“Build your confidence by associating with those that want a sip.”
Chef Yaku Moton-Spruill is a man on the rise. Featured on the Food Network and a rising star in the Bay Area’s culinary scene, 36-year-old Moton-Spruill is a big man with style and swagger to match.
Raised in Inkster, Michigan, Moton-Spruill credits the women in his life with influencing his career and his love for food and family. Read on to find out more about this Food Network star, how he gives back to the community and what makes him a fly, dope chef.
CHUBSTR: What inspired you to become a chef?
Yaku Moton-Spruill: I was mainly inspired by watching my grandmother cook for our family. She would be so happy just watching everyone eat. Because of that, food became a bridge for me to communicate my love and show people how much I care about them.
CHUBSTR: What have been the top three moments of your career thus far?
YMS: First and foremost, appearing on the Food Network. It’s been a pleasure to cater for some of my favorite old school groups like Jagged Edge, 112, Next, Guy, and Ginuwine, as well. But my real personal achievement was mastering my grandmother’s sweet potato pie!
CHUBSTR: How did your chance to compete on TV come about?
YMS: I was given my first shot at cooking on TV after I was unjustly let go from a previous job for taking my son to the ER. I got on Craigslist and started sending my resume to a few jobs when I saw that NBC was looking for chefs to compete in their first competitive cooking chef called Food Fighters.
After appearing on Food Fighters, I was given an opportunity to compete on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen with three appearances including the Evilicious finale. From there I was chosen to be a finalist on Food Network Star Season 12, where I was eliminated but won a six-round competition called Star Salvation in which I made my way back to Food Network Star as a finalist. But then they played me. After a year-long break from TV, Food Network called and asked me to compete in this year’s Comeback Kitchen where I definitely showed growth and far exceeding my own expectations for myself.
If it wasn’t for the positive people that I had around me, I don’t know where I would be right now, so I feel it’s important for me to give back.
Appearing on Food Network was a dream of mine. I remember telling the people in my culinary school that I wanted to cook on TV and some of them laughed at me. But I can honestly say that I accomplished one of my dreams. From the moment I made my first appearance on tv I felt like it gave my career a boost, almost like a stamp of approval. Food Network is a trusted brand so just appearing on that network allowed me to not be seen as just this giant black guy but a chef that’s backed by a huge brand.
Now when I go into clients homes I feel that it’s not only my flavorful food but my larger than life personality that they expect which is cool cause I get to really just be myself. It also has allowed me to run my own business which allows me to not work the crazy chef hours and be there for my wife and kids who are most important to me.
CHUBSTR: You’re an inspiration to many within the quickly-changing Bay Area. What do you do to give back to the community and stay community-focused within your business?
YMS: I run a teen cooking program called Primed and Prepped which is located at the Bayview YMCA in San Francisco. It’s a cooking and life skills program for at-risk youth ages 14-24. We teach them kitchen skills, get their food handlers card and train them thru workforce development, eventually earning them internships and jobs with local hotels that we have partnered with.
This program is close to my heart because I am a firm believer in “it takes a village”. If it wasn’t for the positive people that I had around me, I don’t know where I would be right now, so I feel it’s important for me to give back. We are currently expanding our program to two new locations, allowing us to empower more teens and change the lives of so many young people who never thought they could become something. Teaching the kids self-empowerment is key to actually making America great for the very first time.
CHUBSTR: How does your career influence your style? What do you look for when shopping for pieces that can take you from the kitchen to the front-of-the-house to mingle with friends and guests?
YMS: I’m really a t-shirt with a message type of guy. Normally when I’m shopping for clothes, I’m looking for pieces that are comfortable. I have noticed that since I’ve been married with kids, I’ve gone further away from the blacks and grays and ventured out into pastels and brighter colors. Regardless of color, all of my clothes have to have the ability for me to be able to cook in them. I never know when I’m going to cook. I’m picky when I eat and I may cook at other people’s homes just so I can actually eat at other peoples houses. I get that from my moms.
CHUBSTR: Who have the biggest influences been on your career?
YMS: My wife Judith, my mother, my grandmother, and my sister, Mahogany. Judith has believed in me at times when I didn’t even believe in myself and she has always supported my dreams. My mom gave me the instinct to be a natural born hustler. My grandmother showed me the love for cooking which has been passed down in my family from generation to generation. And my sister Mahogany taught me how to make eggs.
CHUBSTR: If you could have any five people at a dinner party, living or dead, who would they be?
YMS: My grandmother, Big Pun, Bob Marley, 50 Cent, and Malcolm X. I feel all these people represent me in the way I approach life.
My grandmother is the reason I cook, but I never got the chance to cook for her. Big Pun’s album Capital Punishment meant so much to me. It got me thru some tough times and I personally feel that it is one of the best freshman albums of all time. It would be my way of thanking him for that. Bob Marley’s music has taught me to just relax and not be so high strung sometimes, so I would love to have a sesh with him and eat some good food. 50 Cent is my “I Don’t Give A Fuck” side: I don’t care what I’m up against, I don’t care who’s in front of me, I will come out victorious. It’s balanced refined aggression, plus I think it would be some of the funniest conversations ever.
I never felt that I was unattractive, I just always knew I wasn’t always everybody’s cup of tea. So you just build your confidence by associating with those that want a sip.
Lastly, I’d love to be able to sit down to dinner with Malcolm X because he was a powerful leader who never bit his tongue for the comfort of others – and that’s me. I’m unapologetically Black, educated, and powerful. So it would be great to just link with another.
CHUBSTR: How do you stay body-positive? What would you tell another big-bodied guy who is struggling to find his style, voice, and identity?
YMS: I’m very confident in the skin that I’m in even though there’s lots of it. I never felt that I was unattractive, I just always knew I wasn’t always everybody’s cup of tea. So you just build your confidence by associating with those that want a sip. I also have a sweet beard and you know beards are like the new six-pack.
I would tell them that self-confidence is key. The more you love yourself and are confident in yourself, the more others see that. Understand that no one’s perfect and everyone’s different.
I stopped caring about what other people thought and started dressing to make myself happy. All the trends were never in my size, so I was kind of forced to create my own style. Thankfully, now there are some great big and tall stores and sections that help big guys stay stylish and unique at the same time.