How I Learned to “Be Better” Through Food

Food has informed my ability to fit into the world. Without the medium of food, I don’t know if I would have found my place. It gave me something to latch on to, something to want to explore, and a vehicle to learn more about different parts of the world where I may never have traveled. As a chef, it gave me confidence as well. I found a purpose in food, a reason to want to work really hard at something. Professionally and personally, it led me to learn more about myself and the world around me.

You don’t have to be a professional chef to use food as an educational moment, and tool. 

I learned about Korean culture through food. I didn’t grow up eating it, and it wasn’t really accessible to me as a child. But I learned so much about the culture through the food, and more importantly, from the people who cook that food. When I began my professional career, I cooked with my head. I was cerebral, focused on “being the best,” or creating something that had never been done before, or working just to get an accolade or an award. I learned that that was not really me. I hadn’t put the work into telling my own story through food. When I opened Arlo Grey, I realized that the only story that hadn’t yet been told was my own story, and I got to decide how to share it. It gave me a sense of control over my own life—the idea that my food could help me fit into the world by actually standing out, by just being true to who I am. 

I became better and more myself once I let go of caring about the expectations of others. I stopped trying to fit a mold made by someone else. When I stopped caring about that so much, I was able to really work on who I wanted to be, and as a result I became more confident in myself. As a result of that confidence, I was able to give more of myself more freely. I was able to be a better person for the people around me. I realized that I didn’t owe anyone what they expected of me, I only owed it to myself to be the best version of myself. Expectations can keep us honest and moving forward and striving for more—but if they’re coming from someone else and aren’t based on you making yourself better, then it’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else will think. Care about whether you are a good person. Care about whether you actively do good for others. And craft your own story and share it the way you want to. I had to nearly burn out to realize that I was being crushed by the expectations of others. I had to learn, to pay attention, and to realize that that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. But now that I have put the work into being myself, I know that what I put out in the world is the best I can do. 

I always say to ‘be better.’ It’s tattooed on me, and has taken on more purpose as I’ve had a chance to define what it means to me. To be better is to do better, and to do better is really what it’s about. Every day, I try to find my chances to Be Better. 

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Sarah Thomas

Born in South Korea and adopted into a family in Kentwood, Michigan, Chef Kristen Kish showed an affinity for cooking at a young age. Encouraged by her mother to pursue her dream, Chef Kristen attended culinary school and has never looked back. She has worked in numerous high-profile restaurants, authored a cookbook (Kristen Kish Cooking), and won Season 10 of Top Chef. She now expresses her childhood nostalgia through inventive and playful food at her first restaurant, Arlo Grey.

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