Melissa King’s Signature Dish

The cult-culinary hero and Top Chef Masters winner’s recipe of lobster wontons in yuzu broth is inspired by community-building and nostalgia.

Words by Jesse Szewczyk
Photography by Ashley Batz


Melissa King remembers practicing folding wontons at an early age. “As a kid I would sit around the dining room table with my family learning to create dumplings,” she recalls.

The intricate tradition is one that the chef has carried throughout her professional career since, cooking for intimate parties of 10 to groups upwards of two thousand. One of her wontons, in fact, helped her win Top Chef, with the competitive cooking show’s judges describing King’s plated product as “stunning.”

Another, her signature recipe of lobster wontons in yuzu broth with scallion oil, is not only delicious but also tells the story of her home.

“It’s a dish that started as an idea from something I ate as a child,” says King, a Cantonese-American Cali-native, who grew up in Los Angeles, where her parents migrated from Hong Kong, and currently lives in San Francisco.

She studied at the Culinary Institute of America, graduating at the top of her class, and has trained in numerous Michelin-starred kitchens, including the renowned Campton Place and Luce.

The chef has cooked for celebrities like Oprah and recently curated the menu this year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s infamous Met Gala.

And so King’s signature recipe blends this impressive culinary background with the essence and tradition of her early memories.

“It’s something that’s new and different and exciting,” she says.

To make the dish, King starts with a homemade broth that draws inspiration from Japanese cooking.

She slowly simmers a bounty of umami-rich ingredients together from bonito flakes to kombu to create a savory stock that resembles Japanese dashi. King then strains the broth and seasons it with soy sauce, mirin, and a touch of butter for richness.

For the finishing touch, the chef draws on yuzu—a sour citrus fruit prized for its alluring fragrance—to bring complexity and brightness to the broth.

But it’s with the star of the show that King’s true personality shines. A departure from the traditional shrimp or pork, the chef packs her dumplings with lobster, each of which are filled and then delicately folded by hand.

According to their maker, the practice is labor intensive and takes time. Having a crowd of helping hands is key: “It’s really something that brings everyone to the dinner table.”

“Anything that you make with your hands is always special,” she explains. “It takes a lot of effort and love.”

This act of togetherness fosters the sense of love and community that is reflective of the chef’s work outside of her kitchen.

King is passionate about supporting her community and works with organizations including the Human Rights Campaign and Stop AAPI Hate.

After winning Top Chef’s coveted fan-favorite award, she donated the entirety of the ten-thousand-dollar prize to charity.

Given the philanthropic nature of her work, it’s no surprise that those same messages of love and generosity are felt through her cooking.

Finishing off her creation, King nestles her wontons in the broth and drizzles a charred scallion oil over top for further enlivenment.

Depending on the occasion, she tops each wonton with a crowning of caviar to add a celebratory salty bite. It’s a dish that King calls heartwarming; one that symbolizes the soul of her childhood and celebrates her community.

“Anything that you make with your hands is always special,” she explains. “It takes a lot of effort and love.”

Follow Melissa King on Instagram.

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