Kristen Kish Says Padma Lakshmi 'Formed the Pathway' For Her to Be “Top Chef” Host (Exclusive)

The chef spoke exclusively with PEOPLE at the 2024 'Food & Wine' Classic in Aspen

<p>C2 photography;Getty</p> Kristen Kish reflects on her season hosting

C2 photography;Getty

Kristen Kish reflects on her season hosting 'Top Chef' after Padma Lakshmi's departure

The current season of Top Chef hasn't concluded yet but Kristen Kish is ready to take on the next one.

As the chef’s first season hosting the Bravo competition series comes to a closethe season 21 finale airs on Wednesday, June 19 — she reflects on her experience and what it has been like to succeed former host Padma Lakshmi.

“I don't know if I would've been the person to step into that role if she hadn't held it for 19 seasons, and I don't take that lightly,” Kish, 40, tells PEOPLE exclusively during the 2024 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. “She formed the pathway and the road, and then it was my job to be me and drive down that road. You have to obviously give credit where credit is due.”

In July 2023, it was announced that Kish would take over Lakshmi’s hosting duties, which she had held for 17 years. Shortly after the announcement, Lakshmi sent her well wishes on Instagram, posting, "I’m so proud of you @KristenLKish and am over the moon that you’ll be taking over for me on Top Chef!!! I’ll be rooting for you and our whole crew next season. Congratulations!!!"

<p>C2 Photography/FOOD & WINE</p> Kristen Kish is hosting two seminars during the 'Food & Wine' Classic in Aspen

C2 Photography/FOOD & WINE

Kristen Kish is hosting two seminars during the 'Food & Wine' Classic in Aspen

Kish says she knew there would be specific challenges stepping into the hosting job. “The hardest part was people's expectation of missing Padma and this idea that I needed to fill a role," she says. "But once I realized that I don't have to fill a role and I didn't have to be her and I have full permission to be me, that's where I kind of settled into it a little bit more."

Related: Top Chef Finalists Reveal Their ‘Surprising’ Behind-the-Scenes Moments Before Season 21 Finale (Exclusive)

Despite her struggles with social anxiety and feeling “a lot of pressure on my shoulders put there by me” while shooting season 21, she loved her time hosting.

“As soon as we got done, I was like, ‘Is it next year yet? Go again,’” she says. “Really, it's just a phenomenal experience, not just professionally but personally.”

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Kristen Kish joined longtime judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons on season 21 of 'Top Chef'

David Moir/Bravo

Kristen Kish joined longtime judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons on season 21 of 'Top Chef'

Kish, who won Top Chef season 10 in Seattle and appeared on later seasons as a guest judge, says being on camera has “gotten more familiar, which makes it easier.” Plus, already having a friendship with longtime judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons added to the experience while shooting in Wisconsin.

“Tom, Gail, and I were friends before, but I think it is different now in a really good way. We have fun on-camera and off-camera,” she says, adding that the “seasoned pros” would travel home during their days off from shooting but she stayed in town.

“Being my first season, I just needed to stay mentally in it. Perhaps next season I'll find a little bit more space, but I actually really like living in one place for two months. I got to be familiar with a lot of different things and create a little mini-home for some time,” she says.

Related: Tom Colicchio Reveals What The Bear Gets Right (and Wrong!) About Working in a Restaurant (Exclusive)

When the season wrapped filming and she returned home to her wife Bianca Dusic in Connecticut, Kish says there was one thing she needed to do.

“Honestly, I ate broccoli for like three days,” she says with a laugh, explaining that her shooting days were full of decadent meals prepared by the contestants and frozen custards from local Wisconsin spots. “I did not have a raw, untouched vegetable in a long time in Milwaukee.”

The location and timing of the next season hasn't been announced yet but she is keeping an open mind about where the show may be based. “They could send us anywhere, truly, and I would find a lot of happiness in it,” says Kish, who is hosting two panels during the Food & Wine Classic, including a panel with the three Top Chef finalists Danny Garcia, Dan Jacobs and Savannah Miller.

Events at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen run until June 16. In May, the brand announced that the first Classic in Charleston will take place Sept. 27-29 in South Carolina.

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