Watch Detroit chef Kiki Louya compete on 'Top Chef: Portland'

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

The upcoming season of cooking competition "Top Chef" will have someone local for Metro Detroit viewers to root for, but it will also tackle the heavy themes the nation faced during 2020, when it was filmed in Portland, Oregon. 

Detroit native, chef, activist and consultant Kiki Louya is one of 15 chefs chosen to battle one another on the popular reality series billed as — "an epic culinary showdown" — which will debut its 18th season April 1 on Bravo. Besides vying for the $250,000 top prize, just being on the show can change a chef's career trajectory and open new doors. 

Kiki Louya will compete on "Top Chef: Portland"

When she was cast, Louya said she wasn't sure it was something she wanted to do it because of all that was happening at the time: pandemic, the fight for racial justice and how those both intertwined with the restaurant industry. Once in Portland, though, she said she felt like "this is where I’m supposed to be right now."

"It all kind of seemed like, why now? But at the same time, I realized exactly that, that this would be a very pivotal moment, kind of, in the show's history," she said. "The moment we landed in Portland, the moment we started on set, it was incredible." 

"Top Chef" is hosted by television presenter and author Padma Lakshmi and features longtime main judges culinary expert Gail Simmons and restaurateur Tom Colicchio. Known for being an intimidating figure on the show, Colicchio became a go-to voice advocating for the industry even in the early days of the pandemic. 

Detroit chef   Kiki Louya

“He was the one I was afraid I’d be most intimidated by, because on the show he very much appears stoic and some of his remarks can be a little cutting, but I really think that Tom, at the end of the day, is also a chef … I think that is what makes anything he tells you, whether it’s in passing or not, he understands what you’re doing. He understands what you’re going through.” 

Louya said that though it was a competition, it was also a group of people in the same industry with similar issues.

“We’re all experiencing this all at the same time, and we’re seeing our industry grapple with this hard year. Not only seeing the restaurant closures, but seeing restaurants have to come to terms with some really hard truths about how we treat people” she said. “So we’re all going through that, and it very much felt like Tom was as well.”  

Your First Look at Top Chef Portland! | Bravo TV Official Site

Louya, who hasn't seen any of the episodes and plans to watch along with the rest of the fans, said she was expecting the "Top Chef" to be mentally challenging, but was surprised as to how physically challenging it was as well. 

"It is a very physical competition and even though it seems like oh we’re just cooking, we’re running ... we're running across that kitchen," she said, adding that chefs are used to standing for 15 hours a day, but this was more intense than that.  

A graduate of the University of Michigan and Le Cordon Bleu, Louya is best known in the Detroit area food scene as a founding partner of acclaimed restaurant Folk in Corktown and the woman-owned hospitality group Nest Egg. She left the group last March to go out on her own as a chef and business consultant.

Kiki Louya, left, co-founded the Farmer's Hand and Folk in Corktown with Rohani Foulkes.

Before that, in July of 2019 she was featured in a New York Times article that named her one of 16 Black chefs that are "changing food in America." She champions ethical and sustainable business practices and is an activist for fair wages and other causes surrounding the food and hospitality industries. 

We'll have to tune into the show to see how Louya fares in the "Top Chef" competition against the other chefs. She did hint about what her next move might be locally. 

"I am not done with food businesses. This is not the last that you will see of me in the kitchen, in a full service restaurant," she said. "There’s more to come and I’m really excited to formally announce that."

"Top Chef: Portland" will premiere on Bravo at 8 p.m. April 1. For more info on Louya, visit her website at kikilouya.com.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

"Top Chef" 

Season 18 premiere 

8 p.m. April 1

Bravo