China-born Dan Wu’s passion for food has led him around the country and back again, with stints in San Francisco, New York and a coveted position on Master Chef. Now, he graces Lexington with his epicurean talents, bringing unique flavors (and his famous ramen) to our bourgeoning food scene. Wu calls it "Lexington’s first super-powered noodle shop."
Red velvet cake might be really, really tasty, but chef Dan Wu will tell you ramen is better.
The nation mourned when Lexington’s own ramen master and lover of comic books lost out to red velvet cake on the popular MasterChef FOX reality TV show.
Wu’s journey to becoming the “Atomic Ramen creator” has been winding and adventurous. The 43-year-old chef was born in China, as he says, “with no knowledge of the X-men, Godzilla or Sriracha.”
When he moved to the United States in 1982 at age eight, he recalls his first present being a set of green plastic army men and enjoying a delicious three-piece KFC box as his first American meal, leaving Wu in a mind blown state. Wu’s father worked at the University of Kentucky as a scientist and his family eventually opened a group of Subway shops across the city where he gained his first culinary knowledge while working at one of their locations in high school.
Wu studied art studio at the University of Kentucky and throughout his college experience was constantly jazzing up the classic undergrad student staple, top-ramen, with leftovers – winning over the taste buds of his roommates. Following college, he moved away to work in retail as a writer and editor. Circa 1997, Wu tried his first bowl of authentic ramen in San Francisco’s Japantown and was instantly hooked. He spent the next nine years living, working and eating his way through San Francisco and New York, while “forgetting to save for retirement” yet collecting some of the most valuable Miyazaki posters and action figures.
In 2006, Wu moved back to Lexington where he developed and sold a barbecue sauce he named “Redneck Chinaman.”
On a whim in 2014, Wu used his ramen expertise to audition and secure a coveted apron on MasterChef with his signature Ramen bowl. Wu fought hard through eight rounds only to eventually be defeated by the dreaded baked good known as red velvet cake.
Never one to dwell on the negative – or take himself too seriously – Wu returned to Lexington after his experience on the popular television show to cook, eat, write and host a (now independent) podcast about the burgeoning local food scene. Wu’s podcast “Cultural Evangelist” has been on-air for three years and featured several fellow tenants of The Barn, including Ouita Michel and Toa Green.
Although Wu found passion in his interviews, various kitchen roles and written foodie tales, he couldn’t stop thinking about ramen. Lexington diners have been falling in love with Atomic Ramen over the past several years through pop-up shops around town and within a few weeks, visitors of The Barn at Fritz Farm can celebrate Wu’s passion for authentic comfort food at the new permanent home of Atomic Ramen, his superhero-themed ramen shop.
“With Atomic Ramen, I get to combine my two life-long geek loves of pop culture and comic books with my passion for cooking.” —Dan Wu