UC Irvine alum Melissa King is the latest winner of “Top Chef All-Stars,” Bravo’s culinary competition show. King is the quintessential entrepreneurial chef and uses her platform to partner with nonprofits supporting minority communities.
As an Asian American queer woman, I hope winning ‘Top Chef All-Stars’ and my success can be an example to my communities that we can achieve anything we set our hearts (on).
King showcased the flavors of her Chinese American upbringing as well as her training in fine dining and Michelin-starred restaurants during her time on the show. “I grew up on fairly homestyle Cantonese dishes: steamed whole fish, Chinese bone broth, sauteed bok choy. … We always had steamed rice in the rice cooker. Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, I would go to dim sum every Sunday with grandma, and boba shops were everywhere.”
Before graduating at the top of her class at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, King studied cognitive science at UC Irvine. “My sister and her now-husband were going to Irvine at the time as well, so we are an Anteater family. I remember I just spent all my time cooking and cooking for my roommates and my friends. And that became the thing that brought us all together. That’s where I found my community was through food and even just through going out to eat in O.C. There were just so many amazing Asian restaurants and flavors, boba shops, Korean barbecue—all that stuff is down there.”
Having competed in a previous season of “Top Chef,” King’s journey to being crowned the Season 17 all-star winner was also one of growing her self-confidence. “I kind of went through this whole transformative experience with ‘Top Chef: Boston,’ where I was really finding myself as a chef and finding my voice. Fast-forward five years later on all-stars, I think you see a different person competing. You really see the person I’ve grown into and matured into today.”
King has modeled for a Levi’s Pride campaign and collaborated with Sidecar Doughnuts in Costa Mesa to create a flavor for Pride Month. After also being crowned her latest season’s Fan Favorite, King donated all $10,000 of the prize money to Black Visions Collective, Asian Americans for Equality, Asian Youth Center, and The Trevor Project. “I look at myself as a triple minority in that I’m Asian American, female, and queer. Each of those charities that I specifically targeted just felt really close to me.”
The downtime during the pandemic inspired King to start hosting virtual cooking classes, with proceeds going to nonprofits. She also juggles a variety of projects, from her own line of small-batch sauces to developing Humphry Slocombe ice cream flavors, including one inspired by Hong Kong milk tea. “I found inspiration to create avenues where I could teach people and continue to spread my knowledge of food, and I noticed everyone had to become a home chef overnight. It was really a way for me to just help people cook better at home and give back where I can.”
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For her virtual cooking webinars and online shop, visit chefmelissaking.com.