Yigit Pura :: Top Chef Just Desserts’ winner (and sex symbol)
While there may have been some question about how exciting a competition show could be about baking, all those questions were answered with the resounding success of the Top Chef spin-off, Top Chef Just Desserts. With all the drama, conflict and tension of its parent show, Just Desserts, hosted by Gail Simmons, brought not only great television but a strong gay presence in the form of several gay contestants.
While New York’s Zac Young brought a flamboyant flair with his dessert creations and now-infamous disco dust, it was out and proud Yigit (pronounced yeet) Pura that ended up walking away with the title of Top Chef, $100,000 awarded by Godiva Chocolatier, a feature in Food and Wine magazine, a showcase at the Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival and a 2011 German Engineered Sport Injected Buick Regal.
EDGE talked to Yigit recently about winning the first season of the spin-off, being the emerging sex symbol of the show (and whether he’s single) and how he dealt with some of the aggressive homophobic rants of one of the runners-up in the competition.
EDGE: First of all, congratulations on winning the first Top Chef: Just Desserts but also being the first out winner of any of the Top Chef winners!
Yigit Pura: Thank you, Sir. Well, I think Top Chef has had a few gay contestants but they were never comfortably out, which is a shame.
EDGE: How has it been since you won the competition?
Yigit Pura: It’s been a shell shock in many ways. Even half way through the show a lot of people had been coming up to me and people had recognized me on the street, which has always been very nice but now people are even more excited.
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Watch this appearance of Yigit Pura at Macy’s in San Francisco:
Keeping cool under pressure
EDGE: It has to be surreal for you having watched these shows and then suddenly you’re on them and people are recognizing you. Do you get used to it?
Yigit Pura: You get used to it to a certain extent. Every time someone recognizes me I just get tickled. The odd fact is that most pastry chefs are pretty introverted and internal creatures and they’re socially awkward.
EDGE: Was the experience on the show more mental and emotional than you expected it to be?
Yigit Pura: Oh, absolutely. In the kitchen you’re constantly working under time restraints and you’re trying to get things done and one thing I’ve found over the years is that if you open up that emotional barrier where you ignore the fact that you’re upset or when you’re behind of your work, once you get to that level, all hell breaks loose. During the show, some people were being so nasty and I was just trying to keep my composure.
EDGE: Was there any thought about being out or not before you jumped into the show?
Yigit Pura: There was definitely a thought in doing that but my thought was that I definitely wanted to be out and proud. I’ve been out since I was 18 years old and when I kicked that closet door down I never looked back. I do a lot of HIV prevention work and I think it’s something I feel very proud about and it’s very important to me. I wanted to have that as a platform to show the majority of America the fact that being gay is just as significant as being white or yellow or being five foot eleven or anything else. It’s little stuff like that that will start changing people’s minds.
EDGE: Do you think you would’ve done as well if you didn’t bond with some of your fellow contestants like Zac and the whole Team Diva gang?
Yigit Pura: Well, I think some chefs tend to work better alone but even in my own kitchen I have a great team with my sous chef and all my cooks. I try to create a fun energy in my kitchen. We’ll play a lot of music and we’ll dance and we’ll be very focused on the task at hand so having a little breathing room can definitely go a long way. As far as forming bonds and friendships, it’s great except when they’re taken away from you and it’s heartbreaking. When Heather left the show...she and I worked next to each other, we slept next to each other and it was just a horrendous experience when she went home. I completely came undone.
EDGE: I think you and Zac need a spin-off show of some kind. You were so fun together.
Yigit Pura: Some people have said we should do The Amazing Race together [laughs] but we have a few ideas we’re working on. We’re thinking of doing something like Tabatha’s Salon Takeover and having a Diva Pastry Takeover!
EDGE: We have to talk about Morgan a little bit. I’m curious what the experience was for you. He came off as very villainous and very homophobic a lot of the times. Your thoughts?
Yigit Pura: Morgan is a completely brilliant pastry chef. The guy is so talented and I think that goes without saying. There is a part of Morgan who is a really nice guy but I want to say it’s almost like a duality. There’s a part of him that wants to do well by people but, however, I don’t know if it’s embedded or learned behavior but you have to know that in being a decent human being it’s not okay to want to knock someone’s skull off or the fact that you call someone a little fairy. During the show I realized it wasn’t my place to change him and he wasn’t going to change so I just picked and chose my battles.
EDGE: Did you guys talk about it after tempers had calmed down? Did he apologize?
Yigit Pura: Well, the day after the finale we all went home. I had just won and I didn’t want to rub it in his face and he was very gracious and offered congratulations, which was really lovely, but I haven’t kept in touch with him and quite frankly I don’t want to.
EDGE: Are you aware that you’re something of a sex symbol from the show?
Yigit Pura: Yes, it did cross my attention. I don’t know what to say about that except that I’m still single.
EDGE: Are you looking?
Yigit Pura: I’m definitely very single right now.
EDGE: What’s the plan from this point on after winning Top Chef Just Desserts?
Yigit Pura: Well, I’m hoping to have a little vacation but I haven’t really decided. I think there are a lot of great prospects in the future but I think I definitely want to work on opening my own place next year and that would be incredible.
You can follow Yigit on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/YigitPura or his Twitter
Watch Yigit Pura ("Top Chef Just Desserts") - "It Gets Better" video: