Chef Yaku Moton-Spruill, 33, displays knife skills in his kitchen at his home in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Chef Yaku Moton-Spruill, 33, displays knife skills in his kitchen at his home in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Will Chef Yaku be the next ‘Food Network Star’?

San Francisco chef Yaku Moton-Spruill knows what he wants to do if he becomes the next Food Network star and gets his own TV show.

“I want to bridge the gap between what people see in restaurants and what they can do at home,” says the 6-foot, 9-inch self-employed caterer, one of 13 competitors in the 12th season of “Food Network Star,” premiering at 9 p.m. today on the Food Network.

The positive 34-year-old karaoke lover and former basketball player may be the man to beat.

“I’m this huge, gigantic dude with tattoos, and the happiest guy in the world,” says Moton-Spruill, who lives in the Excelsior with his wife Judith, 4-year-old son Angel Sayku, and 2-year-old daughter Brooklyn.

He’s also got show business chops. After appearing on NBC’s “Food Fighters,” he competed in three episodes of “Cutthroat Kitchen,” winning once, making pumpkin pie tartlets with toasted nuts and caramel milk sauce — while wearing a one-eyed jack o’lantern on his head.

He has no animosity toward his competitors, and has, in fact become good friends with a few of them. (But he does call the difference between what he experienced filming the shows and the final edited programs “mind-blowing.”)

His road to TV cooking began as a whim, answering a call for “Food Fighters” on Craigslist after he had to leave a sous chef job at Precita Park Café due to a family emergency.

While Moton-Spruill always loved cooking (growing up in Inkster, Mich., his older sister Mahogany showed him how to make eggs when he was about 6, and his mom and grandmother made great turkey with smoked oyster dressing, mac and cheese, ham and greens), he didn’t seriously take it up as a vocation until his sports career (he had a scholarship at Canisius College in New York) waned due to a back injury.

“Playing ball, I broke everything in my body,” he says, “But food got me through the whole depression of giving having to give it up.”

In college, he cooked for friends and catered, and later learned the technical side of food preparation, and being patient in the kitchen, at the California Culinary Academy.

Travels around the world added to his love of food: He liked haggis in Scotland (because it was different) and how cooks created amazing rustic sauces in Tuscany with just four ingredients.

Working a job at the private St. Francis Yacht Club, he created dishes for cruises; favorites included watermelon ceviche, beer-braised pork belly and crab cakes with pineapple dipping sauce. He also smoked whole pigs.

He cooks what he calls “comfort food with a Latin American twist,” taking cues from his heritage; his dad is Puerto Rican and his mom, who gave him his Swahili name, is Jamaican.

But his signature dish, a “take on surf and turf,” is a 36-day, dry-aged, 14-ounce ribeye, with local king salmon, crusted potato cake and broccoli, with a pepper jus reduction.

“It’s a big dish, for multiple people to eat, to come together, to break the ice over the food, and to take a friend away from the experience,” he says.

Moton-Spruill applies that upbeat attitude to all of the “Food Network Star” competitors: “Everybody’s going to get an opportunity,” he says, and the show already has changed his life so significantly.

Because of it, he’s slated to return to Westlake, Mich., to address the 2017 graduating class at John Glenn High School, his alma mater.catererChefCutthroat KitchenFood Network StarYaku Moton-Spruill

Just Posted

Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based vendor, is under contract to supply voting machines for elections in San Francisco. (Kevin N. Hume/Examiner file)
Is San Francisco’s elections director impeding voting machine progress?

Open source technology could break up existing monopoly

The 49ers take on the Packers in Week 3 of the NFL season, before heading into a tough stretch of divisional opponents. (Courtesy San Francisco 49ers)
‘Good for Ball’ or ‘Bad for Ball’ — A Niners analysis

By Mychael Urban Special to The Examiner What’s the first thing that… Continue reading

Health experts praised Salesforce for keeping its Dreamforce conference at Moscone Center outdoors and on a small scale. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Happy birthday, Marc Benioff. Your company did the right thing

Salesforce kept Dreamforce small, which made all kinds of sense

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, pictured with Rose Pak in 2014, says the late Chinatown activist was “helping to guide the community away from the divisions, politically.”
Willie and Rose: How an alliance for the ages shaped SF

How the Mayor and Chinatown activist shaped San Francisco, then and now

The Grove in Golden Gate Park is maintained largely by those who remember San Francisco’s 20,000 AIDS victims.<ins> (Open Eye Pictures/New York Times)</ins>
Looking at COVID through the SF prism of AIDS

AIDS took 40 years to claim 700,000 lives. COVID surpassed that number in 21 months

Most Read