Wellesley Alum Competes on the Food Network’s “Chopped”

A woman works in a kitchen
Photo provided by Food Network
March 14, 2019

Judy Yao ’15 had never considered entering the food industry before her senior year at Wellesley. In addition to writing her political science thesis, Yao worked at the Hoop, a student-run co-op on campus, which was her first experience in the food world. Soon, she found herself “procrastinating by cooking meals for friends and experimenting with different recipes.”

She sensed that a change of career path was coming. “I loved what I was studying,” she says, “but knew that I would regret it if I didn't pursue my passion while I'm still young and have the physical ability to handle to demands of a kitchen.”

She dropped her thesis and began working part-time as an assistant manager at Clover Food Lab, a restaurant and food-truck chain dedicated to locally sourced ingredients. She credits Wellesley for giving her the courage to enter the food industry and the ability to face the unknown head-on. It was this confidence, Yao says, that spurred her to reach out to Savenor’s Butcher Shop, in Cambridge, Mass., where she learned butchery.

Yao’s butchering skills landed her a spot on the March 5 episode of the Food Network’s cooking competition show Chopped, where contestants cook three dishes under time constraints with the ingredients provided to them. One contestant is eliminated in each round. Though it was the “single most stressful and exhausting experience” she ever had, Yao says, she also “felt empowered to be in an episode that specifically highlighted women butchers, and two out of the four…were women of color!” Butchery is still a male-dominated field, with women making up under a third of the workforce, according to data from the Boston Globe.

After her time at Savenor’s, Yao became the culinary coordinator for the Somerville Arts Council, where she works with immigrant food-entrepreneurs, many of whom are low-income mothers. “Their struggles and strength remind me a lot of my own mom when we moved to the States,” says Yao, who came here with her family from Taiwan as a child. “Trying to balance learning a whole new language and culture, taking care of family, while trying to pursue a business from the ground up is no small feat for anyone.” Overall, she says, it’s an honor to support the city’s immigrant community and spur cultural exchange and a sense of understanding for recent immigrants.