By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Acclaimed movie actor and host of the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” Mark Dacascos was the host at the Wing Luke Asian Museum’s Year of New Beginnings Dinner and Auction. The event took place on April 4 at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center.
It featured local chefs Gerold Castro of Kawali Grill, Gian Jaswal of India Bistro, Alex Nguyen of Saigon Bistro, Alan Quan of Four Seas, Christina Scholz of ATA Farms, and Rachel Yang of Joule.
Born and raised in Hawaii until he was 6, Dacascos adopted his family’s devotion to the martial arts and won his first international tournament — the Long Beach Internationals — at age 9 in 1973. He also won the lightweight championship in the brown belt division at the European Kung Fu and Karate Championships in 1982.
“When a lot of other families went off to picnics or played tennis on the weekends, we went off to tournaments, and we would all fight in the tournaments,” said Dacascos, 45.
His father, Al Dacascos, was his first martial arts instructor. Al Dacascos founded a new form of martial arts that combined Chinese and Filipino elements. It is called Wun Hop Kuen Do. “He’s of Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino descent,” Mark Dacascos said of his father. “He’s a professional martial arts instructor, but [my grandfather] was an orchestra leader.”
Al Dacascos and martial arts legend Bruce Lee crossed paths at one international competition. “They met each other, … became friends, traded ideas, and so forth. When Bruce Lee passed away in 1973, Linda (Bruce’s wife) and some producers were going to [film] the life story [of] her husband at that time.
And, her first choice to play Bruce Lee happened to be my father,” Dacascos said.
Actor Jason Scott Lee eventually played the role in Rob Cohen’s “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” (1993).
Mark Dacascos said his stepmother, Malia Bernal, was the top-rated female martial artist for five years.
After living in Colorado for a few years, the Dacascos family moved to Hamburg, Germany, when he was 11.
Dacascos is of Japanese, Irish, Filipino, Chinese, and Spanish descent. “[In Germany], I was in a position where I was proud of who I was, but I wanted to fit in with everyone else. So, I couldn’t be like the Germans and the Caucasians, which forced me even more to want to be more Asian,” he pointed out. He speaks Mandarin, German, and English.
He is also a musician, gymnast, and an actor.
While walking in San Francisco’s Chinatown with his then-girlfriend, a stranger asked him if he’d like to audition for a movie. That stranger turned out to be Chris Lee, assistant director of “Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart” (1985).
Dacascos got his big break playing the boyfriend of “one of the lead girls.”
He went on to star in more than 25 feature films, including “Sanctuary” (1997), “Brotherhood of the Wolf” (2001), and “Scorcher” (2002).
He also starred as the title character (Eric Draven) on the syndicated TV show, “The Crow: Stairway to Heaven,” in 1998.
In 2004, Dacascos became the nephew of Japan’s Chairman Kaga, who decided that America was worthy of having its own Kitchen Stadium in
“Iron Chef America: Battle of the Masters.” Now known as ‘The Chairman’ in “Iron Chef America: The Series,” Dacascos presides over an intense battle featuring some of the world’s most famous chefs.
He said he was a fan of the original show. “I have to say the chefs on our show are the best of the best. … I think the reason we have success is that the audience, both live and in TV land, can feel the energy,” he said regarding what makes his show unique.
However, Dacascos will always value martial arts.
“(It) has always been a part of my life, and I’ll work hard to keep it that way. …
If I’m honest with myself, there’s never been a time that I’ve thought that I’d stop altogether,” he said. (end)
For more information about Mark Dacascos, go to www.foodnetwork.com/chefs/mark-dacascos/index.html and www.dacascos.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.