Kym Whitley is Bringing the Fun to OWN’s The Big Holiday Food Fight

STUDIO CITY, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 18: Actress Kym Whitley attends CBS's "The Neighborhood" bowling event at PINZ Bowling & Entertainment Center on November 18, 2019 in Studio City, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)
STUDIO CITY, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 18: Actress Kym Whitley attends CBS's "The Neighborhood" bowling event at PINZ Bowling & Entertainment Center on November 18, 2019 in Studio City, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images) /

To say that cooking competition shows are plentiful would be stating the obvious. However, narrowing that oversimplification to include only holiday-themed entries within the genre would lead us to an even more cluttered landscape. So if you’re going to throw caution to the wind and throw your toque into the festive kitchen, you best offer the audience something different. With The Big Holiday Food Fight, OWN is doing exactly that, thanks largely to the show’s host Kym Whitley.

The Cleveland-raised comic and actress illuminates what for me would otherwise be just another cooking competition. Following a rather traditional format, three home cooks are tasked with whipping up holiday favorites, but rather than simply plodding along in the kitchen, they follow Whitley’s lead in creating a more festive atmosphere reminiscent of family holiday dinners.

“I’m hoping viewers get what I felt, a lot of fun,” Kym told me, adding, “I mean, at the end of the day, it really wasn’t about food. It was great to showcase everyday chefs. I thought that was great because these people love to cook. So I think that’s fun. Say they make macaroni & cheese every holiday, but they will see a home cook like them make macaroni & cheese and probably do something with a twist because of the competition. You watch these cooking shows, and they’re just competitions. On our show, we dance, we sing, we play cards, we have fun. So I think it’s really about what you really see when you go over to somebody’s house for the holiday.”

Joining Kym Whitley on The Big Holiday Food Fight are judges Darnell “SuperChef” Ferguson, Gina Neely, and James Wright Chanel, who follow the bubbly host’s lead and add their own personalities to the festivities.

Rather than weigh in with my own description of the judges, I’ll defer to Kym and let her share her perspective, having worked with them on-set during filming. “We’ve got an interesting mix of judges. Darnell SuperChef Ferguson, he’s a young chef with a lot of restaurants and is very ahead of his time, you know, because his recipes are unique and different. We have Gina Neely, who I would say is a more traditional cook. And then James Wright Chanel, who is hysterical, a lot of fun, but he is almost like the cooks we have in the competition. He’s a down-home cook. He doesn’t have the ‘I’m a celebrity chef’ attitude, so you know, it’s a great mix.”

Between the home cooks and casual vibe, I suggested to Kym Whitley that the show feels like what we might see if we played back the Ring video footage after a family holiday. She concurred, adding, “It was definitely like peeking into someone’s holiday dinner. And that’s what happens, you know, the aunties get together, and they bring over their dish. ‘My dish is better than your dish.’ And so that’s really what the show is about.”

It’s fair to say that the home cooks on The Big Holiday Food Fight cooked some great dishes, but when I asked Kym to single out a favorite dish or two, she really couldn’t, saying, “This is hard because I thought that every time there was a competition, there was a dish that made me think that it was the best thing I ever tasted. And that the producers don’t even know, I secretly got everyone’s phone number, and I collected all the chefs’ recipes because they were making these dishes. And I was like, you’ve got to teach me how to do this. You know? So they were all fantastic, but there was one dish that we all were shocked tasted pretty good. And it was something with tuna fish. It was very strange but delicious.”

Having started my conversation with Kym Whitley by asking how she went from being a contestant on a celebrity season of Worst Cooks in America to hosting The Big Holiday Food Fight—and earning “best question of the day” honors in the process—I couldn’t help but circle back and ask about her own holiday meal traditions. Needless to say, her response wasn’t quite what I expected. “My mother absolutely got tired of cooking every year for Thanksgiving. And then again for Christmas. My father is a twin, so, you know, two families together and all the kids. It was always a big holiday. So finally, my mother was like, you know what? I can’t take it. I want to go to Vegas. So every year we went to Vegas, and we had our Christmas at The Mirage. We were always there. And my mother was, she was a high roller, so they always gave her the top suite. I was like, what are you doing? But we would sing Christmas carols. We would order room service, drink champagne. And then the next morning, we had a big breakfast, and that was so much fun. I mean, I loved Cleveland and the smell and all that was great. But Christmas in Vegas with your family and in a suite, priceless.”

With such festive, albeit non-traditional family holidays being a part of her fiber, it’s no wonder that Kym Whitley is such an engaging reveler as host of OWN‘s The Big Holiday Food Fight.

The Big Holiday Food Fight airs Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on OWN.

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Does your family have non-traditional holidays like Kym Whitley? Would you enjoy a Vegas holiday?