Ronnie Woo had an unconventional path to becoming a chef and TV food personality. A former model, he went on to earn a master’s in marriage and family therapy and an MBA before launching a private chef company, the Delicious Cook, which prepares delicious dishes for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
But Woo hasn’t forgotten his roots. His new cookbook, “Did You Eat Yet?: Craveable Recipes From an All-American Asian Chef,” combines flavors from his American upbringing and Asian heritage for a taste that is truly all-American. Just ask his husband, Doug.
As Woo details to Out, good food makes for a good relationship. And on a broader scale, it can even push back against prejudice.
Out: What inspired you to launch the Delicious Cook, your L.A.-based private chef company?
Ronnie Woo: As cheesy as this sounds, my husband, Doug, was the inspiration behind my pursuit of food. I’ve always loved food, but for the longest time, my perspective of what constituted a career was pretty narrow. And after meeting Doug, who always encouraged me to do what made me happy, that all changed. Combined with academic exhaustion from completing two master’s degrees, plus a little thing called rent, I basically dove headfirst into starting the Delicious Cook.
Your clients include Gwyneth Paltrow, Mindy Kaling, Jessica Alba, Charlie Sheen — and even self-proclaimed D-lister Kathy Griffin. Can you share your favorite experience cooking for a celeb?
Ronnie Woo: They’ve all been my favorite. Except for maybe one of them, but I won’t name names because that’s not nice — although, if you ever run into me in person, I’ll undoubtedly tell you. But if I had to choose, I would say Mindy is the most fun to cook for because she likes to eat the same things that I do, one of her favorites being my crème brûlée bread pudding.
How did your different experiences as a model and graduate student lead to and inform your role as a chef?
Ronnie Woo: It’s definitely been an unexpected hodgepodge of education and experiences that have led to my career in food. The (master’s in marriage and family therapy) has taught me to really listen to my clients — and people, just in general. And the MBA has obviously helped with my business acumen, which is crucial to running a people-oriented hospitality brand.
Funny enough, my modeling career might have given me the most surprising lesson of all, which is that eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and I shouldn’t be in an industry that deprives me of joy, which in this case is delicious food. When I was modeling, I would refrain from eating my favorite things just so I could fit into sample sizes, and it was pure torture. I remember this one time I booked a big job, but after the fitting, my agent called and told me the brand said I looked “full” in my pants and was dropping me from the campaign. I just laughed, because I was the skinniest I had ever been. (I) immediately bought two 4×4 (burgers) and a shake from In-N-Out, went home, and stuffed my face until I passed out from a food coma. From that moment on, I said, “Fuck it, I don’t want a career in something that’s not going to make me happy, and I’m going to eat whatever the hell I want.”
The full title of your book is “Did You Eat Yet?: Craveable Recipes From an All-American Asian Chef.” Gastronomically and politically, can you unpack what it means to be an all-American Asian chef and how that influences the food you prepare?
Ronnie Woo: Ultimately, I really just want to redefine what it means to be all-American. America is a country of great diversity, rich cultures, and, let’s be honest, is built on the backs of immigrants. The definition of all-American is much more than just what you see in an antiquated Abercrombie ad, and it’s really important to recognize that. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that both my American upbringing and my Asian heritage are exactly what make me all-American. In the food space, I always felt the need to fit into a box, but I soon realized that I just needed to make food that felt authentic to me and tasted scrumdiddlyumptious — that’s all that really matters. Some might say my recipes are “Asian-influenced” or maybe even “American-influenced,” but in actuality, they are a culmination of both plus all my other culinary and travel experiences.
How do you hope to shift the cultural conversation as a gay Asian American with a platform in media and food?
There are so many layers to unpack in this question alone, but without writing a 10-page essay, I’ll try my best to answer this in two parts. First, there is the subject of self-identity and how the intersectionality of being gay, Asian, and American can have immensely negative effects on how we view ourselves and who we are as individuals. It’s already confusing to be any one of those identities, let alone all of them at once. Second, there is the subject of self-worth and representation. The AAPI community, in general, is already marginalized, but on top of that, throw in being LGBTQ+, and, more often than not, it feels like we are at the very bottom…even within the LGBTQ+ community. All of this perpetuates the idea that we are invisible and “less than,” which has detrimental repercussions on our mental health. My hope is that the conversation continues to shift toward shining a positive light on the AAPI LGBTQ+ community, tearing down the stigma around taking care of our mental health, and reminding everyone that gay Asian Americans are fucking awesome — and don’t you forget it.
The book title is also a quotation often repeated by your mom in your childhood, “Did you eat yet?” Why is that phrase significant to you, then and now?
Growing up, my parents were never big on verbal expressions of love, so when my mom asked if I had eaten yet, it was her way of telling me that she loved me and wanted to take care of me. To their credit, my folks have become a lot better at saying “I love you” as we’ve gotten older. In a weird way though, when my mom asks, “Did you eat yet?” it almost has more weight than saying “I love you” because it takes a lot of effort to prepare food and feed someone.
What is the power of cooking to nurture romantic relationships?
My 15-year relationship with Doug started out as a simple dinner and continues to grow thanks to our mutual love of food. I cook for him almost daily — it’s my way of taking care of him — and making him dependent on me so he won’t want to leave me…just kidding, sort of. There are so many factors that come into play for a healthy relationship to have longevity, such as being a good listener and sexual chemistry, but being able to make yummy food from scratch for your partner already puts you a step ahead. I will say one thing — if you go on a date with someone who doesn’t love food, run as fast as you can because that’s the biggest red flag that ever existed.
Tell us a story of how a dish brought you and your partner closer together.
Let me tell you about a dish that we call “ASS.” And no, I’m not referring to my booty cheeks. I’m talking about something I made that we nicknamed Awfully Shitty Salmon. It was actually the very first meal that I ever cooked for Doug, and at the time, I thought a certain combo of herbs and spices would really amp up the flavor. But instead, it did the exact opposite. Whatever it was that I put on our plates tasted so hideously disgusting that after just one bite, we both spat it out, looked at each other, and just laughed our tits off. Probably not the answer you were expecting, but it’s something that we laugh about to this day. For the record, I’m an exponentially better cook now.
What do you hope is your takeaway for readers of “Did You Eat Yet?”
My goal with “Did You Eat Yet?” has always been crystal clear from the very start — delicious food, laughter, and a sense of joy. If everyone gets at least two out of those three, I’ll be super happy.