“Being a chef, a woman and Black makes this super-complicated,” chef Kristi Brown texted me recently. She’d just found out that “Top Chef” had edited fellow Black Seattle chef Edouardo Jordan out of his guest appearance on the season finale, following a Seattle Times report on allegations against him of sexual misconduct or unwanted touching by 15 women. Meanwhile, she’d also learned, the whole season had aired with the show’s prior knowledge that winner Gabe Erales had been fired from his job as executive chef of Comedor in Austin, Texas — also for, it eventually emerged, allegations of sexual harassment.
“Top Chef” network Bravo declined to comment on Jordan’s excision as well as on the network’s decision to air the season with a winner who’d been terminated for misconduct. Meanwhile, a source close to “Top Chef,” speaking on condition of anonymity as they were unauthorized to comment officially, said that the fact that 15 women had come forward with accusations against Jordan led to his removal from the final episode. With no official allegations against Erales, the source said, his termination was all the information the network had.
In the food industry for more than two decades, Brown debuted her Central District restaurant Communion during the pandemic — and it’s already been declared one of the top 12 best new restaurants on the planet. Here’s what Brown had to say in an interview late last week.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Chef Kristi Brown on being a chef, a woman and Black with regards to allegations against Edouardo Jordan
“It’s a hard place for me to be in, because I call Edouardo my brother, and that is not a title that I use loosely for folks. And I’m still processing: Where do I stand in all of this? A white woman that was on Instagram — and I reposted it, and I don’t hardly repost people — [she was] like, ‘[People] want to beat Edouardo down. But white men get accused of doing this all the time, and then they get a seat back at the table.’ I don’t want to dismiss any of the things that he was accused of, because I can’t. I’m not — I’m not the accusers, so I can’t.
“And catering, it’s a different horse — I’ve worked in catering all my life and haven’t really ever seen or heard or experienced a lot of sexual harassment situations. Not saying that they don’t exist [in catering], but they definitely are at a different level than in the restaurant world. So being on this [restaurant] side of the thing, it’s like, ‘Whoa, when do you have time for that? That’s different.’
“My instinct goes to: What do I have to do, as a woman chef, to help empower other women in the industry to not put up with [expletive] like this? I’m not gonna excuse what the guys are doing at all. When I brought this up to my staff — when I saw the women and we were talking about this, they were visibly shaken. Because clearly, they were in situations before where they didn’t have the ability to say, ‘I don’t care what kind of job you’re holding over me. I’m not gonna put up with this anymore.’”
On what happened — and didn’t happen — on “Top Chef” this season
“It is infuriating that the show would cancel out Edouardo, but reward that man [Gabe Erales] the ability to be named Top Chef. It’s so crazy to me — in media right now, you’re actually seeing the things that we’ve all experienced our entire lives, being Black people around the inequities of all of this kind of stuff. When [Bravo] found out that [Erales] had done something inappropriate and gotten fired for that, that should have been the end of it. If you act inappropriately, then these are the ramifications of that. And it doesn’t matter what color you are, what sex you are or whatever — call it a day.”
On her disinterest in being on “Top Chef”
“Listen, I’ve done these applications for these damn shows. You’ve got to give your left [expletive]. So you mean to tell me that somebody got fired, and [Bravo] didn’t inquire about why they got fired? In the middle of a show? Stop it.
“It doesn’t add up. And it’s all about money. And I don’t think money cares about what color you are — it just cares about whether or not you’re going to multiply it. At the end of the day, what I continue to see makes me not want to go on any of these shows [or] be a part of any of that kind of stuff, because I just don’t trust it.”
On steps she’s taking to try to stop sexual harassment in the restaurant industry
“I’m interested in having some conversations with women chefs about this, because there were several people that didn’t say anything. And I want to kind of poke around in that a little bit. Because honestly, you’ve been given this notoriety and position now to be in the limelight — what are you going to do with it?
“I talked to a girlfriend that’s a chef out in New York. And then I’m interested in seeing if [more women] chefs would also be willing to do a Zoom, that we did live, so we could talk about this. And then my goal is to have a roundtable in my own restaurant, where we sit down and have these discussions led by somebody else — not me — so we can talk about: What do we do? And how do we do it? How do we have these conversations? And how do we continue to create a safe space?”
On food and sexuality in the restaurant workplace
“I’ve been a sex educator. [And] everybody’s like, ‘Oh, sex and food, they go together.’ Now maybe this is my time to be able to have these kinds of conversations: How can you be your full self wherever you are, which includes your sexual self? Sex has as much of a place outside of the bedroom as it has inside of it. And then, how do I be this sexual being that I am at work, and then not be inappropriate? And I think there’s ways to do that.
“That’s the thing — if we were able to have more of these conversations, in all workplaces, then what would that mean?
On the cycle of abuse, power, privilege and change
“It’s like everybody wants to figure out: Who’s the problem-maker? Regardless, nobody wants to give up power. Nobody wants to give it up! And because of that, trying to figure out ways for people to give up their power — that’s not going to be effective. You’re getting everything you want — you’re getting it all. So, me trying to challenge you to give that up because you should feel shamed, or, ‘Don’t you want equity, equitable relationships and … ?’ You don’t want that.
“So when I’m looking at trying to problem-solve, I’m like: OK, how about I get into this system? And get my voice heard? And see how can I use the power that I have to make the change within the spaces that I can, and [expletive] everybody else, and just keep that work going? Because I just don’t think that people are going to be willing to give up their privilege.”
On opportunity, acclaim and why she’s here
“When I was in culinary school, guys got plucked out of school — guys — to be showcased and get all these opportunities. So I realized really early, you got to be on your own.
“It’s funny for me to get all this acclaim now. I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. I’m here to be a service to my community — that’s what I’m doing, because I know what food does. And it’s fine to be recognized for it, and that’s great, but that’s not why I do it.”
And as for being on “Top Chef” or getting James Beard Awards …
“[That] doesn’t make you a better person — it doesn’t make you do right.
“The most influential women in my life — they teach me how to be your word, no matter where you are.”