When Detroit native Kiki Louya returned home to Detroit about seven years ago, she was excited to be closer to family and to focus on her interconnected passions of food, people, and community.
Her food journey began early in life and included working as a teenager at Lone Star Coffeehouse in Birmingham. It was there that she met her husband, who worked at the Birmingham Theater next door. They now live in her childhood home in the Rosedale Park neighborhood in northwest Detroit.
During the years she was away, Louya lived in New York, often finding ways to work in the food industry outside her regular 9-to-5 job. “I was tired of living a lie…I was drawn to mission-driven work and would come alive when working with food, people and communities,” she said. This realization pushed Louya to fully pursue a career in the food industry by attending Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.
In addition to her educational experiences at Cass Technical High School, University of Michigan, and Le Cordon Bleu, Louya attended The Roeper School during elementary and middle school years. She makes the connection that the school’s warm, welcoming environment, emphasis on individuality, and “everyone matters” philosophy helped shape her worldview into adulthood.
“My passion is people. Connecting people. Finding ways to let people’s voices be heard. I have a strong sense of justice…it forms much of my work.”
Since moving back to Detroit, Louya has accomplished much on the local food scene toward promoting sustainability along the food chain and using food to improve people’s lives. She was a founding partner in the innovative restaurant concepts of Folk and The Farmer’s Hand, and cofounded the women-owned hospitality group Nest Egg, which allowed shared resources, efficiencies, and collaboration across multiple restaurant brands. She has also been involved in the growing urban farming movement.
According to Louya, sustainability in the food industry not only involves sourcing local agriculture but also ethical business practices and fair treatment of people – such as paying farmers more and offering employees flexible hours as well as better working conditions and pay. “It is of utmost importance to look at sustainability at every level and include community, waitstaff and farmers,” she said.
At the beginning of 2020, Louya decided to leave Nest Egg to “thread all my concepts together” and better use her voice for advocacy. She now focuses on her work as a chef, restaurant consultant and food activist – and soon will be seen on Bravo TV’s show “Top Chef” as a competing chef.
When Louya was approached to be on Top Chef about a year ago, she had recently stepped away from restaurant ownership which she considers “serendipitous” timing since her previous responsibilities would have prevented her from appearing on the show.
While Top Chef revolves around competition, Louya highlighted the learning, camaraderie, and lasting support network she gained. “Ultimately, the experience was so rewarding. I came away with fourteen friends.”
Louya describes her experience in Portland, Oregon, where the show was filmed as, “Enlightening, eye-opening…It reinforced the work I do in sustainability, food, and people.”
What’s next for Kiki Louya will partially play out on the eighteenth season of Top Chef, which is scheduled to premiere on Bravo TV on April 1, 2021. Find out by following at kikilouya.com and instagram.com/kiki_louya.
Story: Tracy Donohue
Photo: David Moir/Bravo