Kristen Kish | Bringing Heat In & Out of the Kitchen

Le Cordon Bleu alumni, former model, chef, oh – and did I mention she won Top Chef: Seattle last year? Long story short, there are few people cooler than Kristen Kish. Last year, the charismatic Kish busted herself out of her comfort zone, traveled and ate her way around the world, and published her first cookbook, “Kristen Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques.”   

Check out her interview below to learn more about her journey, using her voice for good, and how gratitude and humility are the key ingredients in her recipe for happiness.

What do you love about being a chef?
That’s a big question with so many different answers. The first thing that comes to mind is that I feel most confident when cooking. Finding something that made me happy and confident, something that I was good at, took me a while to find. Food (in most cases) brings people together, celebrates milestones, helps ease sadness, and opens up conversations with strangers on a daily basis. Food and cooking for people is like what a therapy dog is to some. It’s like a security blanket, a voice when I lack the words to express myself. It’s my work and it’s also my greatest pleasure in life.

What were some of the highlights of filming NBC’s Life Secrets?
To share more about my story that others can find similarities in, inspiration, or just enjoy a 6-minute break in their day. The greatest part of doing pieces like this are the messages I receive afterwards. I receive such kind words and others sharing their personal stories with me.

Moving to Boston wasn’t love at first sight for you – how did you adapt, and what did that experience teach you?
I don’t think there was just one way or a clear, concise way to say how I adapted. I just had to. My pride wasn’t going to let me move back home or say I couldn’t do it. It was a long journey. I had to meet the right people, and find the job that sparked my growth in a way that I could understand. I had to build a life in a new city and that takes time. I had to figure out who I was. Building an authentic life takes even more time, and no one else can do that for you except yourself.

You recently had to put your Charleston restaurant plans on hold – was that a hard decision for you to make?
It wasn’t. I didn’t have to, I had to think about it real hard and honestly, and when it came down to it, I wanted to.

Charleston seems like a pretty unassuming place for you to open a restaurant – what was it that drew you to the city?
Charleston to me became a city that I found myself missing every time I left. I was drawn to the food scene, I was drawn to the people… it felt good. It felt smart business-wise. It was a city I could see myself staying in for the duration of a restaurant. Even though the initial restaurant plan is no longer, I still frequent the city, I still love it, and I’m inspired by it.

How – in your opinion – does food have the potential to change the atmosphere/energy/landscape of a city?
A city is always a city until you start digging in with your fork, your feet, your eyes, and your heart.

Aside from being totally life changing, what did winning Top Chef mean to you?
It showed me that I was capable of doing something I never thought I was able to do. Forget about the winning part, the entire experience was so out of my nature and way out of my comfort zone. I did it, and I happened to win. I found a bit more confidence in my abilities as a chef, but also as a person who took on a challenge.

Can you name three dishes that you think capture your philosophy/who you are as a chef?
Ohhhh that’s hard. I find other people who know me are better suited to answer these kinds of questions, so instead, I’ll give you three foods that I love to eat that capture my stomach as a person:
1) Chicken fingers
2) Beef bourguignon
3) Grilled cheese (my favorite thing to have made for me after I cook dinners for other people).

You’re all about living life by your own rules. What advice do you have for others who feel like they’re limited from reaching their full potential?
Trial and error, curate your own story, pave your own way, stop trying to look for other people to tell you exactly how to do it. Be smart and responsible, gracious and kind, stay open, teach and be taught.

What – to you – differentiates a good eating experience from an unforgettable one?
The people, the conversation, the moments that happen far beyond the food.

You recently teamed up with Tylenol for their #sleepgoals campaign to support the True Colors Fund. Can you tell us about the campaign, and why this cause is something that’s close to your heart?
40 % of LGBTQ teens are homeless. It’s a staggering statistic that should be known. When we know, we are then able to lend our help in whatever way makes sense for us. They asked me to share some of my stories to help bring eyes to the True Colors Fund. Just mentioning it is starting a conversation that many may have not known otherwise. Helping shine a light to an organization that is doing so much for so many communities is something I support.

What are three hidden gems in Boston and why?
Maybe not so hidden, especially to those who know Boston, but my favorite places to eat whenever I get to spend a few days in the city are: Dumpling Café, Myers and Chang, Sarma, and Kaze Shabu Shabu.

Who’s your MISSBISH? Tell us who she is and why she’s an inspiration to you.
All that embody strength, vulnerability, kindness, non-apologetic voices. A person who has something to say through their words, actions, or silence. A person that does for others, enriches themselves, grows and learns with the ebbs and flows of life. One that shares and spreads their knowledge, inspires even just through a smile, offers a hand with small gestures. Women and men, any age, any background… we are all capable of being this to one another and to ourselves.

What does MISSBISH mean to you? 
It’s a place to exchange stories and inspire one another.

Photos by: Alyssa Greenberg