Chef Justin Yu (Theodore Rex, Houston) Biography (Texas)

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Discover the culinary journey of Chef Justin Yu, the mastermind behind Theodore Rex in Houston, Texas. Explore his innovative approach to gastronomy, blending local flavors with global influences. From his humble beginnings to earning prestigious accolades, Chef Justin Yu’s passion for culinary excellence shines through in every dish. Indulge in a remarkable dining experience as you savor his artistry and creativity on your plate.


Chef Justin Yu, hailing from Houston, Texas, is a culinary force to be reckoned with. With his innovative approach to cooking and a deep-rooted passion for using locally sourced ingredients, he has made a name for himself in the competitive world of gastronomy. This biography delves into Chef Justin Yu’s life, exploring his early influences, his rise to culinary stardom, and his commitment to creating extraordinary dining experiences at his acclaimed restaurant, Theodore Rex.

Early Life and Influences:

Justin Yu was born and raised in Houston, Texas, a city renowned for its diverse culinary scene. Growing up, he developed a profound appreciation for food thanks to his parents, who were both avid home cooks. His mother’s Korean heritage and his father’s Chinese background exposed him to a myriad of flavors and cooking techniques from an early age.

Despite his love for food, Yu initially pursued a different career path, attending the University of Texas at Austin with the intention of becoming an architect. However, his passion for cooking never waned, and after completing his degree, he decided to follow his heart and enter the world of professional cooking.

Culinary Education and Formative Experiences:

In pursuit of culinary excellence, Chef Justin Yu enrolled at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. There, he honed his skills and gained a solid foundation in classic culinary techniques. After graduating, he sought out opportunities to work in some of the finest kitchens in the city.

Yu’s first major break came when he secured a position at the renowned restaurant, Quince, under the tutelage of acclaimed Chef Michael Tusk. This experience proved to be a pivotal moment in his career, exposing him to a whole new level of culinary sophistication and inspiring him to push the boundaries of his own creativity.

Returning to Houston:

After several years in San Francisco, Chef Justin Yu felt a strong pull to return to his hometown of Houston. He recognized the city’s potential as a culinary destination and was eager to contribute to its burgeoning food scene. In 2012, he opened his first restaurant, Oxheart, in the city’s Warehouse District.

Oxheart: A Revolution in Dining:

Oxheart quickly became a sensation, garnering critical acclaim for its innovative tasting menu and commitment to using locally sourced, sustainable ingredients. Chef Justin Yu’s cooking philosophy centered around showcasing the natural flavors of seasonal produce and supporting local farmers and purveyors.

The restaurant’s unique concept, combined with Yu’s meticulous attention to detail and dedication to his craft, earned Oxheart numerous accolades. In 2016, it was named one of Bon Appétit’s “America’s Best New Restaurants,” solidifying Chef Yu’s status as a rising star in the culinary world.

Theodore Rex: A Culinary Evolution:

In 2018, Chef Justin Yu made a bold move, closing Oxheart to embark on a new venture. He reopened the space as Theodore Rex, named after his grandfather, and set out to redefine the concept of fine dining. Theodore Rex embraced a more casual approach, offering an à la carte menu that showcased Yu’s culinary evolution and his continued commitment to locally sourced ingredients.

At Theodore Rex, Chef Yu continued to push the boundaries of his creativity, incorporating global influences and unexpected flavor combinations into his dishes. The restaurant quickly gained recognition, earning a spot on Esquire’s prestigious “Best New Restaurants in America” list in 2019.

Community Engagement and Advocacy:

Beyond his culinary achievements, Chef Justin Yu is deeply involved in his community and uses his platform to advocate for positive change. He actively supports local farmers and food-related initiatives, emphasizing the importance of sustainable practices and building a stronger food system.


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