This Culver City girl is cooking

CCHS alum returns to television screen

Photo courtesy of Dara Yu/Instagram BACK TO THE KITCHEN—Chef Dara Yu will take part in the “MasterChef: Back to Win” Fox TV premiere on May 25. She is a Culver City High alumna and a 2019 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Yu was a runner-up on the “MasterChef Junior” show as a 12-year-old student

Dara Yu, who tends to go simply by Dara, is returning to the world of MasterChef having previously been a runner-up on MasterChef Junior. “MasterChef: Back to Win” premieres on May 25 on Fox, and the Culver City, and Dara’s TV chef journey continues. “I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America last August and I was supposed to start at Cornell University a week later,” Dara told the News. “Four days after graduation, I got an email about the opportunity to join the cast of MasterChef and so I went through the whole audition process and from there, it was all kind of a mystery because I wasn’t sure how many other MasterChef Junior contestants were also going to be in it, so I went into it a little bit blind which was a little scary.” Dara was just 12 years old when she appeared on MasterChef Junior. She was in 6th grade and hadn’t had any prior TV experience. “The way that we found the show was because my mom was a commercial actor and she had seen the casting and knew that I loved cooking,” she said. “So we decided to go along with the process. I remember it being so much fun. It was a completely different and new experience for me, but some of the best memories that I made from the show were of course, connecting and being able to be in the same kitchen as Gordon Ramsey but also all the relationships and opportunities that I got after the show have really built my career and who I am now as a person.” The chef, now 21, says that most of the relationships that she formed on MasterChef Junior with the other contestants. “Obviously, you’re on a TV set so there’s a ton of different crew members and the producers and everything,” she said. “I had connected with a few MasterChef contestants when I was on Junior, but there were no other contestants from Season One so I was going into it completely reintroducing myself. It was also a new production team doing the show. But it was great because even though it was this new experience for me, all the other contestants had gone through a very similar experience so we could all bond over that.’ The new series is completely filmed and ready to screen, but Dara isn’t giving anything away. “Well, the show is premiering on Wednesday 25th, so the first few episodes are Top 40, re-auditioning,” she said. “We’re doing apron battles, to get a MasterChef apron again to rejoin the competition. So you have to tune in to see if I actually get an apron, to compete in the Masterchef competition.” It’s been a long journey back to MasterChef, after Dara left the show when she was 13. Looking to explore her love of cooking, she worked in kitchens in a number of restaurants. “Another thing I was really passionate about and found a platform was doing Youtube videos and instructional videos,” she said. “My stepdad and I converted our kitchen into a set, basically. We filmed some Youtube videos, and from there I got picked up by Dreamworks TV and was able to do a 14 episode series with them which is now on Amazon and Apple TV, and stuff like that. I love the media stuff as well, the content part of it, but I really wanted to explore the kitchen to see where I could go with that so I continued to work in restaurants. I was on the opening team of Dominique Ansel Bakery in Los Angeles. I have worked at Bouchon Bakery and some restaurants in New York as well. Just really exploring all different places of industry.” Dara was born and raised in Culver City – she went to the Willows and then Crossroads schools, but graduated from Culver City High School in 2019 She says that the Culver food scene is flourishing. “I love to see the new restaurants that are coming in,” she said. “I live right by Sony Studios, so I’m right by Downtown Culver, and with the new steps there and all the new restaurants and retail that’s going in there, even the platform – I grew up eating out a lot and trying new restaurants, and I’ve always been super adventurous, so I’m always looking for the new, cool, hip places – the restaurants to go to. I feel like Culver City is definitely a hub for that now.” Dara has considered opening a restaurant, but at 21 she has plenty of time and plenty of life to experience. “I definitely would love to do something in Culver City,” she said. “Right now, I’m creating a company to do some private catering and also some private dinners. Working and growing up in the industry, I’ve seen the ins and outs, the goods and the bads, so I think eventually I’d love to have some type of standing business but I just live being a part of the community too. I think there’s a lot of different ways that I could contribute my food to that. We’ll see what happens.” But for now, her eye is on the prize. “I’m just really excited to go into this new competition, with the adults,” she said. “It’s amazing that there’s two MasterChef Junior contestants that are going to be a part of the top 20 It’s going to be a really fun journey.

Photo courtesy of Dara Yu/Instagram NO SECRET: RECIPES ARE PUBLISHED—Chef Dara Yu, while still attending Culver City High School, had six of her recipes included among more than a hundreds entries in “MasterChef Junior Cookbook.