Traditional Chinese Medicine nutritionist and chef Zoey Gong on food-based healing and wellness

We learnt so much from Zoey in this interview. As Traditional Chinese Medicine gains rising popularity in recent years, we are curious about its practice and efficacy. We speak to Zoey Gong, TCM practitioner, nutritioner, chef and artist based in the United States, to demystify some of the misconceptions around TCM. This 24-year-old multi hyphenate also shares with us her approach to wellness, healing and how to lead a minimalist life. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What made you become a TCM practitioner, nutritionist, chef and artist? 
It will be difficult for me to answer this in a few words. Basically, it took me 24 years of living, experiencing, and making mistakes, to be who I am today.
 Using food to heal started when I got sick at the age of 17. At that time, I had just moved to the U.S. and the American diet, which was laden with highly processed foods, added a lot of stress on my body. I was suffering from a variety of ailments—joint pain, acne, irritable bowel syndrome, breast tumours, and rapid weight gain. It got to a point when I knew I had to change the way I ate.

After that realization and plenty of hard work, my conditions got much better and I decided to pursue healing through food as my career. After working in the western nutrition field for a while, I was not satisfied with some of the principles and was very bored at the limited food choices I could prepare as a health-focused chef. Kale salad, gluten-free avocado toast, superfood supplements. What else could I do?

So then, I turned to my roots – Chinese cuisine. Through exploring ancient recipe books and medicine literature, I found a tremendous amount of knowledge and inspiration that have since led me to become a TCM practitioner and to make TCM-based food as a chef. Naturally, I incorporated my background in nutrition as well to offer a modernized version of TCM cuisine and nutrition.

Once I started this path, a new world opened up for me. I became more creative and aligned with what my heart desires, and so art followed. I felt an urge to paint, and the quarantine gave me the exact opportunity to do so. At the end of the day, TCM, cuisine, art, culture, and nature are all inseparable. They are one. We are one. 

Totally agree with you. And that is also the belief of Saine – that arts, wellness and culture complement each other. You are a successful multi-hyphenate. How do you juggle the various roles in your life?

Thank you for the flattering comment! I am quite occupied with all that I do, being a full-time student, working as a chef and influencer, running a TCM educational brand, consulting clients, painting, and still wanting to do more. These seem like a lot, but actually they are very focused on TCM and herbs. This way, I don’t feel like my energy is scattered. And since I love what I do so much, I don’t usually feel drained or unmotivated. Working is like playing or chilling for me – relaxing and fulfilling. I feel very lucky about this.

In terms of balancing my personal life, I find minimizing extremely helpful: owning less clothes and accessories, buying less unnecessary decors and products, and learning to give up possessions. Minimalism makes my mind more clear and focused to do work. But of course, I procrastinate sometimes too. I’m so far away from perfection.

There has been a growing interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine in recent years. What do you think about this and how do you think this has evolved?

I am very happy to see the growing interest, but I know there is still a long way to go for TCM to become more mainstream and to be practiced or talked about in a more responsible way.

It is difficult to make TCM mainstream because it works on a completely different set of “scientific language” and logic from mainstream science. For those who are not from an Asian or Chinese background, TCM can seem very foreign, intimidating, confusing, and therefore, untrustworthy. That’s exactly why I’ve been working on finding a good way to translate and present it in a modern way.

I have noticed that a lot of TCM information or brands in the U.S. are produced by non-Asian practitioners or businessmen. Upon reading the information or content of the products, I am sometimes astonished and amused by how inaccurate they can be.  I feel a little…actually very disappointed that the narratives around TCM, at least at this moment, are not led by those with an Asian background. This is our medicine after all, and I truly wish we would regain this narrative and create a friendly, responsible, shared space to promote TCM.

Are there any misconceptions about TCM that you would like to correct or change then?

There are so many. Many think that TCM is completely pseudoscience because it is so ancient. Almost all Wikipedia pages about TCM say that it doesn’t work. I really would like to change their mind about this.

TCM is effective and relevant for the modern world and for people of all backgrounds. It seems “absurd” to insert needles into people and to make medicine out of dried barks and roots, but there are emerging research that support the benefits of these modalities in controlled clinical environments.

I hope for more open-mindedness when it comes to accepting TCM. On the other hand, I want to say that TCM is also not a cure-all. It can be very effective, but it takes a great practitioner, some patience and compliance, and lifestyle changes. Some people have an unrealistic expectation about TCM, thinking their pain would disappear after 2 visits to an acupuncturist, which is simply not how TCM works. TCM works like how nature works. It takes time. It takes positive energy. 

As a chef, could you tell us how you use food to celebrate and promote the Asian culture?

First of all, I incorporate a lot of ingredients and traditional recipes that are specifically from Asian cultures. I also make sure that I explain the cultural background behind these foods and dishes, with a charming story, or their medicinal use.

Secondly, I create fusion recipes, transforming Asian foods to something that’s also relevant for another culture. For example, an American might never try a jujube date stuffed with sticky rice, but he or she would be willing to have a breakfast muffin with jujube date pieces in it as dried fruits. If he or she loves the muffin, then the exploration of more Asian ingredients might begin, and Asian culture might seem less foreign.

Lastly, by just talking about Asian foods and exposing them to my guests, it is the best and most direct way to celebrate and promote Asian culture. 

How do you think busy working adults can approach wellness? What should they pay attention to?

My approach to wellness is to use as much food-based healing as possible and combine the traditional healing philosophy with modern biomedical sciences. Traditional healing philosophy for me would be TCM, but for someone from India, for example, it would be Ayurveda.

Healing and wellness have to be holistic. We need to understand our body and find a balance that is specific for our own body, instead of following a numerical standard or focusing too much on detoxing alone. Many times, what we need is replenishing deficiencies. Paying attention to the change of nature and the change of our physical and emotional body is paramount. 

What are some TCM ingredients and habits that we should incorporate into our daily lives? 

For a TCM beginner, I highly recommend goji berries, rose, chrysanthemum, black wood ear mushrooms, osmanthus flowers, lotus seeds, mulberry and jujube dates. I will be offering many of these on

Also, drinking warm water instead of iced water; using more water-based cooking methods (steaming, blanching, stewing, making soups, etc) than fire-based (roasting, frying, baking, etc); and eating seasonal produce are some great principles to incorporate.  

Is there a quote or life motto that you live by?


Lastly, what are your future plans for this business?

I’m launching a brand and website that focuses on the education of TCM foods and nutrition. We are offering both free and paid online resources for people to learn more about TCM foods and their personal nutrition.Local medicinal dinner events and collaborations with other brands are in the plans as well. We want to be the go-to brand for the education around TCM foods and nutrition. 

Follow Zoey on her instagram @zoeyxinyigong and Photos by Cassie Zhang @cassiezyz

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