Celebrating identity in culinary art: Lessons from the Gold Chef Prize judges


Chefs often find themselves at a crossroads between tradition and innovation, authenticity and adaptation. This journey is especially true for Asian Pacific chefs as representation lags in the industry—only 19% of head chefs are Asian, compared to 59% who are white

To empower the next generation of Asian Pacific chefs, OpenTable partnered with Gold House to launch the Gold Chef Prize. This award recognizes the exceptional culinary skills and impact on the industry of Asian Pacific head chefs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. Honorees get the chance to receive funding and mentorship and serve as the Executive Chef of the 2024 A100 Honoree Dinner, a celebration of the 100 most impactful Asian Pacific leaders in culture.

We asked several of the Gold Chef Prize judges to share how their identity has influenced their craft and got their insights into pushing boundaries and innovating in the kitchen. Below, we’ve distilled their wisdom into advice for the next generation of Asian Pacific chefs. Let their words inspire you.

Chef Carlo Lamagna: Embrace your roots

For chef Carlo Lamagna, the award-winning chef-owner of Magna Kusina in Portland, Oregon, honoring his Filipino heritage became a profound calling after a heartfelt conversation with his father. Despite initial doubts about the mainstream acceptance of Filipino cuisine, Lamagna’s father imparted a powerful message, “Remember who you are and where you came from, and share our story with the world.” This poignant exchange inspired Lamagna to represent his culture, food, and heritage proudly. 

His advice to the next generation of Asian Pacific chefs: celebrate your identity boldly and unapologetically.

Chef Jet Tila: Forge your path

From battling the legendary Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef America to opening Encore Hotel in Las Vegas to guiding Anthony Bourdain through countless markets and restaurants, chef Jet Tila is internationally celebrated for his culinary expertise. 

As the first Thai culinary ambassador in America, Tila broke new ground and paved the way for future generations. He envisions a future where API chefs continue to elevate their cuisine on both national and global stages—by sharing stories of struggle and success, these chefs can inspire others to pursue their dreams and build a legacy they’re proud of.

Chef Shota Nakajima: Innovate fearlessly

For chef Shota Nakajima, a profound sense of connection to his Japanese identity shines through his cooking. The three-time James Beard Award semifinalist of Taku and Kobo Pizza, he credits his success to his unwavering commitment to self-discipline and personal growth. 

Nakajima challenges the next generation of Asian Pacific chefs to boldly push the boundaries of the industry by infusing their unique perspectives, traditions, and innovations into their craft. 

Chef Mei Lin: Stay true to yourself

Chef Mei Lin’s journey into Chinese cuisine began over a decade ago, fueled by a desire for representation and authenticity. Today, she is a renowned chef and television personality who rose to prominence after winning the 12th season of Top Chef. She is the restaurateur behind the acclaimed, first-of-its-kind, fast-casual Szechuan fried chicken restaurant Daybird.

Lin encourages aspiring chefs to stay true to themselves and resist the pressure to conform. She advocates for self-expression and authenticity, believing that true innovation arises from embracing one’s cultural heritage. As a mentor, Lin finds fulfillment in witnessing the success of those she has trained—a testament to the enduring impact of mentorship in the culinary world.

Chef Martin Yan: Promote cultural understanding

Making Chinese and Asian cuisines easy to cook for everyone is what drives Chef Martin Yan. He’s inspired many through his popular TV show “If Yan can cook, so can you!” but his proudest moment came when he received the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifelong dedication to culinary excellence and cultural exchange.

Yan fiercely believes culinary art transcends borders, fostering cross-cultural understanding and friendship. He encourages chefs to use their platform to promote diversity, inclusion, and creativity in the industry. 

Stephanie Wu: Embrace creativity and authenticity

As Editor-in-Chief of Eater, Stephanie Wu is dedicated to all things food and dining. She sees a future where Asian Pacific chefs have the freedom to cook food that is meaningful to them without the burden of representing an entire region. Wu advocates for chefs to express themselves creatively through their menus.