Why Yia Vang Knew He Wasn't Going To Win Iron Chef - Exclusive

Yia Vang went into "Iron Chef: Search For An Iron Legend" knowing he probably wasn't going to walk away victorious. It's not that Vang didn't want to win. The Union Hmong Kitchen founder probably would have been beside himself. Walking into the stadium was electrifying. 

"If you would've told 14, 15-year-old Yia that one day, years later, you're going to be here doing this, he wouldn't believe you," Vang reflected in a recent, exclusive interview with Mashed. "You know how those little kids are always like, 'One day I'm going to grow up and play football, be in the NFL and then I'll go to the Super Bowl'? That's the feeling I got when I walked in." The James Beard-nominated chef had made it.

It's not that Vang thought his opponent was too good to beat, either — although to say that he has a healthy respect for Gabriela Camara would be an understatement. "They didn't tell us [about Camara] that until the day we were in the Green Room ... and I was like, "Wait, hold on," Vang recounted. 'I just watched her on Netflix 'Chef's Table.' I just watched her on 'Master Class?' No. Stop.' Frankly, I was freaking out. TIME named her in the 100 most influential people in the world, and I'm like, 'What?'" 

It's that Vang saw going on "Iron Chef" as an opportunity to do something else — something much more important than winning or losing.  

Yia Vang describes his controversial Iron Chef decision

For Yia Vang, going on "Iron Chef" was a chance to represent on a global stage. "We went in going, 'Strictly, our whole menu is going to be Hmong food.'" he told Mashed. "I knew going in that if we went that route — because, again, this is a game show, you have got to play the game — we probably wouldn't win. I'm like, 'Whatever.'" The executive producer even tried to persuade Vang not to go that route. "They talked a little bit like, 'Maybe you shouldn't. Think of more of a global view,'" Vang recounted. "I'm like, 'Nah man, I'm good.'"

Camara walked away champion of that round. Ultimately, however, Vang won something much bigger. " [It] was really special to hear the response of Hmong people across the country, and across the world too, that responded back to that," the chef reflected. He remembered an email for a Hmong woman in France, in particular. 

"She said, 'I grew up in a different part of France, there was no Hmong people, but we were watching this because Dominique Crenn was on there,'" Vang recollected. "She goes, 'I saw you, and I saw this food, and I was like, I know that food.' I was tearing up reading this. At the end of the day, we felt we made a good choice of going this route. We were very proud of it."

Follow Yia Vang on Instagram for more cooking inspiration. Yia Vang's new show, "Feral," premieres Monday, November 28, on the Outdoor Channel.