“How does it feel to lose to a vegan?” quips Chef Kristina Addington as she takes her position among her competitors on set of Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen.” This bold statement ends up being delicious foreshadowing as Kristina became the first vegan chef to win the high stakes show known for its sabotaging twists! FARM was lucky to catch up with the talented “Vegan Temptress” about the show and vegan living.
Growing up in a small rural town in Kentucky, Kristina was raised on typical Southern comfort foods. “I grew up eating everything fried in bacon grease,” she said. She never thought twice about it until 7 years ago, when she happened to stumble upon some information about factory farming online. That led to more research on animal agriculture, which then led to her epiphany. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Kristina said. “I knew I couldn’t support that [industry] anymore. I went vegetarian overnight.” Knowing she had to do more to help animals, Kristina started volunteering with animal advocacy groups as much as possible. Within a month, she was fully vegan.
And how did her “country” family take the news? “They thought I lost my mind,” Kristina said with a laugh. Though it was a big shock to the way her entire family had always lived and cooked (“My mom cooks just like Paula Deen!”), eventually they came around to the vegan side of things. Now when Kristina comes to visit, everyone enjoys preparing and eating vegan meals together.
Cooking was always a passion of Kristina’s. Before learning about factory farming and embracing a vegan lifestyle, she had already enrolled in culinary school. When her classes began, Kristina thought she could handle cooking non-vegan foods for other people, even though she herself wouldn’t be eating those animal products. That mentality changed the day the students were to “break down a chicken.” “I nearly had a panic attack. I knew there was no way I could do it,” admitted the vegan chef. From that point on, Kristina only worked with vegan foods, with which the school was very accommodating, bringing in tofu and tempeh.
But after a few semesters, Kristina’s other passion – helping animals – was calling, and she left culinary school to work with animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). For five years, Kristina promoted veganism and advocated for animals in the clothing industry. Throughout her time with PETA, Kristina taught vegan cooking classes on the side. Eventually, she realized she could combine her love of cooking and her dedication to animal advocacy full-time, and she returned to the kitchen.
Back in Kentucky, Kristina helped open a café and served as the executive chef, creating a vegan menu for the establishment. She created wholesale vegan and gluten-free baked goods. Her vegan cooking classes continued, as well as some small scale catering gigs. Wanting to do more to promote veganism, the Vegan Temptress looked toward national television. Specifically, Food Network.
While checking out the national cooking channel’s website, Kristina saw that they were taking applications for their competitive, high-stakes show, “Cutthroat Kitchen.” Kristina saw this as a way to really give veganism a spotlight and she applied right away, specifically stating on the application that she was a vegan chef, cooking only with vegan ingredients, and that she really wanted to highlight healthy, cruelty-free eating. “My ultimate goal [for appearing on “Cutthroat Kitchen”] was to promote veganism. Going on national TV would be the best way for me to reach the most viewers and eaters with this message,” Kristina explained. The very next day, the network called her, and a couple days later, she was booked for the show!
Despite some “light, friendly teasing” from her opponents, as well as that jaw-dropping “sabotage” on the show where she was forced to bake gingersnap cookies with pickled sushi ginger, Kristina emerged a triumphant winner! Kristina proved that no matter what, delicious vegan food is always possible.
The future looks bright for Chef Kristina. With her $18,500 winnings from “Cutthroat Kitchen,” she’s scoping out restaurant space for her future vegan restaurant. Until then, she has vegan catering and a possible vegan food truck on the horizon to showcase her delicious and cruelty-free Southern-style cooking. The more platforms for her food, the better; the world needs more vegan sausage gravy! Congrats again to Chef Kristina. We can’t wait to see what she whips up next!
You can see the full “Cutthroat Kitchen” episode, titled “Two Chefs, One Toga,” on Food Network, XFinity TV, and Amazon.com.
Photos courtesy of Kristina J. Addington / Vegan Temptress and Food Network