Lexington-based home cook Dan Wu to appear on the upcoming season of the popular FOX cooking competition show MasterChef.
SARAH JANE SANDERS 2014_SMILEY PETE_Dan Wu-8
Watch the new season of MasterChef on Monday evenings (starting this Monday, May 26), at 8 p.m. EST on FOX. Visit www.cravelexington.com in June to view the first of the “Crave Kitchen Shorts” video series, during which Wu walks viewers through each step of preparing the traditional Korean dish japchae, starting with ingredient-shopping at local Asian market DongYang.
Lexington resident and amateur chef Dan Wu hates to describe the food he cooks as fusion, a word that he feels has become increasingly overused and misapplied in the culinary world.
But he does like melding diverse styles, incorporating classic French techniques as well as Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors in his day-to-day cooking. As much as he appreciates cooking fancier or higher-end cuisine, he also loves to prepare the comfort and street foods he ate growing up and still enjoys to this day.
On Monday, May 26, the 40-year-old Wu will make his television debut on the fifth season of the competitive cooking reality show MasterChef, which premieres at 8 p.m. EST on Fox. He and fellow Kentuckian Corey Charles (Pikeville) are among 30 home cooks from across the country who were accepted to compete in the preliminary rounds of this season’s show, and the first from the state of Kentucky. Over the course of the season, the show trims down the competitors through a series of culinary challenges, until an ultimate winner is announced (naturally, Wu is not permitted to discuss how long he remains on the show –– viewers will have to watch and see!).
Originally from Wuxi, China, Wu moved to Lexington as a child after his father began working as a scientist at the University of Kentucky. Though he spent some of his adult years living in San Francisco and Brooklyn, he returned to Lexington with his family, which includes his now 9-year-old daughter, eight years ago.
As a child, both of Wu’s parents worked, which is when he started to cook for himself.
“I was kind of a latchkey kid,” said Wu. “I had to fend for myself after school, so it was very sort of simple, self-taught kind of stuff. My parents never really actively taught me how to cook, I just had to do a little bit on my own when I was a kid.”
Last year, Wu entered the Crave Home Chef Competition, a contest hosted by the inaugural Crave Lexington food and music makers’ festival; his dish came in second place. “That was actually sort of the spring-board and the motivation for MasterChef, when that came up,” he said.
During that festival, Wu was also invited to help prepare the High Lo slow dinner, a 15-course dinner in collaboration with professional and amateur chefs and culinary students in an outdoor kitchen. The preparation was intense and time-constrained, with the menu using secret ingredients and forcing the preparers to be quick on their feet and innovative. The experience instilled in him further confidence to pursue his culinary interests on a new level.
“The fact that I was the only person working that night for the dinner who wasn’t a chef, culinary instructor, or a culinary student, I felt very honored to be included, and that gave me confidence and the wherewithal to do this thing,” said Wu.
Before all this, applying for a show like MasterChef wasn’t even on his radar. But when a friend mentioned that FOX was holding auditions for the show in Columbus, Ohio, backed by his newly instilled confidence, Wu decided to approach the challenge head-on.
“Ok,” he told his friend. “Let’s go for it.”
One of more than 200 amateur chefs at the Columbus audition, which took place in October 2013, Wu impressed the judges with a 5-spice duck confit bao: a homemade steamed bun with shredded slow-cooked duck leg, pickled red onions, cucumbers, scallions and hoisin Sriracha mayonnaise, served with a side of Sriracha-pickled peaches.
Those same peaches helped Wu wow the judges of last year's Crave Home Cooks Competition, served at that time alongside his take on a Japanese ramen. The ramen evolved from a dish he always turned to as a kid, involving a mixture of macaroni (without the cheese) and whatever leftovers his mother had left in the fridge. Over time, the dish became what he describes as a form of “college ramen” with added ingredients; it continued to grow more complex until ultimately becoming more of a traditional Japanese ramen. For the “signature dish” he showcases in the preliminary round of MasterChef Wu created a ramen using the traditional dashi broth, fish cake, seaweed and scallions, and the addition of sauteed mushrooms & snow peas, roasted pork loin & a fried 6-minute egg.
Late last year, in preparation for the MasterChef audition, Wu started inviting friends over to his house for a casual “home lunch” series in which he prepares gourmet meals for small groups. For the series, called FourMidTable, which he continues to implement in his apartment each week, Wu challenges himself by never repeating the same preparation of a dish.He gives the example of Brussels sprouts — if he serves them fried one time, he wouldn’t allow himself to serve them fried again.
“It’s just kind of a way to get out of my comfort zone, and really challenge myself to do something new,” he said. “I think the biggest skill that I ended up needing for MasterChef was to be able to really think on my feet, because you never knew what they were about to throw at you.”
As a fan of the Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern,” Wu believes in illuminating the idea that what’s strange to one person is common, everyday food to someone else across the globe. Branching out from this idea, Wu will be writing a four-part series of articles for this publication’s print issue, publishing one per month from June through September. The articles serve as companion pieces to a series of short videos produced by Crave Lexington and Beard House Media, called “In the Kitchen with Crave.” Exploring topics ranging from “How to shop in Asian market” to “How to get kids excited about vegetables,” the idea behind the videos is to approach a handful of seemingly daunting culinary tasks head-on, and break them down into fun and digestible experiences for anyone with an inkling of culinary curiosity.
“I want to proselytize what I love about food, and that includes getting people to cook,” Wu said.
“The more you’re in touch with the food you’re putting in your mouth, the more you truly appreciate it.”