BY LUCY JAYES
photos by Kentucky Studio
Lexington’s own Dan Wu impressed the notoriously harsh judges of Fox’s hit cooking show MasterChef in the first episode of the fifth season which aired on Memorial Day. He was praised early on for the scent of his Ramen stock — hints of garlic, ginger, aromatics, chicken bones and soy sauce — and was given the third apron, identifying him as an early judges’ favorite as he continued on to the next episode.
Restaurateur and judge Joe Bastianich (author of Restaurant Man) was quoted praising not just Wu’s Ramen, but also his ability to easily adjust to the high-pressure environment of the MasterChef kitchen: “Calm, cool, and collected from the start, Dan Wu simply blew us away. His ramen was restaurant-quality and was exactly what we were hoping for.”
Meanwhile, another Kentucky native, Corey Charles, a winery manager in Pikeville, was eliminated in the first episode after his spinach and potato souffle fell short of the judges’ expectations.
Dan Wu was born in Wuxi, China but moved to Lexington as a young boy. He graduated from UK in 1997 with a degree in Art Studio. After living on both the east coast (Brooklyn) and the west coast (San Francisco), Dan Wu returned to his old Kentucky home and took his artistic skills to the kitchen, publicly proving his talent and creativity during the Crave Home Chef Competition as part of the 2013 Crave Lexington Food and Music Festival. Dan Wu impressed judges then with his Sriracha-pickled peaches, served alongside his version of Japanese ramen, landing him in second place.
Those same peaches helped to land him a spot on MasterChef; only this time they were served alongside 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. In FOX’s First Look at the contestants for season 5 of MasterChef, Wu describes cooking as “not only something I do but an integral part of who I am.”
MasterChef, hosted by Graham Elliot, Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich, claims to “turn one home cook into culinary master” through a series of elimination rounds that challenge contestants’ ability to improvise, perform under pressure and create dishes that can impress even the toughest of palates. The judges are looking for talent as well as personality, offering the winner a $250,000 cash prize, cookbook contract and title of America’s “MasterChef.”
When Dan Wu is not competing on national television, he turns his attention to his project FourMidTable: a casual “home lunch” series that he began as a form of practice for his audition for MasterChef. In these weekly meals served at Wu’s apartment, he challenges himself to never repeat the same preparation of anything twice, continuing to venture out of his comfort zone and expand his palate.
Wu can currently be found in Lexington working alongside Mark Jensen’s Fork in the Road Mobile Galley food truck. Additional updates posted on his Dan Wu facebook page. MasterChef airs Mondays on Fox.