Christian Gill and Kayla Robison Are The Chef Dream Team

These two chefs have been friends through thick and thin, from their Pendleton days to their Food Network showdowns.
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PHOTO BY DEVYN GLISTA

Chefs Christian Gill and Kayla Robison have been friends through thick and thin, from their Pendleton days and Food Network showdowns to their recent Cincinnati Magazine collaborations. They also happen to have mastered the social media game, using their platforms to showcase their tried and true restaurant prowess and love of Cincinnati’s culinary scene to a global audience.

You’re not “influencers” in a traditional sense. But you both use your social media platforms to showcase your skills and elevate other local chefs, restaurants, and businesses. When you were first getting started on your culinary journey, did you have any idea just how big a role social media would play in your career?

Kayla: When I embarked on my professional culinary journey, some individuals believed that merely graduating from culinary school entitled them to the chef title and dreams of having their cooking show. Nowadays, it appears that anyone can self-proclaim as a chef simply by cooking and sharing their creations on social media.

This phenomenon of “chef influencers” can be a contentious issue for those of us who have diligently earned the chef title. My path has involved 18 years and counting in restaurant kitchens, which is my livelihood. However, social media has provided a valuable avenue for connecting with fellow chefs and like-minded food lovers, extending beyond our local community and opening doors to remarkable opportunities in both my life and career. I’m fortunate to work with brands that I truly love and get to share my love for them to others while educating and entertaining folks along the way.

Christian: First, I don’t like the word influencer. While some brands consistently appear in my reels and stories, I actually use them and believe in them. I don’t just cash checks to promote things I don’t believe in. While that probably makes me a poor monetizer, I just think we should promote the things we can get behind. My content relating to elevating my local chef friends, culinary comrades, restaurants, and businesses is what I will never let go of. We are better because of each other and because of the local community.

At the time I began my career, I didn’t know social media would be a necessity. To be honest, even starting out in TV and taking the dive into long-format shows, I was told it was my restaurant and my menu that made me an authority. Now, you can just be funny, not have a foundation in culinary, and be a “food influencer”. It’s tough out here when the thing that matters most is how captivating you can be for 30 seconds.

You two recently collaborated on a special edition of your series for Cincinnati Magazine. How long have the two of you known each other? What’s that friendship like?

K: Imagine the iconic “Did we just become best friends?” scene from Step Brothers. Two individuals navigating a chaotic world that only they comprehend because they’re fully immersed in it. That’s Christian and I.

We first met at Food Fight, which we now co-host together. But our bond started when we both ran restaurants right across the street from each other in Pendleton back in 2016. Now, we’re both juggling the same frenetic circus of restaurant life, TV commitments, and the demands of social media, all while striving for fulfilling personal lives with friends, partners, and family. The struggle to find balance is real, and there aren’t many who can truly relate. Christian and I share a deep understanding of each other’s hectic worlds, enabling us to support each other, whether it’s brainstorming creative content, collaborating on cooking projects, testing recipes, or simply lending an ear.

C: Oh boy, oh Berto. We go back to the days of Pendleton. I first really got to know Kayla when she was the Executive Chef at Nation. I think we had spoken to each other in passing at various events, but Pendlton is where our friendship formed.

Since both of our exits from Pendleton, we have grown closer through navigating the world of culinary content creation. Our friendship has led us to taking the reins of Food Fight 513 from Mike Florea and Leighe Enderle. We collaborate on content for local media outlets and we both swim in the same ocean of unscripted food television. I never would’ve thought we would become the ride-or-die homies that we are, but I am eternally grateful for her knowledge, experience, and friendship.

Kayla, you posted something back in March of this year (just before you left Arnold’s) that was really poignant, at least as it relates to social media: “I am a Chef. Don’t let this virtual world fool you — I am in the trenches with my incredible crew every Fri/Sat- sleeves rolled up, ready to feed 300+ people a night.” Does that sentiment still ring true, now that you’re striking out on your own?

K: Absolutely! There’s so much that goes on behind-the-scenes, whether you’re in the kitchen or on a shoot. Especially if you’re a solo content creator. Take, for instance, my collaborative series with Cincinnati Magazine. Viewers witness just 90 seconds of culinary magic, learning how to craft the perfect entrée or uncovering the city’s best fried chicken.

However, what’s concealed behind those brief moments is an extensive process: research and development, script composition, filming, wearing multiple hats as talent and voice-over artist, editing, content generation, and finally, the interaction with and engagement of followers when sharing the finished product. That 90-second video can sometimes take up to 20-plus hours worth of work, depending how involved it is. That’s why a like, comment, or share can go a long way for content creators. It’s a way to show support and appreciation for their work.

Christian, you’ve also worked with sponsors in the past. I can’t imagine that’s something you could have anticipated in the pre-social-media days. What’s that particular opportunity been like for you? 

C: Sponsorships/endorsements are interesting. I see them as partnerships heralding a message of quality, flavor, and consistency. Whether it’s a knife maker, military veteran apparel company with a non profit geared towards eliminating food insecurity amongst vets, those bits of flavor-packed food you put on food to make it taste like other food, or a culinary icon of cookware, I’m game to sing their praises if I believe in the mission and the product.

At the end of the day, what do you want your audience to be getting out of your posts?

K: I wouldn’t be where I am now without others sharing their platform with me. I simply wish to do the same for others. There’s nothing more gratifying than witnessing how collaborations on social media can bring awareness and sales to a small business. Outside of collaborations, I hope to continue to educate folks about the realities of being a chef, how to be a better cook themselves, and share all of my culinary adventures with the amazing community I’m fortunate to have surrounded myself with over the years.

C: I want them to be entertained, maybe inspired. I want them to do what I do. I want them to go out into the world and eat everything they can. At the end of the day I’m making fun PSAs for PSLs and reels that make you giggle for 30 seconds, to take you away from the day to day for the briefest moment. For many of us, those brief moments mean a world of happiness.

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