2/28/2013 05:17:00 PM

Chat with Kristen Kish, Top Chef Winner and 30 Under 30 Honoree

Kristen Kish, center, with Top Chef judges after the win
After a long battle and what some deem as a premature boot from the show, Kristen Kish, chef de cuisine of Stir in Boston (and Zagat 30 Under 30 honoree!), came back last night to win the title of Top Chef: Seattle. Kish beat her opponent, Brooke Williamson (Hudson House and The Tripel, both in LA), going toe-to-toe on a five-course meal in front of a live audience.
According to an NBC representative, it was the highest rated episode of Season 10. Kish earned her spot on the show by beating other contestants on Bravo’s web series, Last Chance Kitchen.

Born in South Korea and raised in Michigan, Kish attended Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. She worked for a time with Michelin-star chef Guy Martin at Sensing in Boston but has spent the past two years working with Barbara Lynch and her team. We caught up with Kish to talk about her big victory:

Zagat: Congratulations on the win! How’d it feel before your name was called?
KK: I was definitely nervous. I wanted to do well. I care a lot, but I was waiting like Brooke. It was intense; it was fun. The experience as a whole is indescribable. The idea was to cook the best that I could and be confident about what I was doing.

Zagat: This was a long haul. What was it like the moment you were kicked off?
KK: I wasn’t going to push and say things to save my own ass. I wasn’t surprised, but it obviously sucked to be kicked off.

Zagat: What did you do when you left?
KK: The first couple of days I caught up on sleep. You don’t get a lot of sleep while you’re out there. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t sad. Just kind of slightly disappointed. And I said, ‘I’ll wait for the next part.’ That’s what I did.

Zagat: You’ve been working with Barbara Lynch for a while. How has she influenced you?
KK: We’re a little different. She’s heavier Italian with French technique; I’m more French. Barbara taught me to be true to who I am as a chef, trust my instincts and the vision I have. She’s opened my eyes to who I am as a person.

Zagat: How does that inform your cooking?
KK: I think it showcases more confidence. I become more open-minded about flavor profiles, different cuisines and different techniques. I do take risks as a chef and I learn more about myself as a chef and what I’m doing when I do.

Zagat: You worked with Guy Martin when he first opened Sensing at the Battery Wharf Hotel a few years ago. What was your take-away from that gig?
KK: Guy Martin was in and out from France, but Gerard Barbin, the chef de cuisine, taught me discipline and precision in that classic French way of how you run a kitchen. I fell in love with that.

Zagat: There’s always talk of Top Chef contestants opening their own restaurant not long after the show. What’s your vision and where would it be, and when?
KK: My vision is to showcase my food. My food can sometimes be looked at as more formal. I want to turn that formal dining experience with food into a comfortable environment, while giving very elevated food. I don’t know. It could be this year or in a couple of years. Ultimately, I’d like it to be in Boston, maybe New York, maybe Chicago. I’d probably start at home base in Boston and expand from there.

Zagat: Was there a pivotal moment during the finale when you thought you’d make or break your chance to win?
KK: I was definitely going back and forth on the third course, bone marrow or duck, bone marrow or duck. Ultimately, I chose the bone marrow because the duck wasn’t up to my standards. And then I had to switch my plans. Cooking on the fly was not hard but it was like, ‘OK, I really need to pull this together to give them something great.’

Zagat: You got a lot of love and support from Boston. How was that?
KK: I was getting emails from all mycolleagues, and Barbara [Lynch] and I were texting. Having their support was, ‘Wow.’ I got a text from Barbara watching the show; she was OMG. When I was in LA and freaking out, she and I would text. She wrote me a note before I left for LA. Basically it said regardless of what happens you already won, we’re so proud of you, very encouraging words. Every single time I was cooking that note was in my right back pocket the entire time.

Be sure to check out our just-released 30 Under 30 LA to scope out the next food-world star.


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