Lexington chef Dan Wu, who will open Atomic Ramen at the food hall at The Summit at Fritz Farm in September, has been around more than you expect.
Born in China, Wu, 43, moved with his parents to Fargo, N.D., and eventually Lexington. His father worked at the University of Kentucky as a scientist. Wu himself spent his post-college years in San Francisco and New York City before returning to Lexington in 2006.
His family eventually opened a group of Subway sandwich shops. Wu worked at one of them while still a high school student at Henry Clay.
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At UK, he studied art studio, then moved away to work in retail, as a writer/editor, and in the dot.com boom — “the last of the boom and a little bit of the bust,” Wu said.
So, how’d Wu get from working at Subway to opening his own restaurant?
“I started cooking kind of as an amateur,” Wu said. “After I moved back to Lexington, I ate my way through all the local restaurants in about a month. ‘MasterChef’ was the thing that kicked down the door.”
Wu was a contestant on the FOX cooking show in 2014. The specific item that caused him to be eliminated was a red velvet cake.
Wu does not like to bake. He considers it more of a science than cooking, which he thinks is an art. Baking requires precise measurements, and Wu had, before making recipes for Atomic Ramen, never been much for writing down precise recipes and measurements.
Wu has also hosted and produced his own podcast, “Culinary Evangelist,” for three years. It started on WRFL, went to Lexington Community Radio and is now an independent podcast. With over 100 episodes recorded, he has interviewed Ouita Michel, the Midway chef whose restaurant presence is continuing to grow across the region; Toa Green, owner of Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge; and Ashton Potter Wright, now local food coordinator on the staff of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.
His interview subjects and fellow owners showed him “how interconnected everything is and how supportive everyone is of each other” in Bluegrass cookery, he said.
Wu credits his acquaintances among restaurateurs and other food professionals with motivating him to instill an element of giving back to the community in his work.
“The more I talk to people for my show, the more I see there are a lot of people who are smart in doing well by doing good” in the community at large, Wu said.
He describes the group of restaurateurs going into the food hall at The Summit as “like a superhero team of Lexington restaurants.”
He looks forward to educating customers who come to the food hall, but at the same time he wants to concentrate on customer service and creating a “scale-able” product that can expand, he said.
“A big part of my job is educating,” he said.
Wyn Morris, who owned the now-closed Morris Book Shop, has known Wu both as a customer and someone who would invite four people over to his apartment and cook for them even as he talked to them about the ingredients and cooking methods.
On Morris’ birthday a few years back, his wife brought Wu to the Morris home to cook, mainly tiny dishes such as stuffed endive and mushroom tempura.
“He takes his cooking very seriously and he likes to tell you what he’s doing, so it’s really interesting to have him cook in your kitchen,” Morris said. “Fancy food can be quite easy to do.”
Wu said he is a chef who has figured out his niche and is comfortable there.
“I’m never going to be the best chef in this town,” he said. “But none of the others have a podcast, have those nonprofit connections. I just want to make this the best version of a fast-casual ramen restaurant.”