WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – When Bowen Li came to the U.S. 12 years ago as a teenager, he never expected that he would end up a professional chef after competing in one of the biggest cooking competitions in the county and as the head chef for a restaurant in West Lafayette.
Li attended high school in the U.S. and college at Purdue, studying aviation.
But as a fifth place finisher on Fox’s ninth season of MasterChef, Li, 27, was given the confidence to take that jump from aviation to the world of cooking.
Born in Tianjin, China, Li’s father was a chef, so a passion for cooking was something that he said “came in my blood.”
After a 2015 car accident at Purdue landed Li in the hospital, he watched many episodes of MasterChef while making his recovery. That inspired him to apply for the competition, and he eventually landed an audition and a spot on the ninth season, which ran from May to September 2018.
MasterChef, which is based on the British series of the same name, is a reality cooking competition open to amateur and home chefs. Winners receive $250,000, a trophy and the title of MasterChef. Li was mentored throughout the season by competition judge and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey.
“The competition made me turn from a home cook to a professional cook,” Li said. “I always thought I was a good cook, and it helped me to get approval from the competition and judges who thought I was a good cook too.”
Li is in the middle of a soft opening as the head chef for Bowen Bistro owned by his husband David Li. Located on 342 East State St. in Wabash Landing, the restaurant is Li’s first, and an upscale “world-fusion” of food, featuring a brunch, lunch and dinner menu inspired by French, Japanese, Korean and Chinese fusion recipes. A grand opening for Bowen Bistro is planned for January.
The food, which features a diverse collection of recipes such as shrimp truffle grits for brunch, chicken marsala for lunch and sukiyaki wagyu gyudon for dinner, is available for dine-in, carry out and catering.
With 12 tables and seating 38 people, its an intimate setting that offers a variety of foods for customers. The restaurant is also open to be used for special occasions, like weddings or birthday parties. Reservations can be made either on the phone or through the restaurant’s website.
Bowen Bistro is also incorporating an unusual limited menu featuring food and sparking wine dusted with 24 karat edible gold leaf: wings, waygu beef burgers and filet mignon. Li said he wanted to allow West Lafayette diners to experience this lavish add-on to food at an affordable price.
Mostly, opening Bowen Bistro is a passion project for Li, who found it easy to develop a diverse world fusion kind of menu.
“I love food, and I feel like I was born to be a chef,” Li said. “It’s a passion for me.”
Emily DeLetter is a news reporter for the Journal & Courier. Contact her at (765) 420-5205 or via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyDeLetter.
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