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Top Chef Season 18's Kiki Louya on Her Elimination: "It Was Really Hard to Pick Myself Up"
The cheftestant opens up about the impact of the Pan African challenge and where she'll be cooking next.
The Bravo's Top Chef Season 18 contestants stepped out of the kitchen and into the great outdoors in the April 22 episode. The cheftestants headed about an hour east of Portland to Oregon's famed Hood River Fruit Loop where they hand-picked fruit to feature in their dish for the Elimination Challenge.
This seemed to be one of the toughest Elimination Challenges for the Season 18 cheftestants so far. Not only did the dish have to be savory, but they also couldn't incorporate any vegetables in their creation. Cooking outside with weather conditions like wind definitely made it a different experience than being in the kitchen as well.
This Elimination Challenge was a difficult one for Kiki Louya, who found herself in the bottom and was ultimately told to "please pack your knives and go" after her apple glazed fried chicken was undercooked. "The entire time I was at the Judges' Table, I was just replaying my steps in the back of my head," Kiki recalled while speaking about her elimination in the Top Chef After Show, above. "I fry chicken all the time, all the time. I could do it in my sleep, but it's such a different environment once you're actually in it."
Kiki said that she was impacted by her performance in the previous Elimination Challenge. "At that point, it was really hard to pick myself up from being on the bottom in the Pan African challenge," she said. "I didn't realize how important it would be to be resilient and bounce back and go on to the next day."
Still, that Pan African Elimination Challenge resonated deeply with Kiki, whose father is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "It's very infrequent, if ever, that I can sit down to a meal that's not being made by an auntie or a grandmother and feel like I'm at home and feel that kind of comfort, so it was emotional because we all sat down and enjoyed the food together," Kiki shared. "I was a little bit more quiet during that challenge because I didn't want to start crying for no reason, or what would appear to be no reason [laughs], be that crazy person."
However, Kiki said that she also felt the weight of having that personal connection to Pan African cuisine. "And then, also, there is the pressure of, well now I obviously have to cook something that's from the Congo," she said. "So it was a difficult time for me on the show, just emotionally."
Kiki wasn't shy about her dislike of Quickfire Challenges on Top Chef, but she she said that she has come to appreciate cooking in a more fast-paced and impulsive environment. "I think the way that I approach food given the time constraints has changed. My cooking is slow and low. It's long braises. We don't have that much time to expend, kind of like baby this one dish on Top Chef," Kiki said. "Now I know, oh, a pressure cooker is a very good thing."
Kiki has also come away from the competition with many new friends. "I talk every day to Brittanny [Anderson], Sasha [Grumman], Roscoe [Hall] — literally, it's every single day — about nonsense and then not nonsense, too," she shared. "Oh, and Jamie [Tran]. When Jamie and I are on the phone, it's like hours go by, and then I realize half the day is gone. I need to stop."
These days, Kiki said that she's been busy with "lots of advocacy," in addition to planning exciting upcoming cooking gigs with some familiar faces. "I actually just got off a call with the James Beard Foundation about Raise the Wage. Also, Jamie and I have been talking about a pop-up," she said. "And then, May 2, Brittanny, Roscoe, Sasha, and I are going to Brenner Pass, and we're going to do a pop-up over at Brittanny's space."
Kiki added, "As long as we can cook together and have fun, I'm open to anything."
Want more Top Chef? New episodes air every Thursday at 8/7c or catch up on the Bravo app.
See how Kiki fared in Last Chance Kitchen, below.