|Top Chef Just Desserts last fall.|
The San Francisco baker is fast becoming a celebrity both nationally and within local gay and foodie circles following his winning the inaugural season of Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts . He is the first out chef to win one of the programs’ cooking competitions.
His local fans are pushing to see him be named a grand marshal of this year’s Pride Parade. And nonprofits, from LGBT rights groups to food pantries, are marshaling his newfound fame to help them fundraise.
"This has been a professional catapult for me. One thing I am very pleased about is I am also able to use this as grounds to do some work within our community," said Pura during a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter . "I don’t like the term celebrity but if I can be a role model I would take the responsibility on."
Out magazine recently named the 30-year-old Pura one of its 100 most eligible gay bachelors and set up a link on its website for guys to ask him out via his Facebook page. Pura will find out Monday if the publication’s readers picked him as one of their 10 most dateable guys.
"I selected Yigit for the 100 Bachelors because he’s talented, well-spoken, intelligent, and - last but not least - adorable," explained the magazine’s associate editor Noah Michelson.
With all the attention, and several online marriage proposals from his admirers, Pura said he has yet to be hit by Cupid’s arrow. He plans to just grab drinks with friends this Valentine’s Day.
"Things happen when they happen," said Pura, the executive pastry chef for Taste Catering and Event Planning.
He has had a long-term boyfriend in the past, and in December he tweeted about wanting to fall in love again.
"Odd, I know, but sometimes I think life would be a lot SIMPLER if I had a boyfriend again! Or is the grass just greener on the other side?" wrote Pura.
For now, though, Pura’s main love is cooking and being in the kitchen.
"It’s always been my greatest love, I would say," said Pura. "I feel very blessed. From a very young age I knew what I wanted to do."
Pura spent his early years in Ankara, Turkey, and at the age of 4, he began learning how to cook from his mother. The family moved to the Bay Area when Pura was 12, and as he explained in a video he taped for the "It Gets Better" campaign aimed at LGBT youth, it was no picnic.
"I went to a racist high school. People picked on me because of my racial background and culture. People would make gay jokes," says Pura in the clip. "In high school I did not have a lot of friends. I knew down the line there had to be some hope and some light."
It came during his second week of college when Pura kissed his first boy and "it was like rainbows exploded all around me." The next year he came out to his family, who took some time to accept his being gay but eventually came around to be fully supportive.
"I have a gay sister now, too. My mom is a great gay rights fighter," says Pura in his video.
At the age of 20 Pura turned his attention to his culinary training. He moved to New York and was hired first at Le Cirque 2000 then landed a job at the Four Seasons Hotel. He caught the eye of celebrity chef Daniel Boulud, who hired him to be the pastry sous chef at his restaurant Daniel.
He then was promoted to be the executive pastry chef for Daniel Boulud in Las Vegas. Four years ago he quit to return to San Francisco and was hired by the owners of Taste.
He plans to use the $110,000 cash prize from the TV show - $100,000 for being the winner plus another $10,000 for being picked the fans’ favorite contestant - to open a high-end pastry shop in Union Square. He is currently scouting for a location and hopes to greet his first customers in early 2012.
"Recently, someone asked me if I want to be the next Martha Stewart of desserts and I said, ’No. I want to be myself,’" said Pura, who is partnering with his bosses at Taste to open his sweet shop and will leave his position with the catering company when he does.
After Pura appeared shirtless sporting a defined set of abs on one episode of Top Chef, the Internet was abuzz about his physique. And more pictures of his torso soon surfaced online.
His fit figure isn’t due to Pura being born without a sweet tooth. He readily admits he is a constant consumer of his own confections.
"Probably 70 percent of my diet is based on sugar," he says. "I would like to say it is effortless, but I exercise six times a week. For me it is not a means to a body; it is more a mental thing. The gym is one and a half hours of quiet time where I can focus."
Pura is also an avid bicyclist, and before being picked for the Bravo program, he had planned to do the AIDS/LifeCycle ride along California’s coast organized by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center.
"I was training for the AIDS ride last year but couldn’t do it. I had to do promotions for the show," said Pura, who can’t participate this year either because "life is too busy."
His life has become a whirlwind since winning the bake off. In addition to his work at Taste, Pura is donating his time to help numerous organizations raise money. He is flying down to Orlando next month to take part in the Human Rights Campaign’s Cook 2011 fundraiser.
In April he plans to take part in a local fundraiser for the Trevor Project, which runs a hotline for LGBT and questioning youth. And in May he will once again participate in Meals on Wheels of San Francisco’s annual Star Chefs and Vintners Gala.
As for finding someone to love, Pura does have some tricks amid his cache of dessert recipes. After all, as the saying goes, the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
"Absolutely," says Pura when asked if he believes in the proverb. "Being a pastry chef, it is always an easy way to get people’s attention and admiration. I would like to think my personality does that on its own. But being a talented pastry chef certainly doesn’t hurt I think."