By Randall Yip, AsAmNews Executive Editor
At just 20 years, Dara Yu has shared the kitchen with multiple Michelin- starred chefs. She also placed second on Master Chef Junior at the age of 12.
Just don’t call her a chef because the cheerful and pleasant Yu hints it’s a title she hasn’t earned.
“I actually personally don’t really like being called chef, when people call me a chef,” Yu told AsAmNews. “I know how much work goes into becoming a chef, and or getting that title of the executive chef.”
It’s not as if her resume is thin.
At the age of 16, she worked with the opening team of James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Dominque Ansel at his bakery in Los Angeles where she grew up.
She also joined the first woman to earn three Michelin stars, Dominique Crenn, for a recent culinary event.
Now she’s among the favorites in Master Chef:Back to Win which airs on Fox (Wednesday nights 8 pm/7 Central).
With a career in the kitchen clearly in her sights, Yu revealed she’s competing in the show to get over some self-doubt.
“I was like, I don’t know like if my cooking ability are going to be up to par. It was more like, I just wanted to kind of prove to myself that I could do it,” she said.
The call inviting her to join the show came just days after she graduated with an associate’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America.
She was in the midst of preparing for a move into the dorms at Cornell University where she planned to pursue a degree in hotel administration.
Those plans are now on hold while she competes in Back to Win.
“After going on MasterChef Junior, it really became like my passion and what I what drove me and I wanted to pursue it. So I had some from the show incredible opportunities to work in some of the top restaurants in LA and New York.
She’s already become an inspiration for other Asian American chefs.
“She has taught me not to be afraid and always try new things even if
the outcome isn’t what you want,” said Liya Chu, Season 8 winner of Master Chef Junior who will go on tour with her fellow Season 8 contestants beginning next month. “Always try new things, and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Believe in yourself,” she told AsAmNews.
Fellow MasterChef: Back to Win contestant Fred Chang said to AsAmNews by email that he shares a bond with Yu.
“We both grew up in similar environments in terms of being
Asian American and living in Southern California, so we gravitated
towards a lot of the same ingredients as a result of that! We both
definitely love to add sprinkles and homages towards our own cultures
into our dishes (such as shaoxing cooking wine, homemade dumpling
wrappers, congee with kruellers, etc.), and it was important to both
of us to make sure that we represent for the AAPI community and make
everyone there proud of us!”
Yu enjoyed competitive swimming and dancing in grade school and also participated in theater. Yet, it was cooking that became her love. In high school, she accepted invitations to join cooking demonstrations at both food festivals and shows. That’s when she realized that she would enjoy cooking as a career.
She completed her junior year of high school online so that she could work full-time at the bakery of Dominique Ansel in Los Angeles.
“From there, I kind of was like, okay, like, this is kind of a commitment to this career. And from there, I just I kind of ran with it,” she said.
She comes from a family of academics going back to her grandfather who worked at Notre Dame University as a math professor. Her family, however, has encouraged her to pursue her passion and has supported her every step of the way.
Yu recalls the majority of her adolescence has been defined by food.
“My food is very influenced by California and just how I grew up. I use a lot of the techniques and flavors that I grew up eating with Chinese cuisine. But then I like I love to fuse that with, you know, fresh California ingredients and French techniques that I’ve learned in school and stuff like that.
“Master Chef Back to Win has actually really connected me back to my Asian American roots. And I’m really proud to be an Asian American and represent a cuisine that is so wide and diverse.”
(Editor Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Liya Chu. We apologize for the error.)
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