Q&A: Kristen Kish Talks Her New Gig, Menu at Menton
We caught up with Kish, who’s just off the whirlwind of winning Bravo’s Top Chef.
Coming off the high of winning Top Chef earlier this year, chef Kristen Kish made the move from chef de cuisine at Stir to chef de cuisine at Menton in June. Now, she’s ready to debut her first menu for Barbara Lynch’s temple to fine-dining—and she’s starting out with a bang courtesy of two swanky “Autumn Preview Dinners” on September 24 and 25 (tickets are still available here). For a taste of what will be served up those nights, Kish talked with us about her place at Menton, what inspires her, and more:
How has the switch from Stir to Menton been? They’re very different kitchens, so how does that affect the move?
Obviously it’s extraordinarily different. I was used to doing everything myself—from the prep, to washing my own dishes to executing everything. I was the one person doing all of it, obviously with a little bit of help. Then moving over to the restaurant, it’s definitely different. You learn to trust an army of people to execute your vision, and that’s interesting. Coming from somewhere where for, like, two years, I was in total control, here I’ve learned to trust people.
You’ve been traveling a ton after the big win—how many hours a week have you been logging in the kitchen? How do you juggle both?
Now that it’s official that I’m at Menton and I have a menu to take care of, I’m working all the time, so if I’m not traveling, I’m at the restaurant. Not many real days off. I think I’m on a 15-day shift, 15 days in a row before I leave. If I’m not on the road then I want to be at the restaurant.
Do you get a lot of demand to come out of the kitchen to meet diners who are Top Chef fans? Does that interrupt the kitchen process at all?
I do. A lot of [the diners] are [Top Chef fans], obviously, and the front of the house does a really good job of filtering through all of those things. I obviously want to connect with people who are coming to dine because it’s actually very, very flattering. When I can’t step away, what the front of the house will do is they’ll offer kitchen tours. The guest can kind of see the kitchen and see me in action, and when I can step away for five seconds, I will. But at the end of the day, my first priority is the restaurant and the guests dining there, so I can’t always step away.
Are there any changes you want to bring to the restaurant? Anything you plan on sticking with?
Obviously changing the menu and the food to reflect me and who I am, but it was a well-run kitchen even before I got there. There’s a fantastic team, a lot of which was already there in place when I got there, so I feel very, very lucky that they already had such a fantastic group of people. I’m just looking forward to learning my cook a little bit more, and learning my chef more, and creating a cohesive team under me.
What has been your main point of inspiration with the new menu?
My food is not about reaching and trying too hard. At the end of the day, you have beautiful ingredients, beautiful produce, beautiful fish and meat, and you don’t have to manipulate it too much. I obviously bring my creative spin and give the diner an interesting way of eating, I suppose. You sit down and have a seven-course tasting menu; it’s like three hours. I’m just trying to break it up just a little bit so it might be a little unexpected when they get something. You know, they have a platter sitting in the middle of the table and they kind of just go for it. It’s all really what inspires me. So, that can come from my team, or it can come from the farmers market, or wherever else. It’s not just one formula, it’s more whatever happens, whatever inspiration comes.
Can you give us an idea of what sorts of dishes are in store?
I’ve already been messing with the menu. I’ve kind of done a full menu change, so there are no old dishes on the menu. I obviously focus heavily on local ingredients, and that’s sticking with the season. So, if a certain item is in season for two weeks, I’ll put it out for two weeks and then I’ll take it off and change it again. That’s a really great luxury to have at a restaurant: where you can change it so often.
How often will you be changing dishes up?
I like to change things a lot. I guess that’s in store. If you come one month, you can come the next month and there’s probably going to be at least a couple things that have changed.
Tell me about the Autumn Preview Dinners. Why did you decide to roll out the menu with this specific format?
A couple different reasons: I think it’s nice if I put it back out there, and although, yes, I have changed the menu and I have done new some stuff, it’s not my debut menu. It’s sort of a reintroduction to me being there.
At $350 a head, the dinners are more expensive than a typical Menton dinner–what sort of extras are in store for diners choosing to go the preview route?
You come and you start with beautiful champagne and a series of canapés, and you go into a lovely five-course menu. There’s foie and there’s caviar; all the things we like to do at Menton. It’s more about the experience. I’m going to go and chat with every table and give insight behind the scenes of why this is on the menu, because I have inspiration and a reason for why everything hits that menu. It’s an interesting, personal touch when they can come to these dinners and I’m at their disposal. They can ask anything, I’ll tell them anything, and it’s a lovely dining experience.
Take a look at some of the new dishes Kish has on the menu at Menton:
East Coast Halibut
Pousse-pied, popcorn shoots, and lobster nage
Smoked brioche, leek, and garbanzo bean
Rhode Island Fluke
Lemon Bavarian, black pepper tuille, and roe
Smoked Bluefish Salad
Blackberry, swiss chard, and pomegranate
Parmesan reggiano, cipolini, and sea beans
Yogurt, black olive, and fairytale eggplant
Prune, kale, and toro peppers
Farro, beet, and seckel pear
Pistachio butter, melon, and lardo
Peach, hazelnut, and caviar
Seared Foie Gras de Canard
Honey, husk cherry, and brioche
Marcho Farm Veal
Escargot, celeriac, and sweetbread
Coffee Bavarian, muscavado sugar, candied pecans, and crème frâiche anglaise garnished with coffee tuille and micro-basil
Autumn Preview Dinners, 6:30 p.m., Tuesday & Wens, Sept. 24 & 25, Menton, 354 Congress Street, 617-737-0099, mentonboston.com.