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The Daily Dish Top Chef

Mei Lin Shares How Top Chef Inspired Her to Cook What “Actually Resonates” with Her

The Bravo’s Top Chef Season 12 winner opens up about why the competition brought her back to the food she grew up eating. 

By Abby Feiner
Buddha Lo Gives a Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Top Chef Season 20 Hotel

After competing on Bravo’s Top ChefMei Lin walked away not only as the winner of Season 12 but with newfound inspiration to return to her roots in cooking. 

How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

In a 2022 interview with No Kid Hungry, Mei (who currently owns Daybird, a fast-casual Szechuan hot chicken restaurant in Los Angles) explained, “It wasn’t until after I finished filming Top Chef that I realized I wanted to cook more of the food I grew up eating.” Opening up to in March, Mei shared more about how her experience on the show changed the way she was cooking at that time. 

“I think when you go through a competition like Top Chef, you start cooking the food that you learned to make throughout your career. But then you realize when you get different challenges thrown at you, you want to cook more of the food that actually resonates with you,” Mei explained via email. “And for me, I grew up in a Chinese family eating Chinese food, and also Middle Eastern food because of the area I grew up in [Dearborn, Michigan], so it only makes sense that you really start to draw from your experiences.”

Mei’s Go-To Dishes from Her Childhood

The dishes Mei grew up with that she continues to make today are “comforting” and “warm” and remind her of family. “One of those dishes being Hainan chicken and rice,” she wrote. “It’s poached chicken with chicken fat rice and usually with a variety of different dipping sauces. Congee being another. My favorite is 1,000-year-old egg with lean pork. It’s very plain, but I like to season it up with lots of ground white pepper, seasoned soy sauce, and scallion. And steamed fish with sizzling oil.”

Mei’s Connection Between Food and Family

Mei Lin in Top Chef Season 12.

For Mei, family and cooking have always gone hand-in-hand. “Family get-togethers when I was young truly shaped me,” she shared. “They were always filled with lots of food, almost always potluck style. Everyone bringing or making dishes at the house and really just having fun with family is truly what life is all about.”

When they weren’t surrounded by food at home, Mei and her family spent their time cooking in their restaurant, which had a significant influence on her career today. “Working at my parents’ restaurant was hard in itself. I think that working for family is sometimes difficult, especially when you’re a teenager trying to hang out with your friends,” she wrote. “But starting to work at such a young age, I really developed a good work ethic, which my parents instilled in me.”

How Mei Continues to Support the AAPI Community

Mei Lin Aapi Heritage Month Interview 1

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, Mei is encouraging readers to show continual support for multiple organizations, including Stop AAPI HateHeart of Dinner, and Hate Is a Virus. Stop AAPI Hate “tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.” Heart of Dinner works to “combat food insecurity and isolation among Asian American elderly who face inequity… by delivering care packages of hot lunches and fresh produce every Wednesday, lovingly paired with a handwritten and illustrated letter in their native language to bring warmth and comfort.” Hate Is a Virus continues to “amplify, educate, and activate AAPI to stand for justice and equality in solidarity with other communities… by mobilizing our community to participate in local and national campaigns, creating safe spaces for dialogue and education, and providing actionable steps and funding in partnership with trusted community leaders and organizations.”

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