Bobby Flay Gushes Over Girlfriend Christina Pérez: 'She's Always the Light At the End of the Day'

Bobby Flay and Christina Pérez started dating about a year ago after being introduced by mutual friends

bobby flay and Christina perez
Photo: christina perez/instagram

Friends of Bobby Flay's have noticed a positive change in the Food Network star, and it's all thanks to his relationship with new girlfriend Christina Pérez.

"We were at an art gallery opening, and I walked over to two friends, and I was like, 'What are you guys talking about?' " the Beat Bobby Flay star tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, on newsstands Friday. "They were like, 'We're talking about you! It's so nice to see you so happy.' "

Introduced through mutual friends, Flay, 57, and Pérez, 40, a writer and creative director at cannabis company Miss Grass, began dating about a year ago and went public with their relationship in November at the Breeders' Cup World Championship, where Flay's horse Pizza Bianca finished first.

"She's so lovely. I'm really happy to have met her," gushes Flay, who has been busy producing Throwdown With Michael Symon, airing now on Food Network. "My life is so crazy hectic, and she's always the light at the end of the day for me."

Pérez, a Wisconsin native who was on staff at Glamour, Vogue, and Lucky and has had her work published by various outlets such as Condé Nast Traveler, GQ, and Harper's Bazaar, has also influenced his lifestyle, in and out of the kitchen. "She's teaching me to cook with a lot less meat," says Flay. "And now all of a sudden I'm a big hiker. I'm learning a little of the Zen California way."

Bobby Flay celebrating for Pizza Bianca, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Breeders' Cup Championship Friday at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on November 5, 2021: in Del Mar, California.
Bill Denver/CSM/Sipa USA

Their mutual admiration is evident, says a friend of the couple. "She was drawn to his sense of humor, kindness, confidence, and enthusiasm," the source tells PEOPLE. "He's such a gentleman with her."

The two plan to spend the holidays together. "I might cook some Puerto Rican food on Christmas Day," says Flay. "She's half Puerto Rican and I love those flavors and that cuisine, so I want to make sure she feels represented at Christmas."

On non-holidays, Pérez is especially fond of Flay's paella recipe, says the friend of the couple. "It reminds her of her family," says the source.

Flay's own family, daughter Sophie, 25, from the second of his three marriages, is thrilled to see her dad so in love.

"Sophie is a giant fan of Christina and vice versa," says Flay. "The two most important girls in my life like each other and have a good relationship—there's nothing better for me."

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