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Kristen Kish Transcript

 Top chef kristen kish makes it personal

Kerry Diamond: Hey everyone. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe. The number one female focused food podcast in the universe. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond, coming to you from my apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Today's guest is a Cherry Bombe favorite, Kristen Kish. Everything Kristen does is deeply personal. Her hard fought win of Top Chef season 10, her cookbook, and Arlo Grey, her restaurant in Austin, Texas. Everything there is very Kristen, from the menu all the way to the bathrooms, as she'll soon explain.

First, let's do a little housekeeping. Thank you to the folks at Breyers Carb Smart for supporting this episode of Radio Cherry Bombe. What else? If you are looking for a new cookbook to love, be sure to check out the Cherry Bombe Cookbook. It features 100 recipes from 100 of the coolest most creative women and food from Mashama Bailey, to Gail Simmons, to Molly Yeh. You'll find dishes like pink spaghetti, which is like a culinary magic trick you do with pasta, ricotta, and red beets, all the way to crazy cake. That's the real name, a one pan creation inspired by a grandmother's response to rationing during World War II. Learn the story behind each recipe and add some new favorites to your repertoire. Order a copy from your favorite local bookstore, or go to We'll be right back with chef Kristen Kish after this word from Breyers.

As someone who thinks that ice cream should be a food group, I'm very happy that today's episode is supported by our friends at Breyers Ice Cream. Breyers is America's number one ice cream brand, and I'm pretty sure my family of Breyers fanatics helped contribute to that top ranking. Did you know that Breyers has a special treat that won't undo your day? It's called Breyers CarbSmart, and it comes in tubs and bars, and in great flavors like mint fudge and caramel swirl. There's even a flavor called almond bar that comes covered in an almond studded chocolate shell and who doesn't love a chocolate shell?

One thing I especially like about Breyers is that they use 100% Grade A milk and cream from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones. Breyers colors and flavors come from natural sources, and their vanilla is sustainably sourced. Would you like to try Breyers CarbSmart when that next craving for something sweet and frozen hits? Look for it at all major retailers. Go to to get a coupon so you can try Breyers CarbSmart today. That's Now here's my conversation with Kristen Kish.

Kerry Diamond: It's so good to talk to you.

Kristen Kish: Likewise, I feel like we're so close yet so far from each other right now.

Kerry Diamond: We are so close. I just walked across the bridge for the first time during this whole crisis, and I've seen your Brooklyn Bridge photos thanks to Instagram.

Kristen Kish: We can certainly do a Brooklyn Bridge meetup. Obviously our mutual friend, Stacy, and I have met up multiple times in the middle of the bridge to hand off birthday treats and just to say hello and cheers of half a glass of rosé before we went back to our sides of the bridge, which was pretty awesome.

Kerry Diamond: You did that on top, on the bridge?

Kristen Kish: Yeah. Her birthday was recently. Last week or Memorial Day, whenever that day was.

Kerry Diamond: Two days ago, basically.

Kristen Kish: Two days. Yet, it feels like a month ago. Yeah. So she requested... A week ago she texted me and she was like, "Cinnamon rolls and Bianca's chocolate cake. That's what I want for my birthday." I was like, "Sure." So, we made it happen, and we brought a little bottle of Rosé, little Mason jars, had a little toast on the bridge and handed off birthday treats.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's really sweet. Tell us who Bianca is and why her chocolate cake is so special.

Kristen Kish: So Bianca is my fiancée. We were engaged in September. We've been together for a while now. So if you've known what I've eaten for any of my life, it hasn't always been the healthiest. It's certainly been kind of brown, crispy and fried is the general direction of my diet. And so upon meeting her, and understanding what it actually meant to take care of my insides, she got me hooked on this whole healthy baking and trying to figure out new ways of baking these cakes that I love. And so her chocolate cake is grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free. Sounds like there's nothing good left in it, but I swear to God, it is so good. It's like the fudgiest almond brownie. It's absolutely delicious. And she made it once for Stacy, who then requested the cake many times since then.

Kerry Diamond: And we're talking about Stacy London, who some of you know from What Not To Wear from TV, and Stacy's done a million other things, not just that. So the most important question. Does this amazing chocolate cake have frosting?

Kristen Kish: Okay. So I will say the first round and trial batch of it, it absolutely did. It had this vegan refined sugar using powdered monk fruit sugar or whatever, which is a genius thing. And it did. And then we started... We did it once and we layered it, how it was all supposed to be layered, and then we realized we didn't really... It was like it became too sweet. So we just took that out, and now it's like a cake brownie situation, which I feel like is one, it's one less step that we don't have to do, and two, it freezes really well. So we put them in little... We wrap them and we put them in the freezer, and anytime we want to we take it out, put it in the microwave for 30 seconds, and it's perfect.

Kerry Diamond: All right. Well, you know you have to share this recipe now on Instagram.

Kristen Kish: Yeah. The funny thing about the cake is that every time that I've gone to make it, or even lended a hand, or quite frankly, even just looked at it, I have screwed it up somehow, because I don't know how to follow recipes. And so I always get yelled at, so I don't ever make it anymore, but I will get it from Bianca.

Kerry Diamond: Can it be a birthday cake without frosting?

Kristen Kish: Yes, absolutely. I think... I gave her cinnamon rolls. Those did have frosting, but we didn't have the cake, but we had the frosting, and then we had the chocolate cake, but no frosting. So I feel like the combination of it all worked out perfectly.

Kerry Diamond: I love frosting.

Kristen Kish: Well, Bianca will make the cake, I'll make a frosting, and we can have a Brooklyn Bridge meetup, and I will happily hand you off the cake.

Kerry Diamond: Well, the good news for Bianca is my birthday is in March. So she has plenty of time. This monk fruit sugar. So it's the consistency of powdered sugar?

Kristen Kish: So monk fruit sugar has many different variations. So in our household pantry right now, we have white granulated monk fruit sugar, we have golden monk fruit sugar, and we have powdered monk fruit sugar. So looking at it, the texture and the grain, it looks exactly like granulated white sugar, and then maybe like a fine all natural sugar, and then a legit powdered sugar, but quite frankly, it's keeping me away from bags of processed sugar and candy. So I will do anything to curb my sweet tooth right now. And I love it. It's like a one to one swap out. So I think it's great. I pretty much use it every day. I started doing hot chocolate every day at 3:30 instead of coffee. So I'd make a bougie hot chocolate.

Kerry Diamond: What's in your bougie hot chocolate?

Kristen Kish: So there's a company called Wooden Spoons, and Bianca is also in the food and beverage world. And so she gets a bunch of samples a lot of the times. And so the sample came of Wooden Spoon Rosy Cocoa Powder with a little hint of vanilla. And so it's unsweetened. It's like a very, I guess, Whole Foods-esque cacao with some flavoring and beautiful packaging. And so I take a cup of unsweetened almond milk, I steam it in our espresso machine thingy. A tablespoon of the rose cacao powder, a pinch of sea salt and a teaspoon of monk fruit sugar, the golden one, because I feel like it has more depth of flavor.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that sounds so nice.

Kristen Kish: I don't know what it is about... You know what? I actually do know what it is. This idea of, all of a sudden life standing still, where I realized, okay, well let's take advantage of this time, like I feel like a lot of people are trying to, but I was like, I also don't want to put too much time into trying to reinvent myself. That just sounds really exhausting. So I'll just do little small things. And the idea of trying to figure out how to make all the things that, I guess, indulged in every single day of my life, and how to do them slightly more healthier version has been this mission of the last three months.

Kerry Diamond: You are sheltering in place in New York City.

Kristen Kish: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: So probably the last time folks heard from you via Cherry Bombe, you were down in Austin, and you had opened a beautiful new restaurant called Arlo Grey. And we were super lucky to visit you there. Gosh, was it 2018?

Kristen Kish: Yeah. Yep. We opened June of 20... Yeah. June of 2018.

Kerry Diamond: So this is in Austin, Texas, in the Line Hotel. I'm going to let you tell people about the restaurant, but there were so many cool factors that went into the whole experience. And then just to have the most mind blowing food, just really tied a bow around the entire package from the bats, to the bathroom, to what the hostesses were wearing, and people are probably like, what the hell are you talking about bats and the bathroom, but I'm going to hand it over to you, Kristen, and let you tell people what's the Arlo Grey in Austin all about.

Kristen Kish: Yeah. So Arlo Gray is essentially kind of a reintroduction or a love letter to myself from myself in a lot of ways, because for so long after following Top Chef, once I left Barbara, I was out of the restaurant scene for, I don't know, five years or so. And it was never really my intention to ever jump back into it right away. And I wanted to take my time. I also had this weird feeling of like, if I open up a restaurant within the first two years of Top Chef, will I be able to sustain myself? Are people just coming because it was TV? And I just was overthinking, but also responsibly thinking about it, I think, in a lot of ways. And then life just started happening where a restaurant, at that time, during these years, just never fit into my life. And I was okay with that. I always said no to restaurants until I got a phone call and, speed up, eventually yes. So I moved to Austin to open up Arlo Grey.

And Arlo Gray, essentially, was everything that I could muster within myself to get out into some physical form for someone to see, or enjoy, or to feel. It was just that. And so Arlo Grey is what I would have named my first child. The bathroom is a Korean Cinderella story that my mom would tell me. Artwork is my personal original notebook pages that I would scribble in. The water glasses, I would sit in the middle of an empty dining room, which was so awesome. Empty dining room with tarps and construction, and I would watch as the sun would kind of come in and out and see how it looked and reflected into the dining room, because we are right on the base of what they call, I guess, the bat bridge. So during five months out of the year, these bats fly out and fly to Mexico, and come back, and it's just this whole thing. And people love to stand on the bridge. And we're fortunate to be in a location where we have floor to ceiling windows that you can enjoy that every night along with the sunsets.

Kerry Diamond: People are probably like, what the hell are you talking about. For those of you who have never been to Austin and seen this, or seen pictures of this, but literally as the sun is setting, you've got dozens and dozens of people standing on the bridge, and then, this might freak some people out, but it's not as scary as it sounds. All at once, is it thousands, Kristen?

Kristen Kish: It is enormously freaky to think about how many. There are many bats. So they're not these giant things. And like you were saying, all at one time, as the sun starts to go down, they all come from underneath the bridge and fly. I'm not good with North South East and West directions, but whatever. I think South. And they all fly South. And if you're standing on the bridge watching it right in front of you, it looks like this black cloud.

Kerry Diamond: It's really fascinating. So you can actually be sitting in the dining room and you're like, "Why are all these people lining up?" And then all of a sudden it's like, boom. And it's pretty magical.

Kristen Kish: It is. When I first moved everyone's like, "Oh, are you going to see the bats?" And I was like, "Listen, I don't know what you guys are talking about, but this idea of watching bats does not excite me." I took myself up to the bridge. I waited. People are staked out with coolers and chairs for hours waiting to get the best spot. And when I watched it, it was pretty spectacular, I will say. You must see it at least once in your lifetime, if you ever come to Austin.

Kerry Diamond: So you've established how personal the whole space is to you. Let's talk about the food, because I know after you won Top Chef there were a lot of stories, or conversations, about what is Kristen Kish food? What represents you culinarily? And you did a cookbook before opening Arlo Grey, so people got a glimpse at your food and what was in the cookbook, but talk us through the menu that you developed for the restaurant.

Kristen Kish: You know, I will say my culinary point of view has taken so many different identities and shapes and different things along the way, but it was always such a hard question, whether it was during Top Chef, in the middle, or now. So that when someone would say, "Hey, well, what's your food?" And I'm like, "Oh God, that's such a hard thing." I'm like, "Okay, well it's rooted in French technique, like many chefs, but then I love making pasta. So I guess there's an Italian thing," but then people would start to get confused right there. And it's like, okay, Italian red sauce. And then your brain starts to go into this weird place. And then I'm like, "Well, I grew up in Michigan, but I am Korean, and I look Korean. So I don't really know. And so for a long time, I just had this different answer, very long winded answer, every single time. And eventually Arlo Grey helped me define what it was.

And at the end of the day, all it was, was the story of my life. That's it. And the biggest thing that I learned while creating Arlo Grey's menu was as chefs, and it's something I struggled with for a long time, was trying to figure out who my identity as a chef was. I wanted to be successful, so I wanted to mimic those who found success, or I always thought I had to be really fancy and try to recreate the wheel every single time I recreated a dish, and all this stuff. And I was drowning, and I was failing miserably, and I wasn't very happy for a long time.

And I guess the biggest thing I learned was, quite frankly, the only person, and the only way I'm going to stand out in this culinary world is, by giving something that isn't out there right now. And the only thing that really isn't out there right now is my version and my outlook of what my life looks like through food. And so with that revelation, that's all I try to do now is, at least every single dish I can tell you where the point of inspiration was and how it got to where it is on the plate.

Kerry Diamond: That's amazing. Can you pick a few dishes and walk us through them?

Kristen Kish: Yeah. So obviously, the menu changes seasonally, and as often as we want, because we get bored very easily, but the two long standing dishes that will always remain on our menu is a Mafaldine pasta, which is the little ribbon pasta that we make with Barton Springs Mill's flour, from an extruder that we flew in from Italy, and then all farm produce from local central Texas. And so the Mafaldine with the champion sauce is just basically this mushroom sauce, but when you think about it, and it comes together, there's a lot more involved than just a mushroom sauce. There's dehydrating, and then re hydrating, and reimporting flavor, and simmering, and all this stuff, but the core of the inspiration of that dish is Hamburger Helper from my childhood.

And so if we think about what food is and how it connects people is, it's an introduction. It's a very, very quick introduction through one bite of food. And so I feel like it is a responsibility of mine, and it's something that I tend to gravitate towards to as a diner as well, is finding some, one little flavor, one little something in there that's like, God, that reminds me of whatever it might be. And so for me, it's Hamburger Helper. I've had people tell me it reminds them of their grandma's beef stew or beef stroganoffs, or the Sunday roast, whatever it might be. And that's exciting for me. So if you think about what Hamburger Helper is, it's like salty umami, it's oddly balanced, because it has processed sugar in there, and it has these egg noodley things that you add. So take all those little descriptors and put it into a really beautiful pasta dish that we make from scratch.

Kerry Diamond: I have had Hamburger Helper and I totally believe you that that was the inspiration for that dish, but the Hamburger Helper did not come to mind when I was eating that.

Kristen Kish: It is something that brings comfort. So I guess maybe at the end of the day, so long as it feels comforting, that's all I really can ask for. Yeah. It's something like, obviously during pre-shift, and as we're telling our servers and our team what the food means and where it comes from, some servers choose to leave the Hamburger Helper out of their spiel. And they're like, "Chef, I can't sell a pasta when I say Hamburger Helper." I'm like, "Listen, I get it, but just so you know, once they say they love it, tell them where it came from." And so it's become this, probably one of, or the most popular dish on our menu.

And then we have a crispy rice, which is my love of crab fried rice from takeout, of course, Korean bibimbap, and crab rolls with bacon from New England. And so I took those three things that should not ever go together, and I smashed them into this beautiful sushi rice cake that we sear in lots of clarified butter to mimic some of that butter on a crab roll. And then we sauté in haricots verts, bacon, crab, and then we top it with saffron aioli and cilantro and some fresh cucumbers. And so it's like this crispy rice bowl of sorts.

Kerry Diamond: It was so good.

Kristen Kish: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: All right. Tell us one more, and the inspiration.

Kristen Kish: One of the very first desserts that I loved, and this recipe is actually is in my cookbook. So my mom, when I was in elementary school, would make my breakfast, which would be whole wheat toast in the toaster. As soon as it came out you put peanut butter on so it starts to melt, and then cold maple syrup, and a glass of milk. It was this very standard breakfast. I made that into a whole wheat cake with just basically chocolate and peanut butter ganache, and whipped stuff, and all this other stuff, and then a milk ice cream and toasted sesame seeds.

Kerry Diamond: So let's talk a little bit more about restaurants. Let's start with Arlo Grey. What's going on at Arlo Grey right now?

Kristen Kish: So in Arlo Grey, we decided to close our doors, along with the hotel shortly after, in March, when all the information was starting to come out, and the safety became priority for our people and our guests. And so we shut down mid-March. We're still closed as of right now, however, the hotel did a soft, I guess, low occupancy reopening. So the hotel that houses Arlo Grey is currently serving guests as a hotel, with hotel rooms and everything, just at a smaller occupancy level. And then right now there's a cocktail bar, which I'm not associated with, but that's because it's outside. So right now they can entertain guests and whatever up there with different kinds of rules and regulations. And then there's a little takeout window on the corner restaurant that services the pool guests, and then street guests walking by on the bridge.

Kristen Kish: And then right now we're brainstorming what one, it would look like to reopen in a somewhat, interestingly, kind of the same way, but nothing will ever be the same, of what it means to open a true dining restaurant. We're hopeful for the fall, but again, I think this experiment of just opening the hotel a few days ago will be a big thing to jump off from, and learn a lot from.

Kerry Diamond: All right. Let's transition and talk about Top Chef. As we mentioned at the top of the show, Kristen was one of the Top Chef winners. I'm sure you all know that. And Top Chef is on right now. I didn't realize this, but one of your best friends is competing.

Kristen Kish: Yeah. So Stephanie Cmar. She is currently still on, which is awesome. Yeah. So she's still on, I think top. I think they're at what? Four or five people left. I'm not a hundred percent sure, but during the time, I was working and living in Austin while she was filming. And so we would FaceTime and I'd get to talk to her and hear some vague stories of what was happening, and touch base with her. So probably people recognize Stephanie, because this is, I guess, technically the second slash third time she's been on. So her and I both went on to the Seattle season. Fortunately I made it to the actual season. Unfortunately she wasn't able to get there, but then she came back, I believe the next season. New Orleans season, and she came top six, I believe, and now she's back in. I think she's surpassed the top six, which is great.

Kerry Diamond: Well, hopefully third time is a charm. So you mentioned also your Boston roots. You famously worked with Barbara Lynch, who we all know and love. She's got her restaurant empire in Boston. So there's a lot of Boston represented this time. You've got your pal, but then there's also Karen Akunowicz, who we had on the show a few weeks ago.

Kristen Kish: Yeah. I love Karen. I followed her from, I guess, the first time she was on, I'm not sure what season that was, but obviously I knew of her and she worked with Joanne Chang at the time of when I got to know her. She ran Myers + Chang, and then she opened up Fox & the Knife, and just everything that she's done, I feel like has been such a different... I mean, she went from Asian to Italian, which I was like, wait a minute. I know you as Karen from Myers + Chang, and then she opens up this amazing Italian restaurant with her heart, and her soul, and her passion all dumped into this amazing little neighborhood restaurant, which I've had the pleasure of eating at. And it's been fun to see where she's going and what she's doing. And I'm supporting her from afar as well.

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. Well, we'll find out soon who wins, but wishing both of them a lot of good luck. Kristen, before we let you go, I want to talk about the month of May, which is about to end, but it's a very interesting month because it's both Mental Health Awareness Month, and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You've been very honest over the years about issues like addiction and other things. And it's something that the restaurant industry hasn't paid enough attention to over the years. That's definitely started to change thanks to folks like Kat Kinsman, who started programs like Chefs With Issues, and just opening up the conversation. This is a very challenging month for everybody. So I just wanted to know if you had any advice for anyone who's dealing with issues of their own. Maybe just some advice on how you have dealt with things over the years.

Kristen Kish: Yeah. You know, it's definitely taken so many different shapes. For most of my life I didn't know how to deal with it, because I refused to talk about it. And I refused to admit that I felt anything less than perfect. And so the first step, obviously, is talking about it, which thankfully, like you're saying, the programs that are starting to show up for people, the ones that are saying, listen, let's all get together and let's talk about it, or let's not all get together, but listen, this place is here because people are talking about it. And almost normalizing something that we all carry, in some ways, within ourselves is these challenges and struggles that go on, and the voices in your head that tell you you're not good enough, or you don't deserve something, or the only way to be successful is to work your ass off and basically dig yourself an early grave.

These things that were just so ingrained in us for so long, it's now just time to decide one, we have to squash it. And the only way to squash it is by saying, listen, I think a lot of people always say like, "You're not alone," which is a hundred percent true. And I think for me, that was always something that I found discomfort and comfort in, is knowing that I wasn't alone and sometimes isolated. Isolation is truly one of the things that can trigger and challenge us in so many different ways, and so whether it be it from afar, or a friend admitting the same thing, or just having a conversation about it, it's not a bad thing. I think that's the first step, right? And so there are so many different platforms and so many different people that are willing to talk about it, and get real down and dirty and vulnerable with themselves and about themselves to other people, which I think is very, very important. It's the biggest thing that we have is each other. Right?

And I think, especially during... I know that when I go back to working normally, I guess, I will not live the same way that I used to. I've learned an incredible amount of time just by being still. And I think a lot of people have also said they've gone back and forth about trying to be like, okay, how am I going to use this time wisely? How am I going to figure out what the next best thing is in my life, and all this stuff. And I think it's responsible to think about and use your time wisely a hundred percent, but quite frankly, there are days when I sit and I shut off everything and I don't want to talk to anybody and I don't actually do anything productive. Meanwhile, it's probably the most productive thing that I can do for myself. And so I think allowing yourself and giving yourself permission to just not be busy is something that we're all learning is a really good thing.

Kerry Diamond: All right. And last question. Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month, Nancy Pappas, who's our design director felt very passionate. She, like you, is a Korean American, she's an adoptee also. And she felt very strongly about celebrating it and having Cherry Bombe celebrate it, and all the different people in the community and all their achievements. Cookbooks, products, restaurants, you name it. So what are your thoughts on, on setting aside a month to acknowledge the community?

Kristen Kish: You know, there's so many months that are designated for certain people, certain groups of people in different communities, and listen, I think it's wonderful. I think some people will be like, "Oh, well, we should be doing this every month. Every person deserves every month of the year," and all this stuff, but the reality is, is that the focusing the attention doesn't ever happen until you say this is the month, right? And so at least when you say this is the month, it can at least trickle out, and out, and out, and make it so there is a possibility that everyone is celebrated every day of the year. And so, I've done a lot of stuff, whether it be speaking during these times, or I had partnered with Macy's years ago and I traveled around and we just talked about what it meant to be Asian American.

And I feel like one, it's a very freeing thing for me. It is therapeutic for me, because it's something I never really truly knew how to identify with. And so for me, I look at it in a different way than maybe some. And for me, it is a moment for me to just say, "Hey, you celebrate you for a second, because you also have to remember, you are a part of this community." And that's a hard thing to admit, to say that I'd never felt like I was, but it's also a swift kick in the behind for me to be like, "Okay, Kristen, remind yourself of who you are, and where you come from, and what makes you, you. And so I'm grateful for the month, and it's teaching me how to recognize those people around me.

Kerry Diamond: You know, one of the most remarkable things for me about the program that the Cherry Bombe team put together is how many young women are kind of reclaiming their Asian heritage and putting their own spin on food products. It's really incredible. I had no idea how many were out there and how many brand new brands have launched, including some during the pandemic.

Kristen Kish: So I saw on Cherry Bombe's Instagram that Noona's Ice Cream, run by a woman named Hannah Bae... That caught my eye one, because it's ice cream, and two, I don't know the right way to say this, but it puts a literal smile on my face when I see these people that look like me behind these things, because, like I was saying, I never saw myself as Asian. And it was the Asian community that reminded me that I am Asian and I can be part of this community. And so being able to support companies run by Asian Americans is a really proud thing for me.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to Kristen Kish. I am going to take her up on that chocolate cake handoff on the Brooklyn Bridge. Stay tuned. If you'd like to know more about Kristen, you can pick up her beautiful cookbook, Kristen Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques at your favorite indie bookstore or Thank you to Breyers CarbSmart for supporting our show. I've got some waiting for me in my freezer right now. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited by Kat Garelli. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Hang in there, everybody. And thank you for listening. You are the bombe.

Outro: I'll have what she's having.

Hillary Capps: Hi, my name is Hillary Capps and I'm a singer-songwriter, event producer, and hospitality professional based in New York City. Do you want to know who I think is the Bombe? Nicole Jardim, AKA the Period Girl, because she is a certified women's health and functional nutrition coach with a specialty in hormonal and reproductive health. Her programs have helped me and thousands of women learn how food, lifestyle, and more can influence my cycle. And she just released her first book, Fix Your Period. Check it out.