lunar New Year must have. It’s made from sugar, spices, water and regular and glutinous rice flour that is steamed until it results in a bouncy and chewy texture. Som also loves recreating a savory, sticky rice stuffing made with Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and peas, which is a specialty for the holiday. 

Som also has some positive motivation for those who want to break through in either industry. “I have a unique perspective that I bring. I had my fashion collection for 27 years and my take on food is influenced by my heritage and life experiences. Be you and let people see that,” he advises.

Some of Som’s signature dishes are now available on his website, with more to come in his upcoming cookbook.

Cantonese White Cut Chicken with Ginger-Scallion Sauce


For the chicken

2 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1½ tsp sugar
5 whole cloves
2 star anise pods
1 chicken (4 lbs.), cut into 8 pieces, breasts left bone-in

For the sauce

¼ cup plus 1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp thinly sliced fresh red chili (optional)
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, plus more for garnish


To a large pot set over high heat, add eight cups of water, the fennel seeds, salt, sugar, cloves, and star anise and bring to a boil. Add the chicken (covering with more water if needed to fully submerge the pieces) and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a strong simmer and cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165ºF and the chicken is fully cooked, 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to the ice water (discarding the aromatics) and set aside until cool, about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, ginger, salt, sesame oil, chile, and scallions. 

To serve, cut the chicken breasts off the bone and into one-inch slices. Transfer to a platter along with the remaining chicken pieces. Sprinkle with scallions and accompany with the sauce. 

Published on March 21, 2024

Words by Pooja Shah

Pooja Shah is a lawyer and freelance writer based in New York City. She writes on food, culture, travel, wellness and lifestyle. More of her work is at