Saturday, March 22, 2014

Totem profiles - Sally Yu

Sally Yu is one of Totem's hardworking chefs.  In her 30 years, she has lived several adventurous lifetimes, with many ups and downs along the way.

It began in San Diego, where she grew up, with 3 younger sisters, and parents who owned a restaurant.    But in her early years, she didn't plan to enter the restaurant industry - she graduated from high school early, and attended college, intending to study medicine.  After a year, though, she realized that she wasn't following her true passion.  She left UCSD to enter culinary school.

By the time Sally was 21, she had graduated from culinary school and opened her first business, a hotpot restaurant in San Diego.  This business unfortunately collapsed after 2 years, due to a bad lease, and her space was yanked out from under her.  At 23, she was heavily in debt.

But she quickly tackled her next project - starting a business importing and selling high-end teas.  This business suffered in the early years of the recession, and she sold it.

In the following years she had success as a consultant, doing contract work for restaurants, helping them to improve all aspects of their businesses.  She then started another business handling catering and corporate events, and also worked as a private chef, doing nutrition counseling.  Sally has done so many different types of jobs in the industry - she has experience as a chocolatier, a line cook, and as a catering chef with Top Chef's Brian Malarkey's company.  She had an unusual break in 2011 when she was picked up by a TV series, Budweiser's The Big Time.  You can see one of her episodes here.

Not long after this, she saw a listing on Craigslist for temporary kitchen help for Totem.  The idea of working with a traveling circus excited her - after food, travel is her next passion - and she signed on.  For a few cities, she became one of Totem's "followers" - temporary staff who follow the show from one city to the next, guaranteed a position (but required to handle their own housing and travel).  In 2012, an opening became available for a permanent position, and Sally was accepted.

For Sally, touring with Totem, a job where she can cook and travel, has been a dream come true.  She loves to explore the cuisines of the different cities we visit.  Work in the Totem kitchen is not easy - the staff changes every city, so there is a lot more training-of-new-people involved (as well as ongoing patience and communication).  The staff is responsible for providing healthy, varied meals for over 150 people a day.  Sally does miss her friends and family at home, and her collection of (300!) cookbooks.  But the future of our Cirque community stretches ahead, and she's looking forward to accompanying the show this summer to New Zealand and Australia.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing and very diverse career path. Way to go on having the courage to pursue the unknown to do what you love so many times and in so many different ways. You are going to have great memories to sit back and enjoy for years to come. You going to have to come home and tell us all stories when you can.