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Top Chef has an outstanding new host and judge, plus a curious new location

Top Chef has an outstanding new host and judge, plus a curious new location
Kristen Kish on her show Restaurants at the End of the World at Sem Pressa floating restaurant in Paraty, Brazil. (Photo by Autumn Sonnichsen/National Geographic for Disney)

Bravo today announced the new host and judge of its culinary reality TV competition Top Chef: Kristen Kish, an accomplished chef, cookbook author, and also a Top Chef winner and an experienced reality TV host.

Kristen joins head judge and Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, who are both executive producers on Top Chef season 21, though Kristen does not (yet) have a producing credit, like former host Padma Lakshmi eventually did.

Most recently, Kristen both hosted and produced the fantastic NatGeo series Restaurants at the End of the World, on which she traveled to remote restaurants and learned about their cuisine and produce.

Previous, she co-hosted the super-fun truTV show Fast Foodies with two other Top Chef alum, and also co-hosted Netflix’s meh reboot of Iron Chef alongside Alton Brown.

A person wearing a white collared shirt and an apron with the letters KK embroidered on it
Kristen Kish, the new host of Top Chef, who will start hosting with Top Chef Wisconsin, season 21 (Photo via Bravo)

Kristen will host Top Chef 21, which is headed to the culinary food capital of, uh, Wisconsin.

I was born in Wisconsin, so I visit often and have a special place for it in my heart. But also the only Wisconsin food I’m familiar with are cheese curds and hot dish, which my dad used to make for us when my mom traveled.

Specifically, Top Chef season 21 will be filmed in Milwaukee and Madison, which Bravo says have “a backdrop of picturesque landscapes, acres of farmland, miles of shoreline and vibrant urban communities” and “fresh flavors and local bounty of this rising culinary destination. ”  

While that may be press release language, there is some culinary tradition there: Padma Lakshmi’s Taste the Nation filmed its second episode in Milwaukee, focusing on how classic American foods like the hot dog were actually brought to the area by immigrants.

Speaking of Padma: She wrote on Instagram, “I’m so proud of you [Kristen] and am over the moon that you’ll be taking over for me on Top Chef!!! I’ll be rooting for you and our whole crew next season. Congratulations!!!”

A ‘coming home’ for Kristen Kish

Top Chef and Fast Foodies' Kristen Kish hosts Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend
Top Chef and Fast Foodies’ Kristen Kish hosts Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend. (Photo by Patrick Wymore/Netflix)

Bravo’s other competition series, Project Runway, has demonstrated this season and last that a competition show with a strong judges’ panel can work without a host. So I’m a little surprised that Bravo didn’t go the same direction with Top Chef.

That said, Kristen is a fantastic choice: Her work on the other series as host has proven her versatility. She knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the camera on Top Chef, thanks to her participation as one of the alum who helped host and judge the Portland season.

When I interviewed Kristen earlier this year, she told me that Iron Chef was more restrictive, as “I had a task and my job was to commentate.” While Top Chef is not as freewheeling as Fast Foodies, being host and judge will give her more of a chance to use her talents.

Kristen also told me she is most comfortable with the truly unscripted parts of the job: “I don’t really want to know that much because I can’t act. So if you have me meet somebody for the fifth time and look surprised, I can’t give you that surprise. I just can’t. We’re doing reality TV, not scripted.”

I’m excited to see her version of Top Chef, though we’ll have to wait probably until next spring for that.

In a press release, Kristen said, “Top Chef is where I started my journey—first as a competing chef, then a guest judge and now as host I have the honor of helping to continue to build this brand. I’m thrilled to sit alongside Gail and Tom as we get to know new incredible chefs and see what they cook up. It feels like coming home.” 

Magical Elves CEOs Casey Kriley and Jo Sharon said in a joint statement that “Kristen is a beloved part of the Top Chef family, and we’re thrilled to have her join and bring to the competition her unique, fresh and global culinary perspective, as well as her true passion for food.”   

Here’s Kristen’s official bio from Bravo:

Kish was born in South Korea and adopted into a family in Kentwood, Mich. At a young age she showed an affinity for cooking and, prompted by her mother, attended Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. After culinary school, Kristen spent the next 10 years in Boston honing her skills in several high-profile restaurants, ultimately becoming the Chef de Cuisine at a Relais & Chateaux property. From 2012-13, Kish competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 10 where she ultimately won the coveted title. From there she went on to co-host “36 Hours,” a Travel Channel show that partnered with The New York Times to bring the hit newspaper column of the same name to television. In 2017, Kristen released her first cookbook, “Kristen Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques,” and in 2018 partnered with LINE Hotels to launch her first restaurant, Arlo Grey in Austin, Texas. The restaurant reflects Kish’s playful yet refined cuisine, pulling inspiration from her classical training as well as nostalgic dishes that highlights her upbringing and love of travel. Kristen is the co-star of “Fast Foodies”, a co-host of “Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend” and the host and producer of “Restaurants at the End of the World.”

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Happy discussing!

Kriselda Gray

Tuesday 18th of July 2023

I've had a hard time imagining who I'd want to see in Padma's place. I hadn't thought of Kristen Kish, but as soon as I saw the picture at the top of the article, I knew they'd made a great choice.

Best wishes to Kristen and all of the Top Chef crew!

Chuck S

Thursday 13th of July 2023

I am not unhappy with this choice at all! I think she'll be able to have fun with the contestants and she knows, first hand, the pressure of competing on the show. Padma left big shoes to fill, but I think Kristen is up to the challenge.

Steve Griggs

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

Insofar as Wisconsin being chosen to be the next "Top Chef" location, I was under the impression that the locations pay for that privilege (by the state's department of tourism) or at least provide some form of financial consideration.

John

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

That loud thudding you hear to the north is me doing a happy dance.

Andy Dehnart

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

😂 It is cause for celebration!

Melissa

Tuesday 11th of July 2023

Yay! I love Kristen Kish!!