Chef Pat Jeung had no trouble naming the restaurant he opened sixteen years ago in the Hollywood District. He called it Chameleon. He liked the sound of the word and, more importantly, what the name reflected. Chameleon Restaurant & Bar’s menu would not always appear the same or be stuck in one type of cuisine. It would change with its environment, which might be influenced by the customers, by Jeung’s creative flair in the kitchen or by the fresh ingredients at the market.
Jeung is a self-starter and never-tiring entrepreneur. Born on the Thai/ Laotian border, he was one of 11 children; his parents owned a cargo ship on which as a child Pat traveled to many different cities enjoying their culture and foods. When the ship arrived in the ports, the surrounding villages prepared a feast – sometimes an entire cow – for the crew of the ship to celebrate their arrival. These experiences opened Pat up to the cuisines of the world and expanded his palate from a young age. When he was 16, he and two siblings came to the United States to live in Portland under the watchful eye of a friend’s son. Within a short time, the three teenagers were living on their own, going to school and working to make ends meet.
Jeung, who had always loved to cook, took a job at McDonald’s. It was a good experience, he says; it taught him how to work hard and to work as a team member. After high school, the young man moved to Los Angeles to try his luck at acting. He got an agent right away and lots of interviews, but no casting calls. So he went to work in a seafood restaurant. Several months later, he returned to Portland and with his sister, Lita, and opened the Thai Cuisine restaurant on Northeast Halsey Street. He was 24 years old. For six years, the popular Thai Cuisine kept Jeung working day and night. Finally, Jeung burned out and sold the business.
For the next three years, he traveled back and forth to Asia, operating an antiques-import business, all the while thinking about opening another restaurant. In 1997, he found his Chameleon. “I figured the restaurant business was in my blood. It’s what I do best,” he says. His loyal customers agree.
At least once or twice a year Pat takes a cooking and eating trip overseas. He often packs his own spices, cooking and learning new recipes and ideas from people and family he meets on the trip for the restaurant. He is currently working on a cook book sharing his experience traveling through Italy.