The Untold Truth Of Tiffani Faison

Celebrity chef Tiffani Faison first hit the spotlight as the outspoken contestant whose words and actions didn't always sit well with audiences on the first season of Bravo's "Top Chef" in 2006, as per Boston Magazine. While she was the runner-up in the competition, her appearance on the reality cooking show spurred a whirlwind career with its fair share of ups and downs — but also many, many successes. Today, Faison's net worth is estimated at $1.9 million (via The Courier).

Faison is the owner of Big Heart Hospitality, a Boston-based restaurant group that operates six eateries. Throughout the years, she has also appeared on numerous reality television shows — both as a contestant and judge — most recently winning Season 3 of the 2022 "Tournament of Champions" (via Boston Globe). Faison's career trajectory, and the story of how she originally ended up working in a kitchen, is a fascinating one. It's also what's laid a foundation for the successful and determined person she is today. Keep reading to find out more about Faison's remarkable story.

Tiffani Faison originally thought she would be an attorney

Faison was born in Germany in the late '70s, and calls herself an 'Army brat' (per Top Chef Fandom) before the family eventually resettled in America where she had big ambitions — though it wasn't necessarily in a kitchen. "Cooking was not ever a plan. Never. It wasn't until I was in it and thought, 'Oh, well ... here I am,'" Tiffani Faison said in an interview with WBUR, adding, "I had every intention of being an attorney. The problem was I didn't know how to go to school and sit in class and get my work done."

Instead of heading to law school, the budding chef enrolled at Cambridge Culinary Institute and eventually made her foray into restaurants as a bar manager at the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common working as the Backlot's Food and Beverage Director, says Top Chef Fandom. She admits she was pretty terrible at the job and management often grew frustrated with her. She needed an out, and one day she came to an important realization.

"I never considered my life, or that you get one shot at this and then it belongs to you and you can do with it what you want, and I just couldn't continue what I was doing," she told WBUR.

Her burgeoning career got started humbly after cooking school

After leaving the Ritz-Carlton, Faison got a job at Todd English's Bonfire, where she started as a busser and worked her way up to a food runner and eventually an expediter, where she got to watch the ballet of how the kitchen was run every night. And right before reality TV, Faison was working as chef de partie at Bouloud's restaurant at the Wynn Las Vegas (per Top Chef Fandom).

As she also told WBUR, "I started watching the kitchen and it felt like a sport with chaos and artistry, and it was not the food that I was attracted to at all. It was the movement of the kitchen."

After her time on "Top Chef," Faison made her way in lauded kitchens in Nantucket (Straight Wharf, with Amanda Lydon and Gabriefl Frasca), Los Angeles, New Orleans (Todd English's RIche), and San Francisco before returning to her home turf in Boston in 2010 to lead Rocca Kitchen & Bar, a Southern Italian restaurant. It would earn a three-star review from The Boston Globe, and soon Faison wanted to start her own restaurant group, that has been thriving since 2011, according to Culinary Agents.

In that time, she's racked up many accolades, among them a James Beard Award finalist in the "Best Chef: Northeast" category in 2018 and 2019, being named "Best Chef" by Boston Magazine in 2016, and added to the "Power 50 List" by Boston Business Journal in 2016, according to The Connect Group.

She's not as ruthless as she may seem on TV

Tiffani Faison is one of the first people who will admit she wasn't a fan favorite on "Top Chef."

"I was the opposite of a fan favorite, thank you," she says in a Boston Magazine profile. The article goes on to describe the very first episode of the show when the chefs first arrived and eagerly chatted amongst themselves. That is, until Faison arrived. "I'm not here to make friends ... I'm here to win," she boldly declared.

The message was received loud and clear. As the season went on, Faison clashed with her fellow chefs, including the now viral moment when fellow participant Dave Martin told her, "I'm not your b****, b****" (per Life & Style Mag).

Seeing the show as it aired, however, was a difficult and sobering experience for Faison, who was forced to look inward at the way she commands herself.

"I didn't know how to square this person that I knew I was, or thought I was, with this person that was on TV. And, sure, editing's one thing, but that thing just came out of my mouth. I said that thing. I'm responsible for that," she told Boston Magazine. Faison added, "It hurts ... to hear people 'say they're surprised that you're not a giant a**.'"

Afterwards, Faison went on what she tells WBUR was a ten-year "apology tour ... [I made] sure every last person that met me walked away knowing I was not that person," she said.

Faison is glad she didn't win the first season of Top Chef

Tiffani Faison came in second place on the first season of "Top Chef," which may have been a blow to another chef's self-esteem — but for Tiffani Faison, it was a blessing in disguise.

"I'm glad I didn't win," she said in the WBUR interview. Faison goes on to discuss how she had to take responsibility for her behavior and the anger she displayed on the show and adds that if she had won, "It would have validated that anger and not allow me to see myself and what needed to change and be who I wanted to be versus who I thought I was."

Faison also argues that "Top Chef" may not have thrived and gone on to have 18 seasons had she won, stating that the show needed an "uncontroversial" winner. 

And of course it wasn't her only appearance on the series, returning more than 17 times as both a contestant and judge, according to IMDB, including an episode of "4-Star All Stars" in 2007 where she reunited with her Season 1 foe David Martin on a team that competed against four contestants from Season 2 of "Top Chef." Faison's team eventually ended up winning and donated their $20,000 prize to Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity for breast cancer research. 

As well, Faison has been a guest on "Tournament Of Champions," "Chopped," and "Fire Masters."

She is outspoken about the need for restaurant reform & advocates for young workers

Tiffani Faison isn't joking around when it comes to her passion for reforming kitchen customs in regards to how women are treated. In a male-dominated profession that often values subservience to authority, women are often put in less than desirable positions, and Faison says she experienced this abuse firsthand — and she's not standing for it anymore.

"There's so much abuse in this industry. ... To hurt people, to take women and make them crazy or gaslight them and to make them feel like this is just how the industry is and that's your problem ... it is horrendous and it breaks young women down in a way that makes it almost impossible to piece it back together," she told WBUR.

Tiffani Faison also advocates for the young, fresh faces coming into kitchens, knowing it's not easy to be figuring out life and your career at the same time. She understands her responsibility as a boss to the young people she employs and takes it very seriously, telling WBUR, "We're an industry that's almost ... 99% young people who are in their 20s, and I feel like the thing we never talk about is how much your 20s suck." She adds, "They're learning how to be humans and they're confused and they're scared ... The responsibility of that is weighty and also why abuse pisses me off so much. Because they're all ... trying to figure out how to navigate things and to not understand that responsibility as someone who runs a company is abhorrent to me."

Faison says kitchen culture has changed over the years, and she believes it is restaurateurs' and chefs' duty to evaluate and change perhaps archaic, perhaps abusive, systems to attract more younger people to the industry (via OpenTable) — just like the chance she was given.

After Top Chef, Tiffani Faison competed on other television reality shows

After finishing as a runner-up to Harold Dieterle on the first season of "Top Chef," Faison went on to showcase her culinary skills on a number of other reality cooking shows (via TCG). Despite being typecast as a villain on "Top Chef" in 2006, Faison appeared on a single episode of "Top Chef 4 Star All Stars" in 2007. The show saw four "Top Chef" Season 1 contestants go head-to-head against four Season 2 contestants, with Faison's team winning a $20,000 donation to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity. Later that year, Faison also appeared on the "Top Chef Holiday Special," where she won $20,000 (via House & Whips)

In 2010, Faison returned to compete alongside other former "Top Chef" contestants in "Top Chef All-Stars." "It was bizarre ... When I walked in again, it was like season one, day one. There was all the handshaking and it felt like we had never done this before ...," she told the Boston Herald. She also appeared in "Top Chef Duels," where she placed second. In 2022, Tiffani won Season 3 of the "Tournament of Champions." She spoke to the Food Network about the experience, saying that "winning [the show] has been one of the most affirming and rewarding experiences of my life. It is the literal culmination of the work, commitment, and dedication I've invested in my career" (via Food Sided).

Tiffani Faison had a difficult childhood

There's little doubt that Faison's competitive streak and take-no-prisoners attitude are a huge part of her success. And Faison learned early on what it takes to stand on her own two feet. Born in West Germany during the Cold War to American parents, Faison was frequently uprooted due to her father's military career. A Vietnam vet, Faison's father was a heavy drinker and prone to bouts of anger, which eventually led to a divorce. According to the Boston Magazine, Faison's father got in touch with her after "Top Chef" aired in 2006. "It felt like a love letter from a serial killer. It felt like poison," she told the publication.

Growing up, the openly queer chef also had to come to terms with her sexuality. And when she came out to her mom as a teenager, things didn't exactly go well. "I just remember feeling so ashamed, in a way that I hadn't ever felt," Faison said. Things are very different today. Faison's days are filled with appearances to support various charities. "I had built a network in [Boston] by doing a ton of community-facing work, whether it was the LGBTQIA community, veteran services, addiction recovery -– things that matter to me," she told BBH.

Tiffani Faison has been a judge on Chopped and Fire Masters

Having been judged for her culinary prowess, Faison switched sides when she became a guest judge on Food Network's "Chopped" and Cooking Channel's "Fire Masters." And over the years, she has been frequently called back to assess the kitchen creations of aspiring chefs. "[Chopped keeps] inviting me back, and they think I'm lovely. It's not like I grew and changed into someone who is perfect," says Faison, referring to her reputation for being difficult on "Top Chef." "There's still me, that fiery, spitfire of a person that is still aggressive ... I just understand that none of that is worth anything without being kind ... " (via BBH). Standing testament to Faison's softer demeanor, Boston Magazine wrote that the chef displayed "her sunnier side as a judge" on "Chopped."

The metamorphosis of the former "Top Chef" contestant into a judge hasn't always gone down well with the audience, with one Reddit user complaining: "Why is she here? She is a snobbish know-it-all ... Like who is she and where did she even come from?" However, others have noticed Faison's nicer side. "I can't explain my love-hate with her. My initial instinct 'meeting' her in 'Chopped' was a visceral dislike. Snobby. Patronizing. Needs to learn her place in the 'Chopped' judge hierarchy. But then she says something really funny and I'm all, 'she's not that bad...'" another Reddit reviewer posted.

Tiffani Faison's hospitality group owns numerous restaurants

Following her debut on "Top Chef," Faison went on to open some of Boston's leading restaurants — all under the umbrella of her Big Heart Hospitality group. Putting her love of creative culinary expression into action, Faison opened her first restaurant, Sweet Cheeks Q, in 2011. Since its launch, the Southern barbecue restaurant received a three-star review from the "Boston Globe" and the accolade of "Boston's Best Barbecue" from the "Boston Magazine" (via Boston Chefs).

In 2015, Faison opened her second outfit Tiger Mama. The restaurant, which specialized in Southeast Asian-style cuisine, has now closed — but more on that later. Fool's Errand, a snug stand-only "adult snack bar" opened in 2018. "I am excited by the conviviality and fun of Fool's; it's just the right balance of relaxed and raucous," Faison said in a press release at the time of the restaurant's opening (via Boston Eater). The superstar chef's Italian-inspired Orfano opened a year later, garnering positive reviews. Food & Wine added Orfano to its list of "19 Biggest Restaurant Openings of 2019" while "Boston Globe" proclaimed Orfano one of the "best new restaurants in Boston."

Tiffani Faison closed her Southeast Asian restaurant Tiger Mama in 2021

Prior to 2021 when it closed its doors, Tiger Mama was one of the quartet of restaurants owned by Big Heart Hospitality — all located within walking distance from each other on Boston's Boylston Street. Renowned for Southeast Asian-inspired cuisine, Tiger Mama, which opened in 2015, was Faison's second venue after Sweet Cheeks Q (via Boston Magazine). Overall, the restaurant received a positive reception. In 2016, The Boston Globe called Tiger Mama "a spectacular restaurant" with dishes that you'll "take to the grave" and service that "feels generous and natural" (via TCG).

So why did Faison wrap up such a successful venture? At the time, Faison told Boston Public Radio WGBH that it was partly her own personal goals and partly the changes in the Fenway neighborhood that spurred the decision. "For me, it was a combination of a lot of things. Tiger had a really great six years, the neighborhood's changed a bit, I've changed a bit, [and] there's things that I want out of a restaurant that I'd like to put in place," she said, referring to the mystery project that will take Tiger Mama's space.

Tiffani Faison opened three new hospitality concepts in 2022

Building on the success of her current restaurants, in 2022, Faison opened three dining concepts at the food hall High Street Place in downtown Boston. Initially scheduled for a 2020 opening, the launch of the three outlets was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic (via NRN). The first of the trio, Faison's Dive Bar focuses on both Northern and Southern seafood dishes. The second venue, Tenderoni's is a "pie" joint inspired by old-school pizza bars of the '70s and '80s. Last but certainly not least, Bubble Bath is an innovative champagne and wine bar that combines quality pours with gourmet hot dogs and popcorn (via Stat on Foods).

And while things haven't completely returned to normal yet after the pandemic for the restaurant industry, Faison is quietly optimistic. "[High Street Place is] in the financial district, which was a really good idea two years ago," Faison said, referring to the empty offices triggered by the growth in remote work. "Everything normalizes — even chaos normalizes at some point, and you get better with just understanding that 'I can't control this. We can [only] do what we can'" (via WGBH).