Kristen Kish emerged as both the Last Chance Kitchen and Top Chef Season 10 winner, becoming the first competitor to win after winning “Last Chance Kitchen” and the second female winner in the history of the Top Chef franchise.. Love it when we see an Asian face stand out in a crowd, as we so often should! Kristen was born in Seoul, Korea and adopted by an American couple when she was only four months old.
Kish was the chef de cuisine at Barbara Lynch’s Menton Boston until the beginning of this year when she decided that it was time to explore other opportunities. Perhaps the Top Chef cruise which is set to begin this summer was quite tempting?
Either way, despite Kristen’s accomplishments thus far, she still proves to be a down to earth Top Chef!
My family is standard, white American!
ASIANCE: Who was the first person who taught you how to cook?
Kristen: Television! It started when I was really young. I would cook with my grandmother but it’s not like she was teaching me how to cook. I was there to help! So my grandmothers were an early influence, but not as a chef. When it came down to chef cooking, I was really influenced by The Discovery Channel and the show ‘Great Chefs of the World’. I was completely enamored with it by the age of 5! They featured chefs from all over the world. They were all so elegant and pristine. It captured me right away!
ASIANCE: You were adopted by a couple in the Midwest? Were they Korean? How do you have such a close relation to Korean food?
Kristen: I love to eat Korean food.
My family is standard, white American! (laughs)
ASIANCE: What was your parents’ reaction to your becoming a full-time chef?
Kristen: In the beginning, I was going to school for Economics, anything that I thought was normal. After about a year of studying that in college, I realized a) I’m terrible at this and b) I’m miserable. I would fall flat on my face if I ever tried to enter into that industry.
My mother encouraged me to go to culinary school because she saw how unhappy I was. She pushed me in that direction or sort of gave me that option. I didn’t think I could do it for the rest of my life and have a career. Entering into the restaurant industry brings the normal concerns for parents such as, “I don’t want you to faint because it’s too hot.” or “I don’t want you to cut yourself”. “Don’t burn your arms.”
My parents were THE MOST supportive when I decided to go to culinary school and become a chef.
Chef Chats: Talking With Top Chef Winner Kristen Kish
ASIANCE: Not all Top Chefs were trained, correct?
Kristen: Some are trained and some have worked their way up through the ranks and have become successful. It’s a mixed bag. Either way, I decided to go to culinary school. I thought it was important for me to have that structure. As important as school was for me, I was happy to be done with it and get into the real world and start cooking because that is where I was going to learn my work lessons.
ASIANCE: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a full-time chef?
Kristen: Just speaking for myself, after culinary school, I was ready to start at the top. Part of that was because I was a 19 year old cocky kid. A) Know what you are getting into. There are a lot of sacrifices that have to be made and you have to be ready to give up some things. B) Humble yourself and be ready to start at the bottom of every new job you start. The experience starts from the bottom and working your way through is probably the most fun. It’s not necessarily how fast you can become a chef at the top or how quickly you own your own place, it’s the experiences along the way.
ASIANCE: Do you have a favorite experience?
Kristen: Working for Barbara (of Menton) has been one of my favorite times. Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned were from the most challenging experiences, whereas, I wasn’t necessarily in the right restaurant or maybe I was doing such a GREAT job.
Looking back on those experiences now, I might have thought they sucked (laughs) but I took a lot of lessons away from them. I truly learned a lot about myself.
ASIANCE: Who’s your favorite chef, besides yourself?
Kristen: I wouldn’t even say myself. haha! It’s comparing apples and oranges. I can’t really say who my favorite chef is because everyone has different styles. I appreciate every single chef’s vision and food. I gravitate towards chefs that know exactly who they are. I strive towards that every single day. I love the chefs who do what they do only for the fact that they love to cook. I don’t really look up to the ones that are just trying to be famous. It’s finding the passion and seeing the passion and drive in someone else. It makes you want to have that too!
ASIANCE: What’s your favorite dish?
Kristen: That is so hard too. It’s like telling you who my favorite chef is. Depending on my mood, that will dictate what type of food I want, where I want to eat, the company I’d like to keep. My most memorable meals encompass great food, great company..doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy. It could be a dive-y place. It’s really the whole package!
ASIANCE: Do you have an ultimate chef you would like to work under?
Kristen: I’m willing to learn from anyone who’s willing to teach me and show me things I don’t know how to do. Traveling Asia is something I want to do. I love all types of Asian cuisine. It doesn’t have to be learning from a chef but a home cook who just loves her pastime.
ASIANCE: What advice to you have for chefs who want to get on Top Chef? Advice for winning?
Kristen: There is none! You have to want to be on the show for all the reasons except being on TV or trying to be famous. When I first went on there, I thought, “I do not want to be on TV.” It’s just not my thing. It was presented to me and my boss, Barbara Lynch said, “You have to do this. It will be really great!” So I went on there for the experience. I was on there to win, but the last thing going through my mind was that I had to beat all these people. Mine was that I really want to experience the next day, the next challenge and really just taking in all these experiences and having a good time with it.
ASIANCE: Do you follow any of the other Asian chefs from Top Chef?
Kristen: I don’t want to be any other chef except for myself. I appreciate everyone who has been on the show. I’ve taken away something from every single scene that I’ve watched. It doesn’t necessarily need to be someone that won. Some of the favorites are people that haven’t won. And some of the winners you didn’t really connect with. It’s connecting with people in a different way.
ASIANCE: What’s your ultimate goal?
Kristen: It’s changed throughout the years. At first I wanted 10 restaurants..and then I only wanted one. Do I really want one? Ultimately, yes! I need a place for people to enjoy my food and something that I’m truly passionate about. Whatever form that comes in, I don’t have the answer for that. Right now, I’m in my exploration phase and working along the way, traveling and seeing things and meeting great people. I just want to be happy!
ASIANCE: Where are you traveling next?
Kristen: I’m going to Asia. First stop is Thailand. It’s somewhere where I’ve always wanted to go. The Top Chef Cruise is happening. Fortunately, I get to go to the one that is going to France, Spain and Portugal. That encompasses a lot of different cities. I get to go on that trip as work and take in all these sights that I’ve never been before is such a blessing.