There was no question for me that Kristen Kish was the perfect choice for Top Chef host, because she’s already proven herself to be a terrific host on multiple shows.
But the details in a new profile have made me love her as a TV personality and human being even more.
The new season of Top Chef is being filmed in Wisconsin right now, and from the set, Kristen Kish was profiled in The New York Times.
Before we get to all the great parts, there was one disappointing comment.
Kristen’s mentor, chef Barbara Lynch, has recently been accused of verbal and physical abuse by her staff. When asked about that, Kristen said, “I had been removed from her company for 10 years, so I don’t know. What I do know is that if she never said, ‘Kristen, you can win Top Chef,’ none of this would be happening. And that’s a fact.”
That’d be a fine answer—her experience and the allegations can still be true, after all—but I wish she’d added something like, Abuse is never okay in kitchens.
But one point the Times profile makes is that Kristen is not like Padma Lakshmi, who uses her platform to advocate for change, such as publicly calling for Bravo to investigate Top Chef winner Gabe Erales after he confessed to retaliating against an employee he’d had a relationship with.
But a lack of activism doesn’t make Kristen an empty chef’s coat. Quite the opposite, in fact. Here are three welcome, endearing traits that stood out to me from the profile.
If you follow Kristen on social media, you know that she’s open, honest, and vulnerable there.
For instance, in 2022, when she went to South Korea for the first time as part of a Netflix media event, she wrote on Instagram,
A long while ago, I mentioned I was going to use my top chef winnings to go to Korea for the first time since being adopted at 4 months old. I never went and never made it a priority. Perhaps I was scared or simply kept myself too busy – probably both. I’ve had many offers to go for work and I always said no. I’ve had the means and could make the time to do it on my own…but I didn’t.
In this profile, Kristen talks more about her anxiety—“I have severe social anxiety and I’m on television, which is wild. I know I’m a walking contradiction.”—and her nervousness about taking over as Top Chef’s third host.
“I know my job is to simply be me, but I feel like I am not going to be impressive enough to hold my own space and follow in Padma’s footsteps,” she said.
Just putting that out into the world is a risk, never mind to the New York Times while hosting Bravo’s flagship competition program. But Kristen
Oh, and she’s definitely been able to follow Padma: The New York Times reported says Kristen “broke into a goofy dance one moment, then hit her mark perfectly the next,” and also was applauded by the crew after she first said, “Please pack your knives and go.” (I wonder if that applause came after the person cut left the set, or else that would have been quite awkward!)
Incredibly, an NBCUniversal executive says no other person was interviewed for the Top Chef job. Kristen was their first and only choice.
Yet when the offer came to Kristen, she said, “I was shocked. I really wasn’t pushing for this because I never thought it was actually a possibility.”
This doesn’t come across as bullshit; she just seems naturally humble.
Kristen’s colleagues back that up. Former Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson told the paper, “TV is populated by people who love to hear their own voice. And that isn’t Kristen at all.”
Kristen openly discusses the period in her life when she used alcohol and cocaine “to mask and self-medicate my social anxiety and my sexuality.”
Just talking openly about living with anxiety will help people, as will her presence on TV as an openly queer woman of color.
She also points out that, “When I get insecure and uncomfortable and socially anxious, I kind of become, for lack of a better term, a bitch.” Kristen’s wife, Bianca Dusic, calls this personality “Nasty Nancy” to alert Kristen of it.
This kind of honesty—which, okay, yes, is closely related to vulnerability and humility!—is refreshing, and reflects a shift. Celebrities and reality TV hosts have kept up a kind of veil to create an image. In the not-too-distant past, something like past drug use just wouldn’t be discussed, and if it was, it might be disqualifying.
But we’re in an era of more openness and honesty, and Kristen is reflective of that. She’s even honest about her lack of ambition to become the host of the preeminent food competition.
“This was never the plan. The plan would have been for me to just work in a little restaurant, making ends meet, doing my life and just keep trucking along,” Kristen said.
While the details of “doing my life” and “making ends meet” have changed, she’s definitely trucking along. And it seems clear—before even seeing a single frame of Kristen’s Top Chef hosting debut—that her presence will make the show better in new ways.