Star-a-Day: Yaku Moton-Spruill

Get to know Yaku Moton-Spruill, a finalist on Food Network Star, Season 12.

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

Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

It was only recently that Star Talk broke the news that an unprecedented 12th season of Food Network Star is set to unfold this summer. For the first time ever, a prequel competition — Comeback Kitchen — will bring together seven past Star contestants for a no-holds-barred battle. The winner of this three-week tournament will join the dozen first-time Food Network Star finalists in the premiere episode on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c. But before the new season kicks off, we're introducing all 12 of the hopeful rivals in exclusive, one-on-one interviews. Keep checking back every day to meet a new member of the cast. Today we'd like you to meet Yaku Moton-Spruill.

Standing at 6 feet 9 inches, Yaku, 33 (San Francisco), was pretty much guaranteed to have the basketball world’s attention from an early age. But even while playing professionally in Europe, he couldn’t shake the fact that nothing made him as happy as cooking did. Born in Inkster, Mich., Yaku learned the art of the hustle, selling chicken dinners out of his dorm room in college to make money. Yaku draws his food philosophy from his Southern and Caribbean heritage, and he specializes in Latin American, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food that's shareable .

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.
Yaku Moton-Spruill: Food is love. Love is food.
Who are you most intimidated to be working with, Bobby or Giada?

YMS: Probably Bobby just 'cause you get to see him — he goes out places and beats people at their own thing, and he's kind of stone-faced ... so it's kind of intimidating.

If you could ask one of them to teach you one thing in the kitchen, what would it be?

YMS: I'd say Italian food from Giada. ... I mean, she's rustic Italian and that's something I love.

What one thing do you really want to convey to the mentors about who you are?

YMS: I would just be so new to the Food Network. I would be something refreshing but also something — I mean, it's the food, it's the chef that knows his food, but it's also a different package, I guess you would say. It’s like when you rebrand, when you got cereal and you change the box. I kind of feel like I'd be that changed box for Food Network.

How did you prepare for this competition?

YMS: A lot of monologues, talking to myself a lot and really trying to work within 30-second time periods of being able to explain myself and explain things that I like in my food and things like that.

Win or lose, what's something you want to take away from this contest?

YMS: I just want people to see that [you can] go out and live your dreams and aspirations, and never [let] anybody put you in a box. If you want to do it, jump out and do it.

What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?

YMS: My leadership. I'm an excellent leader in the kitchen. I have no problem guiding the reins or guiding the team through a rough, busy night. I have no problem with that — I actually like it.

What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?

YMS: Probably something my fiancée has in there. ... She has some pretty funky sauces in there that I don't even know what — I don't know if they're good or not. They just stay on her side.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?

YMS: My signature dish probably is Jamaican tortilla soup. I love it. People try it. It's something familiar 'cause everybody has heard of tortilla soup, but not with that Jamaican spin.

What's your favorite food city to visit?

YMS: My favorite food city to visit would probably be North Carolina. I love the food in North Carolina 'cause it's not just the barbecue, but it's the little red hot dogs that they got at the gas stations ... with coleslaw. And they're the best things in the world. I eat six of them at a time.

What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?

YMS: Chitlins. You'll never see me eating chitlins. You'll never see me cooking them. You'll never see me around anybody that's cooking them.

What's your favorite late-night snack?

YMS: Cereal. A huge, gigantic Tupperware bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

What's your guilty-pleasure food?

YMS: Ice cream. I'm a huge ice-cream fanatic. Häagen-Dazs, any flavor. Oh, my gosh. I'll kill off that whole little pint, but I'll swear to myself, "I'm going to save half of it." But I normally end up finishing it.

What is one must-have dish at your last supper?

YMS: I got to have macaroni and cheese. I love macaroni and cheese. ... It's that comfort food, and it's one of those things that my grandmother, my mother, all my aunties make, so it would just be so comforting to me.

What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?

YMS: I'm a little bit of everybody that's going to be watching. I feel like I share a lot of things that a lot of people will be able to film in and catch: I'm from a rough neighborhood, I'm from a rough area, but I made it out, and I'm living my dream. So anybody that wants to step outside the box and live their dreams, I'm a living testimony to that.

Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Mayonnaise
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
Bagels or doughnuts? Bagels
Cream cheese or butter? Cream cheese
Coffee or tea? Tea
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers
French fries or onion rings? French fries
White meat or dark? Dark
Cake or pie? Cake
French toast or pancakes? French toast
Beer or wine? Beer

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Don't miss the premiere of Food Network Star, Season 12 on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c.

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