On July 25, Chef Patricia Yeo started competing on Season 4 of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters to win the title and a $100,000 for her charity of choice, Heifer International. For the past six weeks, Yeo has won $16,000 for Heifer through quick-fire challenges, and the best dish of the night, mackerel coconut ceviche. Yeo took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her career and cooking background.
Good morning, Chef Yeo! Thank you for taking some time today to answer some of our questions. Heifer donors and supporters have been sending supportive messages about your Top Chef Masters competition on our Heifer Facebook and Twitter pages.
Heifer: Chef Yeo, what made you choose Heifer International as your charity of choice for Top Chef Masters?
Yeo: Heifer International has been my Christmas charity for many years. As a family we do not exchange gifts during the holidays instead we make a donation to our favourite charity, in our case it is Heifer International.
Heifer: Where did you learn about Heifer?
Yeo: I don’t remember how I learned about Heifer, I think through my sister.
Heifer: Did you find on Top Chef Masters that chefs were even more competitive to win money for their charities?
Yeo: Chefs are a pretty competitive bunch of people, yes I’d say that winning money for our respective charities makes us more so. We were moved to pick our charities for many reasons, some personal and for others like myself it was/is because I truly believe in the cause.
Heifer: While in college at Princeton, you were working on a degree in biochemistry, how has that helped you in the kitchen?
Yeo: Not at all, everyone thinks it should alter the way I cook but cooking is so much more organic and creative. Also I love the instant gratification. Science is so much more time consuming and meticulous.
Heifer: You seem to really enjoy what you do in the kitchen, what’s your favorite dish to cook?
Yeo: I like cooking whatever is in season, there is nothing better than going to your local farmers market and picking up super fresh ingredients that are grown by local farmers. Cooking is also about camaraderie; whether it is with other chefs as in Top Chef Masters or cooking for friends and loved ones. I just like to cook!
Heifer: Just between us, what’s your secret guilty food? (fast food? Cupcakes? Pringles?)
Yeo: I don’t eat sweets, never acquired a taste for it so my guilty pleasure tends to be savoury. I would say McDonalds Hash Browns!
Heifer: You’ve spent a lot of time working with Chef Bobby Flay, what lessons has he taught you that others can learn from? (Motivation, inspiration, determination)
Yeo: I often say that if I had not started working with Bobby I would not be in the industry (as it originally started as a one year hiatus from science). He made it so much fun, he gave me so much license to play, he introduced me to some many wonderful aspects of the culinary world, I think the one thing Bobby absolutely taught me is to have a vision of what I want and to go after it.
Heifer: What advice would you give to those who have a desire for cooking?
Yeo: If you are thinking of getting into the industry I suggest you actually spend some time in a professional kitchen before committing to culinary school. If you love cooking for friends and family and having dinner parties then really consider if you really want to cook as a career, sometimes doing it as a career “ruins” the joy of cooking at home for friends and family. If you want to hone your skills lots of chefs and some colleges and adult learning centres actually have great classes. Reading is also a wonderful tool, magazines like Saveur especially not only share recipes but food ways and food anthropology. And don’t forget (this is coming from a chef who depends on your business) eat out often.