MasterChef Junior premiered in September 2013, and while contestants aren’t asked to wear the traditional chef’s toque, one did sport some distinctive head gear. Dara “the Bow Girl” Yu, who went on to become the runner-up that season, was there with her trademark hair bow, dazzling the judges with dish after dish.
Yu, who started cooking when she was 7 or 8 and is now 14 and taking advantage of many stage and screen opportunities, started doing her own cooking video series online a little over a year ago, and over the summer signed with DreamworksTV to do several segments on the popular online show DIY. She has also been interning at top restaurants around L.A., and posts “trendy” recipes (homemade California donuts, Momofuku spring cake truffles) on the Beautycon website.
She shoots her cooking videos in her family’s remodeled kitchen in Culver City. “My stepdad actually just redid the whole thing,” she says. “My house is a small little bungalow house, so the kitchen is attached to the dining room. So we don’t have a dining room anymore, but we turned that into the studio space where the table is. It’s a great space to shoot. We have a friend who lives down the street who does lighting on movies and stuff. He let us borrow some of his studio lighting.”
Your goal as a MasterChef Junior contestant was to get kids in the kitchen, get them cooking and help them elevate food. What is the number-one thing you think parents can do to encourage or start their kids’ interest in cooking?
If parents see that their kid is interested in cooking, try to find a cooking camp. I did two years of that. I did it with my friends, which was great. I got to learn, but I also got to hang out with my friends for a week. It’s called Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom, and when I was going to go onto the show we told him, and he really helped me train and stuff for it.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
That’s a really hard one, because I’m always learning new things and finding out about new cuisines and techniques. I think my favorite dish to make is a salmon, pan seared with a farrow salad with cranberries and a citrus dressing, and with mushrooms that are sautéed until they’re nice and crispy. I love salmon. Salmon’s a super-easy dish.
Do you have any favorite kitchen gadgets?
My KitchenAid mixer, of course. My grandparents got it for me when I got into the finale, and that’s been a lifesaver for me because now I don’t have to do everything by hand. And also, my blender, because it’s really versatile. You can make smoothies. One of my favorite things is to make butternut squash soup in the blender, and just microwave some butternut squash for like five minutes and put it in the blender with some chicken broth and just blend it up.
Do you have a favorite source for fun recipes?
Yeah. Steamykitchen.com. She’s an Asian food blogger, and she has so many recipes. And also for baking, Brown Eyed Baker. I love food blogs. I literally just look up “best food blogs.” And I’ve been building my collection of cookbooks.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to travel after high school. After that I want to go and work with chefs in Italy and Japan and Europe, and experience that. I think that would be a great learning experience. But also, I really want to work at a restaurant, working under some of the best chefs. Even now, doing that, I’m learning so much. I don’t think I’m going to go to culinary school because it’s very expensive and I’m already learning so much.
When I was 10, I used to draw drawings of my dream restaurant, and it was a market and a lunch café and a restaurant. It was this three-story building. I still have drawings of it. So, I definitely dream big.
What advice do you have for kids who might have just discovered that they like cooking?
I know when I first started cooking, one of my favorite shows was “Chopped,” and my mom would give me five ingredients and put 30 minutes on the microwave clock, and I would come up with these dishes. So, for kids, just get into the kitchen. If you’re not allowed to use knives, then have a parent with you. And also, if you’re a creative person, and a dish passes your mind, just try making it.
Don’t be afraid in the kitchen. There’s a lot of scary things in kitchens. There’s knives, sharp objects, heat, but just go for it. Be safe, but even make a salad. Make a sandwich, but use the fancy mustard or use the fancy tomatoes.
Find Dara Yu’s videos on her YouTube channel, YouTube.com/DaraTheBowGirl, on the DIY channel from DreamWorks TV, follow her at Facebook.com/DaraTheBowGirl, Twitter.com/DaraTheBowGirl and Instagram.com/Dara2001.