Top Chef Kristen Kish says cooking has helped her explore her identity

Travis Punch / Bernardo Henning

When I was a child, food was my escape. After school I would perch in the kitchen by the TV watching Great chefs of the world. It took me to faraway places and I loved seeing how the ingredients and methods changed from place to place. I imagined the day when I would taste everything I saw.

I was an adopted child from Korea and grew up in Michigan, and my parents helped me explore my Korean heritage. We read the Korean cinderella like a bedtime story and met other Korean adopted children. Eating meals together was another way my family helped me celebrate my identity. We went to food festivals and Korean restaurants, and there I found comfort in sharing food.

I might not have known it at the time, but my career path was definitely shaping up.

I tiptoed into culinary school and quickly realized that I was good at cooking.

In fact, I excelled and my success made me think I could skip the easy jobs and head straight for the top, to the coveted chef position. My ego took over, but I found myself learning over and over again that I was not worthy of the job I thought I should have.

As I stayed in this cycle of self-doubt and extreme ego fueled by my insecurity, I found a kitchen I belonged to and a mentor who believed in me. She told me that I had to compete on Excellent chef, and I trusted him more than myself.

But still I spent so much time trying to prove that I was good, that I belonged. To compensate, I cooked for the next accolade rather than the joy and sense of identity I had discovered early on.

In the end, I found no satisfaction in striving for this type of perfection.

Starting my own restaurant, Arlo Gray, in Austin, Texas, finally saved me from this spiral.

While opening a place to you is no easy task, I have had the opportunity to create a culinary narrative that is unique to me, leaning on soul, memory and celebration: crispy rice. inspired first by take-out crab fried rice and umami – rich mushroom pasta that hit the notes of why I love Hamburger Helper dinners.

With each dish, I have found that the food, my food is what sets me apart, and I’ve never felt so comfortable with who I am and where I go.

– As said to Becca Miller.

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Women’s Health.

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