For Rob Yu, his foray into the culinary world began around the family grill.

Yu, who graduated from Humber College’s Culinary Management program in 2013, would often work the grill at his family get-togethers. He would happily step in for his dad, who taught him how to use the grill making Filipino dishes, or his uncles and it sparked a passion for food that continues to this day.

Yu, who is the executive chef of Vaughan restaurant Yokai Izakaya, has been named as one of Kostuch Media’s 2023 Top 30-Under-30 award winners.  

“It was quite a shock”

Also included on this year’s list are Humber graduates Anthony Marchisello and Adam Lafleur. Last year, Humber alumna Liezle Espejo was named as one of the 2022 award winners.

“To be honest with you, it was quite a shock,” said Yu. “It’s humbling to be on this list and to find out my good friend and fellow Humber alumni Adam also won the award the same year is great.”

Yu joked he was happy to make the list in his final year of eligibility before he turns 30.

His Humber professors were happy to see him win the award. Professor Francisco Rivera described Yu as an eager learner who wasn’t afraid to try experimenting in class while Professor Shonah Chalmers said he was a natural mentor to others.

“Chef Rob Yu takes the path less travelled and never takes short cuts in learning or cooking, a valuable find in our industry,” wrote Chalmers in a letter supporting Yu’s nomination.

Several chefs cook inside a restaurant’s kitchen.

Yu’s journey has taken him as far away as the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, where he was able to further refine his international cuisine cooking skills. Prior to that, he spent several years at the Eagles Nest Golf Course, which is where he did his Humber work placement.  

He moved on to other places including Spanish tapas restaurant Tapagria. He worked at the Aria Bistro in Brampton and eventually landed the position of corporate executive sous chef with Cashew & Clive where he was running a larger team and continued to develop his management skills.  

Executive chef at Yokai Izakaya

Yu was thrilled when he secured an executive chef position at Blacksmiths Bistro a few years back. It was a position he had always wanted. But that excitement was short-lived as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the restaurant was forced to close.

Dejected but not despondent, Yu took some time to himself and started driving for Uber Eats to stay connected to the industry and to see how other restaurants were pivoting to takeout and delivery.

When he heard about the Yokai Izakaya opportunity, he jumped at it. He’s been there since 2022. Earlier this year, it was seventh on Toronto Life’s annual ranking of the city's best new restaurants for 2023.

What really appealed to Yu about his current job is that it was a brand-new restaurant, meaning he was able to create his own menu and build his own team.  

“This is my baby, and I don’t have any intention of letting go of it,” said Yu. “The menu, the staff, the core values – they are all truly reflective of myself and my journey.”

Three people stand in a row wearing aprons that read Yokai Izakaya.

Yu says his kitchen is welcoming and supportive and one where everyone truly feels part of a team.

“I want to be a chef and mentor like I wish I had when I was coming up,” said Yu. “I really want to make them feel like they’re part of our family.”

Learn more about Humber’s Culinary Management program with this video.

Yokaie Izakaya is located at 3175 Rutherford Road Unit 28.