PHOTOS KENTUCKY STUDIO
“You are about to do battle in the biggest culinary competition anywhere in the world today,” Chef and host Gordon Ramsay tells the 30 anxious home cooks hoping to earn an apron and advance to the next level of the competition, in season 5 of Master Chef which premiered on Memorial Day. Contestants compete for $250,000, a cookbook contract, and the title of Master Chef.
Lexington’s Dan Wu was one of the 30 who made it past the premiere (and is still in the competition as of press). Wu received the third apron awarded, and was lauded for his “pure, authentic, courageous cooking — simple, right on.”
Judge Joe Bastianich said “Dan Wu simply blew us away. His ramen was restaurant quality and was exactly what we were hoping for.”
Episode 2 didn’t go as smoothly, when his Southern Asian fusion take on meatloaf (ground veal with pork and short ribs with a quick kimchi of brussels sprouts and bok choy), landed him in the bottom three. Ramsay proclaimed it “one of the worst meatloafs I’ve ever eaten.”
Wu told the camera, “When Chef Ramsay says your food is disgusting, it’s the worst thing you can hear. It’s absolutely devastating.”
But Wu knows how to recover from the occasional kitchen mishap. He shares the memory with us of the time he “made a pork roulade that was a complete mess, cheese & spinach and bacon everywhere, just falling apart. It was for a party but I never brought it. In the end it tasted great and I ate it all by myself!”
Many of the cheftestants have a specific culinary dream (a cookbook, owning a restaurant). Wu tells us, “I just want to continue earning my self-proclaimed title of ‘Culinary Evangelist’ and continue proselytizing about cooking, food, and food culture. Whether that takes the form of food writing, teaching, cooking or other means remains to be seen. Then again, why choose?!”
Wu’s culinary role models have been evident in the work seen so far in MasterChef. He cites “Grant Achatz for his relentless creativity and playfulness. Edward Lee for his seamless blending of cultures.” (Louisville’s Chef Edward Lee bested Jose Garces on Iron Chef America, and went on to come in second in Bravo’s Top Chef Texas.)
Closer to home, he praises “Nat Yuttayong [Nat’s on Upper] for bold flavors, and Mark Jensen [of Fork in the Road] for uncompromising vision.”
Kentucky has a long tradition of fielding some of the country’s best talent in culinary competitions. Following in Ed Lee’s footsteps, Louisville’s Damaris Phillips won her own cooking show on last year’s Food Network Star (Southern at Heart airs Sunday mornings). Lexington’s James Brown competed on Cupcake Wars, and later Next Great Baker, but closed Brown’s Bakery last year and no longer works in the food industry.
As for Wu, he says “For the longest time I simply never thought that something I enjoyed as an amateur would ever turn into a career. I also sort of feared making it into a career would kill the passion. But I’ve banished those sort of negative thoughts and I’m plunging head-first into it!”
These days, Wu can be found working with Mark Jensen’s Fork in the Road Mobile Galley food truck and hosting casual FourMidTable lunches, his pet project, in the kitchen of his small apartment. He says, “The informal, social setting of FMT has been a great way to socialize with old friends and make new ones while I continue pushing myself out of my culinary comfort zones.”
Asked to go out on a limb and predict the next culinary trend that will explode in the Bluegrass, taking Lexington by storm, five years from now, he suggests, “Locally grown hops and basement-cultivated mushrooms.”
This article also appears on page 5 of the June 5, 2014 print issue of Ace.
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