Top Chef’s Kristen Kish on the Recipe for Success

By: Keith Wagstaff · May 30, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

From Cook to Culinary Fame

Top Chef host Kristen Kish didn’t always know she was going to be a star, not to mention financially settled enough to invest in herself and those around her.

When she was working as a cook in her twenties, she couldn’t have envisioned her accomplishments, including winning Top Chef, co-hosting Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend, and opening a restaurant, Arlo Grey in Austin, Texas.

“I gave up on the idea that I was ever going to be able to take a vacation, that I was ever going to be able to help out my parents, that I was ever going to be able to buy myself something,” she said on SoFi’s YouTube series Richer Lives.

Then, everything changed, she told Brian Walsh, SoFi’s Head of Advice and Planning, and financial literacy advocate Vivian Tu, aka Your Rich BFF. But her previous struggle is what’s “keeping me frugal in many areas of my life” now, she said.

Kish also dished about the financial mistake she wishes she could take back, how to pick the right opportunities, and the value of staying true to yourself.

Live Within Your Means

When Kish won big on Top Chef, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her money: buy property. But it stretched her budget a little too much.

“I was not ready to put any money down,” she said. Kish wished she had kept renting her one-bedroom apartment and saved. Instead, still saddled with student debt, she bought a home.

“I refused to take advice,” she admitted.

In the end, she ended up owing money in back taxes. Finally, after consolidating loans and hiring an accountant, she found herself in a good place financially.

“I had to learn the hard way that I should be slightly living below my means,” Kish said.

Evaluating Your Opportunities

“I’ve said for a very long time in my career, that you always want to be the parsley leaf, not the chopped parsley,” she said. “We’ve all had the plates with [chopped] parsley sprinkled all over,” she said. “It gets in your teeth, it’s just annoying. Then you look at the parsley leaf that is intentionally placed,” which enhances a dish, she said, so much so you’d notice if it wasn’t there.

The lesson is to be intentional with your career by taking opportunities that feel valuable to you and allow you to provide value.

“I kind of hate to say I’m going to say this word,” she said, “because everybody says it all the time,” but success requires having an “authentic” vision of yourself.

Ultimately, you don’t know if a venture or career path is going to work out. “But all I know is that if I do fail, at least I failed knowing that I did exactly what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.”

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