Star Scrapbook: Yaku Moton-Spruill

Yaku was the fourth finalist eliminated from Food Network Star, Season 12. Relive the most-memorable moments from his time in the competition. 

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Yaku Leaves His Mark

The fourth competitor to get sent home, Yaku proved his skills in the kitchen, but when it came to his presentations, he struggled to convey personal stories and connect with an audience. In his last week in the contest, he not only delivered a lackluster tableside service, but he also experienced a severe food flop in the form of raw lobster.

More: Yaku Moton-Spruill

First Impressions

After watching Yaku's first attempt at a cold open, mentors Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay were intrigued by his persona, but Bobby urged him, "I need a little more flavor from you in terms of who you really are." Giada added: "You're very unique. Work it to your advantage."

From Yaku's Point of View

Each finalist was given a journal to use during his or her time in the competition, and Yaku filled his with recipe notes and quick messages to himself. Here he penned the plan for plating his Week 1 dish, an herbed steak with a homemade potato chip. According to the mentors, the beef was simply OK, but his sweet-spicy sauce was far more successful. "He didn't season the meat, but the sauce has got a lot of flavor," Bobby noted.

Stumbling in Action

Working on location at Grand Central Market's Belcampo Meat Co., Yaku had planned to speak of the butcher shop's practices with meat, but he tripped over the word "sustainability" in his video. He ended up scrapping that detail in the video, but what resulted was a too-sparse presentation, as Giada told him, "You didn't even tell us what you ordered, what you were eating or what it tastes like."

Mise en Place on Paper

To organize himself for his mash-up dish of chili cheese dogs and sushi, Yaku separated the ingredients for each element of his Week 2 dish, including the cabbage slaw he'd serve alongside the fried roll-up.

A New Kind of Sushi

"I feel like I transferred some fleekets to some bearettes," Yaku said after presenting at the throwdown against Tregaye. Though more audience members ended up flocking to Tregaye's station than Yaku's, Bobby noted, "Yaku definitely gets your attention." His Deep-Fried Chili Dog Sushi was also successful, as Bobby admitted, "I wouldn't have done this as well."

Checking In

"You still fine," Yaku jotted down in his journal after what was perhaps a quick choking incident on set. "Meat went down the wrong pipe."

The Making of "Crab Appeal"

In Week 3's Mentor Challenge, Yaku was tasked with bringing the punny name "Crab Appeal" to a dish, and what resulted was a Caribbean-inspired crab salad. While the judges were pleased with the results of Yaku's dish, as Bobby deemed it "well-seasoned," they couldn't look past the fact that he included an inedible orange peel in the final presentation — Bobby unknowingly took a bite of it.

Best Buds

It's no secret that Yaku and Tregaye were pals during the competition, so when it came time for Tregaye to pick her partner to film a road-trip video come the Week 3 Star Challenge, she looked right at Yaku. 

Well-Done

Though Bobby found Tregaye to be "so distracting" in her and Yaku's promo for a road trip to the state fair, the judges were wowed by Yaku's Chicken-Fried Steak in that challenge. "I think that it's light. I think that it's well-flavored and well-seasoned," Bobby declares.

Starting Strong

Yaku's final week in the competition proved to be one of extreme highs and lows. He worked with Jernard and Monterey as part of the "Frugal Is Fashionable" team and won the Mentor Challenge after they offered not only engaging live-style remote interviews, but also good-to-know tips. Yaku's thought of turning broccoli stems into snackable veggie chips was a hit. "I love that idea," Bobby remarked. 

Safe Surf, Different Turf

Unfortunately for Yaku, his success in the Mentor Challenge didn't translate to the Star Challenge at The Park Plaza hotel, where he worked with Tregaye and Damiano to create a three-course Honeymooner's Holiday menu. When the VIP guest — later revealed to be Hannah Hart — requested no red meat, Yaku scrapped his idea of beef and lobster, opting for chicken and lobster instead.

Needing More — Now

The unthinkable happened for Yaku when the lobster he served Hannah and the judges turned out to be raw. His presentation, too, left much to be desired, as the mentors continued to look for more personal stories from him. "I know there's something interesting about him," Bobby said. "I just don't know that he's going to give it to us here."

The End of the Road 

After four weeks in the competition, Yaku was sent home, but the mentors left him with encouraging words. "Sorry, Yaku. You're a good guy and a great cook," Bobby told him.

The King of Salvation

Yaku entered the race for Salvation on Week 1 of the competition, and from the first day on, he proved himself to be a formidable rival. He ultimately bested seven other Salvation hopefuls in a six-week contest led by mentors Alex Guarnaschelli and Eddie Jackson, and he earned the right to rejoin the Food Network Star competition.

More: Star Salvation

Risky Partner

When Yaku re-entered Food Star Kitchen in Week 10, he and the remaining three competitors were set to deliver what Giada called the dish of their lives. Working with sous chef Havird, who was ousted in the first week of the contest, proved to be a concern for Yaku. "I don't know what his [strengths] and weaknesses are," he noted of Havird. "Since I got eliminated and then came back as the underdog, I have no room for a mistake."

Better All Together?

For his final dish, Yaku prepped Jamaican-inspired tortilla soup. "It has a lot of features and a lot of different ingredients in it — just like me," he explained. "They work well together. I promise." But for the mentors, the flavors were muddled. "I think that some of them didn't need to be in here," Bobby noted of a few ingredients.

Yaku: Unfiltered

"I just wanted to make sure that I'm not holding back," Yaku told the panel of his presentation, in which he talked about his past as a basketball player and his penchant for "soul food, comfort food fusion." Giada complimented him on his ability to open up, but guest judge Aarti Sequeira was looking for more. "I want to know: What about this dish is Jamaican? And what about this dish is Mexican? And why did you think that these two could work together?" she told him. 

So Close

Despite a valiant effort in his return showing, Yaku didn't earn one of three pilot spots. But he did leave with high praises from the mentors. "Your development from Star Salvation was extraordinary," Bobby told him. 

One-on-One with Yaku

We checked in with Yaku following his elimination. Hear what he had to say about the competition and learn his thoughts on the remaining finalists in an exclusive exit interview.

Go Behind the Scenes

See what the mentors, finalists and crew are up to between takes by checking out insider photos from the set.

More: Behind the Scenes of Food Network Star, Season 12: Part 2

Want More Food Network Star?

Check out Food Network's official Star headquarters for more insider coverage of the competition, plus exclusive mentor interviews, behind-the-scenes photos and winning recipes.

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