Who the Hell Is Kelly Choi? [biographies]

Photograph via tvguide.com

Last Wednesday we all finally got our reality cooking show fix when Bravo rolled out Top Chef Masters. Hooray, we thought, real chefs! Real food! Here come Hubert Keller and Tim Love! James Oseland, Gael Greene, and Jay Rayner as judges! And Kelly Choi! Wait ... huh? Who? Yeah, we didn’t know who this skinny Padma wannabe was either. So we found out.

With her plastered-on smile and over-enthusiastic delivery it’s no surprise that Ms. Choi started her career as a model. Sound familiar? Yup, Bravo has recruited yet another Asian ex-model as the Top Chef host. The differences are greater than Kelly being Korean to Padma's Indian — unlike Padma, Kelly has neither married a controversial intellectual nor published a cookbook. Also unlike Padma, it appears that Kelly will not be judging the contestants as well as performing her hosting duties. So she's Asian and looks hot in a dress — does this poor man's Padma have any qualifications to host the culinary reality show?

Photographs from nyc.gov

Born as Young Choi in Seoul, South Korea, Kelly moved to the U.S. as a preschooler and grew up in Virginia. After attending college at William and Mary, she went back to Korea for her first television foray, a VJ for MTV Korea. Back stateside, she graduated from Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism where she concentrated in magazine writing.

Choi created Freckles, an entertainment and lifestyle show featured on Plum TV, an upscale local-access channel shown in the Hamptons. From there, she was the host of Secrets of New York, a local-Emmy-winning series in New York, for which it seems she was mostly known for looking good in a shiny black trench coat. Most recently, she created Eat Out NY — finally, food on the résumé! It was this show that caught the eye of Top Chef producers, and led her to host the James Beard Awards as well as make guest appearances on Martha Stewart and Iron Chef America.

Photograph via nyc.gov

From local access to national distribution — it's a hell of a jump. How exactly did skinny Kelly Choi wind up living the gastronome's dream? She spilled the Cinderella story in an interview with The Futon Critic: “I produce and host a restaurant show called Eat Out NY and [Top Chef Executive Producer] Dave Serwatka saw me doing that and he called me one day and said 'Hey, I'm at Bravo. Can we fly you out to LA and meet with the production company?' So it just kind of happened like that out of the blue and I was beyond flattered to think that someone from Bravo was watching my restaurant show where I pick all the restaurants and cook a dish with the chef. I love food, I love restaurants in New York and I was enjoying that and then something so big…” Here her quote trails off into oblivion.

Many of Choi's recent bios contain mention of her literary chops: she's noted as the author of the book The 20 Most Delicious Dishes in New York, which is mentioned variously as up for a spring release, a summer release, and vague gestures of it being published sometime in the future. Amazon turns up nothing, ditto Publisher's Marketplace, so we'll believe that one when we see it.

Photograph from nypost.com

Still, like any celebrity on the rise, Choi has her enemies. As soon as her relationship with Top Chef was announced, some anonymous hater started making the rounds in various blogs' comment sections, in a serious hating-on smear campaign:

I went to Columbia with her. Choi PINED after JOSH KELLY now at espn. He dumped her for a gorgeous blonde, and Choi screamed at Elliott in the Columbia hallways. choi was a laughing stock at school and she then got hired for ONE month at NEWS 12 BRONX by Camilo Pombo. I saw Choi's air checks then ( about 6 years ago) Man she Sucked! Choi is NO sincere soul. She is not 32 as wikipedia states and she slummed around NYC writing freelance after news 12 trying to make it some how before she begged Arick Wierson at NYC TV for a shot. PEOPLE at NYC TV (not management) do not think highly of CHOI. CHOI goes to these RED CARPET EVENTS in evening gowns TRYING BEGGING CRYING, "LOOK AT ME PLEASE I AM KELLY CHOI." She has no purpose at these events and paparazzi friends of mine remark they take her pix because she just bares leg at the male photogs. How many wanna bet CHOI will crash and burn or just end up marrying a rich old geezer like JULIE CHEN OR WENDI DENG. Pathetic.

Ouch. Whether these allegations are true or not, it's certainly the case that someone resents her sudden success. But who wouldn't — she’s a pretty Korean model with a magazine writing degree, a national television gig, and quite possibly a deal with the devil.

Video: Kelly Choi Interview

Video: Secrets of New York: Execution Rocks

Justine Sterling

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6 Comments

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  1. Jason

    One main difference between her and Padma is Kelly had plastic surgery to augment her breasts. This to me is sad.

    I think both she and Padma are gorgeous.

  2. milt

    They both have an open invatation to rip-out-my heart.

    Kelly will be the winner only by the margin of not being married.

    Although plastic augmentation is not high on my list it dosen't disqualify Kelly no more than Padma's right arm scar.

  3. I do find her smile extremely plastic and the insincerity of it just bothers me. But then again, I'm female and MUST be jealous so what do I know, right? Other things that bother me about her: her pronunciation of some foreign words/names. It's either too Americanised or, like Padma, she'd rather risk sounding like a botox moron, rather than trying to pronounce the word/name with an authentic accent. She should at least TRY. Otherwise, I think she's quite pretty and pleasant.

  4. ...one thing (which I idiotically forgot to include in my previous post) that Kelly outdoes Padma in, in my opinion, is her sense of style on the show. I like the fact that her clothes aren't too body hugging, too short, or too revealing. They're more pretty and girly rather than womanly and sex-kitten. Kelly looks more the part of the hostess rather than the seductress - and less of a distraction from the food.

  5. JackNois

    I like Padma as a hostess a lot more than Kelly. Padma is prettier. She has more grace. She has better knowledge of food, has had her own food show on Food network, has had her cook book published. Kelly seems fake to me. Her smile, her breasts. And it appears to me as thought she is trying too hard. I wonder why the producers at Brova didn't just go with Padma for Top chef masters as well.

  6. ApolloGuy

    Give me Kelly. She has much more personality than Padma and for my money is way prettier. For me Padma comes off as distant and snobby, while Kelly is much more engaging. The augmentation issue, if true, is a non issue as she didn't go way over the top, so too speak. Also I think hosting a show where she cooks with chefs in NYC is every bit as impressive or qualifying as a cook book that was probably ghost written anyway. Give me Kelly anyday...

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