Dara Yu on becoming youngest ‘MasterChef’ winner: ‘I was actually preparing myself not to hear my name’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I was actually preparing myself not to hear my name,” admits “MasterChef” season 12 champion Dara Yu. The 20-year old from Los Angeles became the youngest winner in the show’s history on Wednesday night’s finale. She previously competed on “MasterChef Junior” at the age of 12 where she finished in second place. “I swear I blacked out. A weight was lifted from my back. It took me a while to process that.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

Season 12 of “MasterChef” was all about redemption, when All-Star competitors from the last 11 seasons returned to the show to see if they have learned from their past mistakes. For the first time ever, “MasterChef” re-opened the door to some of the most memorable and talented cooks in the competition’s history. Gordon Ramsay, Aaron Sanchez and Joe Bastianich comprised the judging panel.

Meet the Top 20 returning cooks competing in Season 12

Dara explains how being on the junior cycle of the show eight years ago had prepared her, but differed from this season. “Being on ‘Juniors’ was such an incredible, really fun experience. I made friends. I got to live in a hotel and have take-out every night. Getting to that end, I was just proud of myself to get to that point. But coming back to win for this season, I think around halfway through the season something switched in me. I was like, ‘I really want this now.’ I know how it feels. I want to win this time. It really lit that fire.”

“To be honest, I went into this being like, ‘I’m gonna just see how it goes and I’m gonna have fun,'” Dara reveals. “I know a lot of the contestants, like Derrick [Fox] for sure, was like, ‘I’m here to win! I’m gonna win!’ He had his finale menu prepared probably years ago. He’s been waiting for this moment. For me, I was riding the wave. Every challenge my focus was just getting through each of those challenges. Prior to the semi-finals, during restaurant takeover, it was a really tough week. We did five challenges in one week. It’s a really mentally and physically exhausting process. I got to the semi-finals and I think getting through the top six, I had this new energy to get to the end. I started thinking about my finale dish around the top six. I knew I wanted to cook dishes from my childhood.”

In the season finale Dara competed against Christian Green, a 36-year old from New Orleans, and Michael Silverstein, a 34-year old from Pittsburgh. Her winning meal was an appetizer of Crispy Skin Red Snapper with Grilled Asparagus and Miso Béarnaise Sauce, an entree of Chinese-Style Short Ribs with Japanese Sweet Potato, Spiced Carrots, Caramelized Onions and Carrot Top Gremolata and a dessert of Vanilla Ile Flottante with Creme Anglaise, Tropical Fruit and Caramelized Forbidden Rice.

Throughout the interview we also discuss which challenges Dara thought would send her home, her season highlights, behind the scenes secrets about “MasterChef” production and what the future holds for the young chef.

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