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The Daily Dish Top Chef

Top Chef's Kevin Gillespie Battled Cancer Prior to Returning for All Stars Season 17

The chef is feeling "stronger than ever" after experiencing some major health issues.

By Laura Rosenfeld
Top Chef Kevin Gillespie Cancer

Kevin Gillespie's reason for returning to Bravo's Top Chef for Season 17 goes way beyond the competition.

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"Honestly, it wasn’t the prize money or the notoriety," he told "After going through illness, you can feel very defeated and not in control. I wanted to give people who feel that way some hope."

Kevin, who previously competed in Season 6 of Top Chef, announced that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of renal cancer in May 2018 when he was just 35 years old. After undergoing surgery on his back in 2017, Kevin's MRI during a follow-up visit showed his kidney looking "abnormal," the chef told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview last year.

He underwent surgery to remove one of his kidneys on May 24, 2018, which he shared with fans on Instagram. "It’s go time," Kevin wrote in the post.

Kevin maintained his sense of humor while sharing how the surgery went the next day. "For anyone wanting an update, surgery went great, I seem to be missing a kidney, they have inflated me with so much CO2 that I look like Violet Beauregarde, and I’m being encouraged by medical professionals to be as flatulent as possible," he wrote in a post on Instagram on May 25, 2018. "So basically things are looking up..."

Kevin reflected on how fortunate he was that doctors detected the cancer early during his interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just a few weeks after the surgery. “I feel like I dodged not a bullet, but an atom bomb,” he said. “The kind of cancer that I had is so fatal because it’s not detected. It doesn’t have symptoms. You don’t feel sick. You wake up one morning and you’re peeing blood, then you die a few months later.”

In the weeks after surgery, Kevin said that he wasn't feeling "very strong" or physically well at all, “but mentally, I feel like I’m winning.”

However, Kevin wasn't about to let cancer derail his hopes and dreams, including participating in a power lifting competition last year. “I’m not going to let what has happened to me stop that goal. This is just a minor setback in the road I want to go. We set goals and a path, but it has twists and turns," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "You can turn back because it didn’t go where you wanted it to, or you can go forward with the faith that it will go where you want it to. That’s where I am right now.”

Kevin got back in the kitchen for the first time since his surgery in August 2018 when he cooked with fellow cheftestant Bryan Voltaggio, who will also be returning for Season 17 of Top Chef.

He ended the year by sharing some good news about his health. "I have spent most of this year sick. It was bad, then it got worse, then it got better," Kevin wrote in a post on Instagram on December 5, 2018. "Today in the gym I officially lifted a weight heavier than anything pre Cancer. That may not seem like much to some, but to me it’s a victory!"

Kevin celebrated one year of being cancer free on May 24. "This was me on May 24th of 2018. I had just woken up in a hospital bed, scared that the Big C was trying to steal my life from me," he said of a photo of himself in the hospital post-surgery. "Thankfully with the help of a lot of people, including all of you, I can say that today I am 1yr Cancer Free!! I plan to celebrate by taking a quick road trip, eating some BBQ along the way, and taking an awkward bathroom selfie..."

He also thanked his wife, Valerie Combs, for sticking by him during this difficult time while celebrating their eighth anniversary on September 4. "At exactly 'half past six' on this day 8yrs ago I made the best decision of my life! Being able to marry my wife Valerie is truly the greatest gift I have ever been given," Kevin gushed in the post. "She has been by my side, unconditionally, in sickness and in health. She has inspired me to live my life in a meaningful way. She has helped me grow as a man, and helped me to recognize what love truly means. Happy Anniversary Val. I love you, and always will."

Now that he's battled cancer, Kevin is "up for a new challenge and is ready to show the world he is stronger than ever," according to his bio on

Kevin is just one of 15 finalists, front runners, and fan favorites returning for Top Chef Season 17, which premieres Thursday, March 19 at 10/9c. Host Padma Lakshmi, head judge Tom Colicchio, and judge Gail Simmons will also be back to help determine which All Star will win the coveted title of Top Chef in this new season in Los Angeles, California.

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