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Top Chef's Melissa King on Competing as a Proud Asian-American, Queer Woman: "I Just Hope to Inspire People"
The Season 17 winner is using her Fan Favorite prize money to support Black, LGBTQ+, and Asian-American communities.
Melissa King certainly reigned supreme in Season 17 of Bravo's Top Chef. Not only did she take home the coveted title of Top Chef, but viewers also voted her the Fan Favorite winner of the season.
Melissa told The Daily Dish in an interview over the phone prior to the Season 17 finale airing that she would be donating 100 percent of the $10,000 Fan Favorite prize money to "charities that I feel are important right now to support," including Black Visions Collective, The Trevor Project, Asian Americans for Equality, and Asian Youth Center, in an effort to support the Black, LGBTQ+, and Asian-American communities, respectively.
"I got on [Top Chef] just being myself, and going through this personal journey of trying to test myself with Top Chef and [seeing] if I could survive, [when] I came out on the other end, people started emailing me and sending me messages saying, 'We saw you on Top Chef, and you’re Asian-American and I’m an Asian American, and I’m so proud of you for representing our community.' People had written me messages saying they came out to their parents because of me," Melissa said. "So I feel very strongly that Top Chef has given me more than just a platform for food. It’s giving me a platform to be able to speak about things that I care about and things that I’m passionate about outside of that. And things that could hopefully influence someone else’s life. So I’ve been really trying to use my voice as much as I can, especially for the people out there that don’t have that voice. "
In particular, Melissa said that she is proud to have been able to represent the Asian-American and LGBTQ+ communities and women on Top Chef. "Top Chef has really given me the ability to use my platform and use my voice to support the people in my community. I’m sort of this triple minority, and there’s so many challenges that I’ve faced throughout my life and I want other people to be able to relate to that story, because I know that they have struggled as well and they’ve felt that," Melissa shared. "So I want them to know that they’re not alone and that there is someone out there that can achieve these goals, and you can set your mind to things and make it happen in this world, in this climate that we’re in. I just hope to inspire people through the work that I’m doing, in whatever capacity. It’s very incredible what Top Chef has done with my life, and I’m just forever grateful."
In honor of Pride this month, Melissa also created a line of merchandise sold through her website that includes hats and face masks. $5 from every purchase of the collection in June will go toward supporting The Trevor Project. Melissa has also been hosting virtual cooking classes and donating a portion of the proceeds to various causes, such as the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and same gender loving people, and APIENC, a grassroots organization building queer and transgender Asian and Pacific Islander power in the Bay Area.
Melissa opened up more about winning Top Chef Season 17 and what her experience in the culinary competition has meant to her in a series of posts on Instagram on June 22, sharing, "It’s given me courage to proudly represent my LGBTQ/Asian American communities."
"As a proud Asian-American, queer, woman, thank you for embracing me and [others] like me with open arms. I went into this competition wanting to present my life’s experiences through my food and just be myself. Thank you for seeing me. I’m looking forward to sharing the rest of my adventure with you. Love you all," she added. "Embrace your discomfort, live through your fears, and discover the person waiting for you on the other side of your journey. It’s already in you, you just have to jump in and believe in yourself."
Melissa later shared more about her identity and what Pride means to her in another post on Instagram on June 24.
"Each year, I look forward to pride month and celebrating who I am. Some of you have asked how I identify myself and I realize it’s a big question for me — I am a passionate chef, a strong woman, an outspoken Asian American, a Californian, an artist, an entrepreneur, a Libra, a romantic, a proud lesbian, and a queer, androgynous, gender-fluid human. I am an Auntie and an Uncle. Some days I feel like a grandma, and other days I embrace my inner grandpa. I use the pronouns she/her, but am also comfortable with they/them. I cringe a little when I’m sir’ed or ma’amed but understand it’s often said out of politeness. I am highly uncomfortable when I walk into a women’s public restroom and get mistaken for as a man (cannot tell you how many times this happens) and appreciate a gender neutral bathroom. I never shop in the women’s section and find it difficult in the men’s. I blush in the best way when my 4 year old nieces call me 'handsome' or respond with 'a prince!' when asked what I should be for Halloween," she wrote. "I am a King and not just because it’s my last name, but somedays there’s a Queen in me that just wants to wear her damn crown. I am masculine, I am feminine, and I am unapologetically all the in between. I am me."
She also added how honored she was to have been included in a Pride campaign for Levi's that was shown all over the world in 2018. "Pride has always been more than just being proud, it’s about unapologetically living your truth," Melissa said. "Show the world who you are. Happy pride everyone!"