- In this Japanese name, the family name is Yamada.
September 19, 1983|
|Education||New Bourbon Institute of the Culinary Arts|
|Net worth||$40.5 million (2015)|
|Cooking style||Japanese, French, Sierran Creole, Italian, fusion|
On Cooking Warrior and American Food Royale, Yamada's reality television personality portrays him as an eccentric, unpredictable man whose use of sensationalism, absurdism, expletives, and blue and black humor. Yamada has made frequently controversial statements and comments throughout the years, and has been accused of promoting racist, sexist, and homophobic stereotypes. Outside of these shows, Yamada has produced two serious programs (Exploration Chef and How to Cook it Right), which have been described as a "stark contrast" to Yamada's more popular shows, and documents Yamada's work as a professional and respected chef. He is recognized as one of the premier itamae in Sierra, although is well-disciplined in broader Japanese cuisine, as well as French, Sierran Creole, and Italian. Outside of his culinary and television career, Yamada has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and mental health awareness.
Early life and culinary training
Yamada was born on September 19, 1983 into a Nisei Japanese family as an only child in Daly City, San Francisco in the Westlake neighborhood. His father Toshiro Yamada worked as a creative manager for a local construction firm while his mother Haruko Yamada served as the principal of the Westlake Japanese Cultural School. They shared their one-story home with Yamada's maternal grandparents, who were immigrants from Japan. At home, Yamada seldom saw his parents, and was taken care by his grandparents instead. Yamada recalled in his 2014 autobiography, "Growing up, I never had the fortune of being close with my parents. They were always distant; they only came to ask about my grades before they were off doing their own thing." He first gained experience cooking in the kitchen at the age of 7, where he helped prepare family meals with his grandparents. He learned traditional Japanese dishes and had exposure to his grandmother's cooking techniques which he has continued to apply ever since.
Having developed an early fondness towards cooking, Yamada begun formal culinary training when he was 15, much to the disappointment of his parents. After spending an extended vacation in Japan at his ancestral hometown, Nagoya, Yamada aspired to become a sushi chef (itamae). He and his cousin, Kei, trained under Hiroko Furutachi, a family friend, as apprentices, and manned the kitchen at Furutachi's establishment, Kamekoya, in San Francisco City. He spent hours after school to help with the restaurant as a paid employee, which had a negative impact on his academic performance, and strained relations between him and his parents.
After receiving his high school diploma, Yamada was accepted into the New Bourbon Institute of the Culinary Arts, an institution renowned for its rigorous and professional specialty training in French and Italian cuisine. While attending, he received firsthand training as a saucier as a commis chef at a high-end French restaurant, and later, as a pâtissier. He also informally self-taught himself Sierran Creole dishes, which he described as his comfort food of choice. Yamada also spent time perfecting his sushi preparation skills, and personally fished and gathered his own supplies during his free time. After he completed his second year in training, he came under the apprenticeship of renowned French chef Renaud Sartre at Restaurant Le Chien de Saphir, whom he worked with as Sartre's protégé for two years until he returned home, and opened his first restaurant, Poke, a French-Japanese cuisine establishment, in Union Square. On initially what seemed to be a risky business venture, the restaurant instead proved to be well-received and became financially successful. Yamada would earn a total of 3 Michelin stars at the restaurant by 2014.
After the success of his first restaurant, Yamada's business empire grew as he opened his next restaurant, Red Heifer, in Porciúncula, and then White Venison in Monterey (which later burned down by a devastating fire caused by an adjacent building in 2006). He partnered with his former mentor, Renaud Sartre in establishing Echo in San Diego, and received rave reviews and accolades for the restaurant. The restaurant was one of the four restaurants in the Southwest Corridor to receive four stars by the Porciúncula Times, and generated widespread media coverage for the establishment's unique dishes.
In January 2006, he acquired The Bonsai, a Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas, located at the Strip resort The Calypso for $2.5 million. Serving both traditional and modern interpretations of classic Japanese dishes, The Bonsai was named "Best Restaurant of the Year" by the Las Vegas Courier in 2007. Yamada opened his first restaurant outside Sierra, opening Allure by the Sea in Dixie in the city of Charleston. Two additional restaurants, Kobe Air and Pocket Ravioli, were opened in Louisville (2009) and New York City (2011) respectively.
His most recent restaurant, RAMEN House, is an izakaya located in the King Palms Hotel on the Sunset Strip in Porciúncula, which opened in May 2016. In October 2016, Yamada announced that he was partnering with Del Toro Restaurants in developing the "Classic Signatures" lineup of Italian dishes for the restaurant chain Il Tesoro di Sofia. The Wendall Yamada Holdings Limited (WYH Ltd.), which runs and manages Yamada's businesses, acquired 8% of the Del Toro Restaurant's shares. Yamada himself owns about 60% stake in WYH Ltd.
Yamada first appeared on television as a cameo in a commercial advertisement for the New Bourbon Institute of the Culinary Arts when he was attending there as a student in 2002. His first major role on television was in the series premiere of Cooking Central's Sliced Up where his restaurant, Poke, was featured in 2008. The episode highlighted Poke's most popular dishes, as well as its kitchen operations, decor, and customer reviews, and included numerous clips of Yamada cooking in the kitchen, and managing the restaurant. He made another appearance on a different program, Planet Gastronomy, where it saw Yamada present how to prepare sushi properly.
In 2009, he received an offer by the Tokki network to produce and host his own show. Inspired by Japanese cook-off shows, and the similar, but ultimately cancelled Sierran program Battle of the Chefs, Yamada proposed to the network of a similar concept to these shows where contestants (mostly amateur chefs) would face each other off before a live audience and a panel of judges, with Yamada being one of them. The contestants would be expected to cook with limited or selected ingredients under a limited time frame. During the competition, Yamada and other judges would attempt to sabotage the contestants by either forcing them to do time-consuming tasks or mini-games, or even purposefully interfering with the cooking processes. The network accepted Yamada's plan and a miniseries of six episodes titled Cooking Warrior aired in February 2010. Well-received and immensely popular, Tokki ordered two seasons of Cooking Warrior, with the program showcasing Yamada's eccentric sense of humor and antics as a judge and host. Running for 4 seasons with 20 episodes each (80 episodes in total), the show ended in June 2014. Due to the nature and content of Cooking Warrior, it earned the mature rating of TV-16 for Anglo-American audiences, the first program to receive such rating on Tokki's cooking channel, H&K.
As the "Rat Chef"
During the show, Yamada portrayed himself as an abrasive and hyperbolic character who frequently attacked contestants with insults. He also made self-deprecating remarks, including rather controversially, open statements and jokes on committing suicide and drinking bleach. Yamada gained notoriety from one episode where he required the contestants to create a dish incorporating rat meat. When all of the contestants refused to use the ingredients, Yamada decided to cook the rats himself and made rat stew, rat rolls, and ratatouille with cubed rat. Tokki almost chose not to air the highly controversial episode, and following initial broadcast, Yamada was panned by major news sources and organizations for the episode. Since then however, the episode has been cited as one of the breakthroughs in Sierran television which led to a rise in other shows capitalizing on shock value or non-conventional material. The episode also earned Yamada the nickname, the "Rat Chef", and Yamada has continued to create rat dishes, offering it at one of his restaurants, Red Heifer, and has gone to experiment with other less commonly used or taboo ingredients.
In 2012, Tokki announced that its channel H&K would be adding an hour-long show to be titled Exploration Chef, which premiered on September 28, 2012. The program, which premiered while Cooking Warrior still aired, was showed Yamada's more serious and organic personality. Each episode featured Yamada visiting a different country where he would document his experiences there as a foreigner, and try the country's local food and meet its people. The first episode had Yamada visit Bolivia where he explored Lake Titicaca, the capital city of La Paz, Oruro, and Potosí. One of the Bolivian dishes that Yamada tried, cuy (guinea pig), would later find its way into Cooking Warrior, and was a factor in Yamada's decision to introduce rat to that program, just months after Exploration Chef's premiere. In an episode on Thailand which aired in 2013, Prime Minister Steven Hong was featured, eating and conversing with Yamada while the chef was in Bangkok. The show was a moderate success and aired through 2016 with four seasons (the first 2 seasons with 12 episodes, and the last 2 seasons with 14 episodes) and six special episodes based on Yamada's travels around Japan.
Currently, two programs produced by Yamada are on air: American Food Royale and Wendall Yamada Presents: How to Cook it Right. American Food Royale, which premiered on H&K six months after the series finale of Cooking Warrior, has been regarded as the former program's spiritual successor. Using a similar format to the previous program, differences include the lack of a set pool of contestants and consequent absence of elimination rounds, and instead of using limited ingredients, contestants must adhere to the episode's "theme". In each episode, three or four contestants from a pool of certified cooks are chosen to compete on the program's studio kitchen, and are judged by a point-based score system. The top scorer of each episode will receive a set amount of winnings, depending on the number of times they have returned to the program as a contestant, and returns to compete against two or three new contestants or challengers. The top scorers retain the value of their winnings, while defeated contestants receive consolation prizes. Contestants who make an appearance more than four times consecutively will be able to keep the full value of their earnings, while those who miss the mark receive part of their earnings. Yamada carried over his Cooking Warrior persona to American Food Royale, and retained his role as a judge just as he had in Cooking Warrior.
Wendall Yamada Presents: How to Cook it Right is the first program of Yamada's to not air on H&K. Premiering in 2016 on RBS, the program consists of thirty-minute episodes with Yamada demonstrating cooking instructions and methods for favorite Sierran dishes. Taped at Yamada's loft apartment home in San Francisco City, some episodes include guest appearances of celebrities, politicians, athletes, or other chefs who cook alongside Yamada.
In January 2017, Yamada announced that he and hip hop artist Q-Lo will star together in an upcoming, non-cooking-related show that will air on the Tokki Network. Although both celebrities have not shared details on the nature of the program, Yamada stated that it would indeed be his first non-cooking show, and "won't feature anything you already see from my existing shows". He also made plans to make further expansions to his restaurant empire, including a new location in Grands Ballons, which will specialize in Sierran Creole cuisine.
Public image and reception
Through Yamada's television persona, particularly as seen on Cooking Warrior and American Food Royale, has attracted both praise and criticism from the general media. As a highly controversial and polarizing character, Yamada has been described as a "disgustingly offensive freak of nature" by Newstar, while acknowledging that in some senses, it was played on as satire. He has been frequently criticized for his liberal use of profanity, sexual innuendos, and politically incorrect statements, although outside of the cooking competition programs, he was characterized by fellow chef Remy Karpati as "one of the nicest and passionately-driven individuals you could ever meet". Through the years, he has directed racial slurs, sexist epithets, homophobic speech, and other politically incorrect statements towards individuals featured on his program, and joked about suicide, depression, drugs, sex, and cancer in virtually all of the episodes on Cooking Warrior and American Food Royale. Rarely has he broken character, and he has engaged in tirades with other judges or contestants, although he revealed in a 2015 interview that most of these were scripted or purposefully done, and "not personal". Despite his overt objective to be offensive and bold on these programs, Yamada has stated that it is done to "expose social blights and everything wrong in society", and insisted that the views expressed by his television persona were in no way representative of his actual views.
Yamada's famous eccentricities has warranted widespread media coverage and appeal among audiences. Sharing unsavory opinions and performing unorthodox or absurdist actions have drawn in fans and critics alike. Vanguard featured an article declaring that Yamada was the "most colorfully and weirdest celebrity" in modern-day television. They praised his avant-garde approach in being extreme, as well as his creative, biting critiques towards his contestants, the other judges, audience members, and even himself, especially when such insults are not even directed towards the receiver's own cooking.
He has been open about his experiences with drugs, preferring cigarettes and marijuana. Yamada admitted that he had on several occasions, experimented with opium, LSD, shrooms, and cocaine in his autobiography, although he stopped shortly after he opened Red Heifer in out of fear that a debilitating addiction would interfere with his culinary career and business endeavors.
He has mocked and made critical statements about vegetarians and vegans, dismissing them as "pretentious, cancerous jebs" during the taping of one episode where a vegetarian complained to Yamada for his use of rat. Although he has acknowledged that many follow vegetarianism and veganism for religious or health reasons, he stated his disdain was directed those who did it for ethical purposes, and stated, "The majority of these smug motherfuckers are self-righteous attention whores who feel the need to tell everyone that they're fucking vegans every chance they get or else they'll kill themselves."
In April 2012, Yamada came out to the public as a bisexual, and stated that he was in a relationship wth longtime friend Max Auburn, a film documentarist. The two married in 2015, and moved in together to Yamada's apartment in San Francisco City. As a bisexual male, he has been an outspoken supporter for LGBT rights, and was a spokesperson for the Love is Proud advocacy campaign.
Growing up in a nonreligious household, Yamada has stated that for religion and God, "it has never occurred to me", though once remarked in an interview that "there could be a higher power, but right now, that doesn't concern me regardless".
Yamada is a registered Democratic-Republican, and endorsed Governor Terry Scott for prime minister during the 2016 election. He donated $250,000 to Scott's campaign, and several other organizations. In a November 2016 interview, Yamada stated, "The version of 'me' you see on television would have voted for someone like Nemesis Heartwell, no questions asked. If he would have done it, you know she's bad," and openly condemned the alt-right movement, much to the dismay of some of his fans. When Prime Minister Daniel McComb was inaugurated, he participated in a protest rally in Porciúncula over McComb's remarks on immigration and Muslims, calling the incoming prime minister a "racist fascist who must be stopped" and started #ItsTimetoStop on Twitter in retaliation to McComb, Heartwell, and other political figures.
|2009||My Grandma's House||Teppanyaki chef|
|2011||What Happens in Vegas Part 2||Himself||Cameo|
|2015||The Rejects||Mikey Tochigi|
|2008||Sliced Up||Himself||Episode: "Poke" (Season 2, Episode 8)|
|2014–present||American Food Royale||Himself||Host|
|2016–present||Wendall Yamada Presents: How to Cook it Right||Himself||Host|
Awards and nominations
Wendall's first restaurant, Poke, was voted the Top Restaurant in Northern Sierra in 2005 by reviewers from the Genting Network. It was awarded three Michelin stars in 2006, and featured on the Michelin guide for San Francisco City restaurants. He was one of the five chefs in the city to receive at least one Michelin star for his restaurants at the time. He has received a total of three additional Michelin stars from three other restaurants: Red Heifer (2010), Echo (2012), and The Bonsai (2007). All three received their own respective awards from other sources including "Best Restaurant of the Year" and "Hottest Dining Spot".
He was officially inducted into the Order of the Navel as a knight by Queen Elizabeth II in September 2016 for his contributions towards entertainment and the hospitality industries, and was appointed as Her Majesty's Herald Steward, an honorary title reserved for distinguished chefs in the Kingdom.
Restaurants owned or operated by Yamada
|Restaurant||Location||Rating||Date opened||Date closed|
|Poke at the Charlotte Gardens||San Francisco City, San Francisco||February 2004||–|
|Red Heifer||Porciúncula, Gold Coast||March 2005||–|
|White Venison||Monterey, Central Valley||June 2005||December 29, 2006|
|Echo||San Diego, Laguna||June 2005||–|
|The Bonsai||Las Vegas, Clark||January 14, 2006 (Acquired)||–|
|Triple Pines Café||South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe||October 2006||–|
|Grand Café Marcos||Santa Barbara, Kings||June 2007||–|
|Bluegrass Steakhouse & Grille||Monterey, Central Valley||February 1, 2008 (Remodel of White Venison)||–|
|SFX||Cabo San Lucas, Pacífico Sur||June 3, 2010||–|
|Imperial Garden Café||Honolulu, Hawaii||April 10, 2012||–|
|RAMEN House||Porciúncula, Gold Coast||May 23, 2016||–|
|Restaurant||Location||Rating||Date opened||Date closed|
|Allure by the Sea||Portland, Portland, Astoria||November 2007||–|
|Kobe Air||New Hamburg, Superior||March 8, 2009||April 28, 2016|
|Pocket Ravioli||Manhattan, Congregationalist States, United Commonwealth||February 14, 2011||–|
|Macarons by Wendall Yamada||Saint Anthony, Superior||April 23, 2011||–|
|Wendall Yamada at the Cheltenham||Kingston, West Indies||July 19, 2011||–|
|Trap Goose||Manhattan, Congregationalist States, United Commonwealth||October 4, 2012||–|
|Restaurant||Location||Rating||Date opened||Date closed|
|La Feuille Verte||Lyon, France||August 2009||–|
|Wendall Yamada Pub & Grill London||London, England, Great Britain||March 2011||–|
|Le Rat Riant||Paris, France||April 2012||–|
|Wendall Yamada Restaurant at San Marco||San Marco, Venice, Italy||September 2013||–|
|Restaurant||Location||Rating||Date opened||Date closed|
|Mulholland Drive Kitchen||Melbourne, Australia||June 2012||–|
|Yamada@Tokyo||Tokyo, Japan||July 2014||–|
Since the opening of his first restaurant, Poke, in 2004, Yamada has written a total of 12 books:
- Serving to Perfection (2004)
- Essential Japanese Cooking with Wendall Yamada (2006)
- Essential French Cooking with Wendall Yamada (2007)
- Essential Italian Cooking with Wendall Yamada (2008)
- Essential Cooking with Wendall Yamada: Dishes Across the Globe (2010)
- Secrets from the Kitchen with Wendall Yamada (2010)
- Sweets, Delicacies, and More with Wendall Yamada (2012)
- Cooking Up the Dumplings (Autobiography) (2014)
- Home Cooking with Wendall Yamada (2014)
- Fancy Rat (2015)
- Welcome to the Rice Fields (2015)
- I Got a Belt and I'm Not Afraid (2016)