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Stern Faculty Spotlight: Julian Yeo

“To me, balancing flavors is like if there’s a lot of spice, a little sugar is going to allow you to create more depth. If something is very fatty, or buttery, you need to round it out with acid. So I always think about debit and credit–now I have four different things I’m trying to balance.”

This month’s Stern Faculty Spotlight features Professor Julian Yeo, Clinical Associate Professor of Accounting at Stern. His research focuses on how accounting numbers are mapped into equity valuation.

Prior to Stern, Professor Yeo was a full-time faculty member at Columbia Business School and the University of Melbourne, and was a recipient of numerous teaching awards, including the Stern Distinguished Teaching Award.

When he’s not busy with spreadsheets and balance sheets, Professor Yeo devotes time to his cooking. He has an instagram account @yeocancook dedicated to his mouth-watering culinary creations. His passion for food caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal in 2019 when he was featured in a piece called “Alter Ego: The Secret Culinary Life of an Accounting Professor.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Let’s start off by introducing yourself and what you teach here at NYU.

I teach core financial accounting, mostly to the Fertittas–the military MBAs. I also teach Financial Statement Analysis, Modeling Financial Statements, and Accounting-Based Valuation.

Tell us more about your career and the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

So what happened was there was a shortage of faculty back in Australia and my honors dissertation won some research award. I then proceeded to finish my Masters of Finance and wrote another paper that got into certain conferences. And since there was a shortage of faculty, I was a full-time faculty while getting my Ph.D. part-time. I wrapped that up very quickly. When I was done with my Ph.D., I was recruited by Columbia. After Columbia, NYU.

Why accounting?

In accounting, we try to monitor and measure performance, and the reporting of performance is all about timing. So there are a lot of options for flexibility. How that impacts the reported numbers becomes a very interesting thing to look at. For instance, if we are shifting our numbers so that we can meet expectations, what trails do we leave behind for others to find out? I’m playing detective when I take a look at the company’s footnote section.

Now for the real reason we’re here – you love to cook and you have a beautiful food Instagram. Can you talk about how that all started? 

I never learned how to cook at home, but one of the apartments I bought had a beautiful, renovated kitchen, and I thought to get the return of my investment I should learn how to cook and use that kitchen. I started taking a lot of recreational classes in New York, such as, at the time, the Institute of Culinary Education, as well as the French Culinary Institute (FCI). Cooking didn’t become habitual until I saw my American Express statement and how much I spent at restaurants, and I said this is silly because I know how to cook! So I said, okay, I teach accounting, right? I need to be accountable. The expectation is to try to make cooking habitual. So, my goal was to post 500 food pics in one year. Now 500 food pics if you cook three courses in a meal – appetizer, main, dessert – that’s three different pics and I thought it was realistic. In actuality, it took me more like 15 months to get there. But after I posted the first 500 pics, it became a habit. I didn’t really get better at cooking until I forced myself to do it regularly.

And how much do you cook at home now?

I still cook sometimes but I don’t post as much now. When I do cook, everything is under 30 minutes, because, hey, we’re working professionals. We have busy lives that we lead. If active cooking time is more than half an hour, forget about it. So everything that you see there is under 30 minutes of active cooking time.

Do you normally follow a recipe when you cook?

No, I make them up. So here’s the other thing, in terms of how I approach cooking. We talked about balance sheets, right? To me, balancing flavors is like if there’s a lot of spice, a little sugar is going to allow you to create more depth. If something is very fatty, or buttery, you need to round it out with acid. So I always think about debit and credit–now I have four different things I’m trying to balance. I make them up as I go along. It is really a function of what is on sale because that’s what you get from an abundance of certain produce or what’s fresh. I eat seasonally. It really depends on what I have in my pantry.

I think a lot of people were frustrated when they followed my account in the sense that they wanted to be able to make everything. Otherwise, they think, “What’s the point of looking at your photos?” Unfortunately, based on my current work schedule I don’t have the luxury of writing recipes out. And is that something I really want to pursue? The answer’s no. I get a lot of joy, currently, not monetizing my hobby. This is my creative outlet. I would pretty much like to keep it that way.

I love how you related cooking back to accounting because I never would, in a million years, put that connection together. And so given that’s how you approach cooking, what’s your favorite type of food to cook?

I know this must be a frustrating response, it’s just how like I would never tell you who my favorite student is in a classroom. I think it really depends on the mood. What’s interesting though is, this is funny, because of what I look like in my early posts, whenever there is an Asian twist to the dish I get the most likes so, apparently, I’m the authority when it comes to Asian-fusion or Asian cuisine despite not being trained in it. That somehow pushed me to get acquainted with different spices, from Indian to Szechuan to Korean, which opens up a lot of different options of a repertoire of dishes I wasn’t aware of before. I still get a lot of joy exploring.

Do your students normally know about your passion for cooking?

Yeah, I think they figured it out pretty early on in class, though I don’t actively talk about it. But inevitably, someone will bring it up and we’ll talk about food and people come to realize about my Instagram. And another thing: it’s a creative outlet for me and what I make we get to share.

Would you ever cook for your students?

So, I have hosted dinner with alums and students, and catch up with them in terms of what they’ve been up to. Food does bring people together and that’s the beautiful thing about being able to cook for people.

So yes, I’ve done that in the past. But no promises.

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