The Untold Truth Of Tiffani Faison

Celebrity chef Tiffani Faison rose to fame as the spunky, outspoken contestant whose words and actions didn't always sit well with audiences on the first season of Bravo's "Top Chef" in 2006, according to Boston Magazine. While she came in second in the competition, the show, along with much hard work and training under incredible chefs like Daniel Boulud and Todd English (per The Connect Group), set in motion a whirlwind career filled with ups and downs — but also many, many successes.

Today, Faison is the owner of Big Heart Hospitality, a restaurant group out of Boston. Under the company's umbrella, she is the executive chef of four eateries, all located near Fenway Park. Sweet Cheeks, Faison's first restaurant, has a barbecue-based menu; Tiger Mama is southeast Asian-inspired; Orfano serves Italian cuisine; and Fool's Errand is a snack-only bar, as noted by The Connect Group.

Faison's career trajectory, and the story of how she originally ended up working in a kitchen, is a fascinating one and laid a foundation for the successful and admirable person she is today.

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.