‘Top Chef: Seattle’ Episode 5 Recap—A Post-Show Chat with Kristen Kish

The Stir chef de cuisine fills us in on the behind-the-scenes of Wednesday night's episode.

Kish hard at work on Wednesday’s episode. Photo by David Moir/Bravo.

Welcome to our second weekly conversation with Boston chef (and Stir chef de cuisine) Kristen Kish, as she continues to compete in this season of Top Chef. This week’s episode, dubbed “Pike Place Pickle,” was a train wreck with a number of firsts: Padma Lakshmi apologizing to a panel guest of judges who looked repulsed almost to the point of coyly spitting into their napkins; Stefan’s theory of “the birthday curse,” which nearly came to fruition; a contestant (CJ Jacobson) deflecting criticism by calling out another chef’s dish as a “diabolical travesty;” and Tom Colicchio ultimately losing his cool and denying anyone the ten thousand dollar prize money.

Where was Stir’s Kristen Kish throughout all this? In a clandestine gray hoodie, trying to blend into the background (much like past winners and fellow stealthy wallflowers: Paul Qui, Stephanie Izard, and Kevin Sbraga). Here, she catches us up on what went down during the episode.

How was it going to Pike Place Market?
KK: That place is absolutely phenomenal! I’d never been to Seattle before but when I hear “Seattle” that is the first thing that comes to my mind. I was very excited to go. I only got to check it out in very fast-motion. There was a lot of running, but I tried to take it all in.

There was an interesting Quick Fire last night with the “Breakfast on a Stick” challenge.
It’s funny, because I’m pretty sure most of us were like, “Oh, sausage-on-a-stick. Just batter it and deep-fry it.” That’s what I’d want to eat. It sounds delicious! Then they said, “sausage-on-a-stick won’t do.” And you could feel, at least for me, this internal groan like, “Ah, shit.” Then we had to go shopping to set up our fryolators so that whole plan just flew right out the window.

How did you pair up with Micah Fields?
Um, I was standing right next to him. We had worked together on the very first challenge. I think we work really well together and I appreciate what he does and I think he’s great.

Do you think he’s a good complement to your style of cooking?
A good complement and a good counterpart. We both have different ideas and I think we work well as a team because there’s no drama between us. That’s definitely a good thing.

How did you come up with the idea for a bacon and cinnamon waffle with pecan maple syrup for the Quick Fire?
Micah definitely put out that idea, and I thought it was fantastic. There were definitely some ingredients I wish had been stocked in the pantry, because immediately you start thinking of something, and I had a different idea of other garnish to go with it.

What kind of ingredients do you wish had been at your disposal?
I wish there was coffee. I could have bought a French Press and had marinated fruit and coffee. The idea I had was that you start with coffee and fruit with your main starch. That was my original plan. Then no coffee. Kind of ironic. We’re in Seattle, and there’s no coffee.

Is breakfast on a stick a trend I’m just not aware of?
I don’t know. I haven’t eaten something on a stick in a very long time, to be honest, other than a corndog. I guess as long as you skewer it, you can put anything on a stick.

On the final challenge, the artisanal ingredient assigned to your team was cheese curds. Did you feel lucky?
Oh my god, yeah! It’s something I would actually use on a normal basis as opposed to some of the other ingredients.

What were the ones you’d least want to work with?
That rose jam stuff. I don’t eat that, in general, nor would I ever want to cook with it, unless I made my own. But that said, I haven’t tried theirs. I’m sure those producers are fantastic. But no.

Last night Tom Colicchio decided nobody was worthy of the win and the prize money. How surprised were you?
I was pretty shocked. I wasn’t paying too much attention to what everyone else was doing, but I thought Micah and I had a good idea and a good plan. It was supposed to be a play on poutine, but we didn’t have the time to make a really beautiful roasted chicken stock and make the gravy. So we just tried to use the cheese curds in as many ways as possible, and then incorporate the potatoes, as well. We wanted to showcase how versatile cheese curds can be. But looking back on it, I wish we would have just done poutine, since you have Gail [Simmons] from Canada and I believe Hugh [Acheson] is as well. [Ed’s note: he is, indeed, Canadian]

How is Hugh Acheson as a judge?
I didn’t have a lot of contact with him, obviously, but he’s really funny. His blogs on the website are absolutely hilarious.

He had some funny things to say about you and Micah. He called your team the “I Am Beautiful But Look At My Skillz Not My Beauty” team.
(Laughing) Which I guess that’s a good compliment. I’ll take it. Anything good said about me is fine by me.

Last week you admitted to sticking your fingers in other people’s food. Having tried the others’ dishes, did you think the food was bad enough to merit the judges’ reaction?
Looking back on it, I didn’t think it was going to be that bad. But now knowing what they said, I’m kind of thinking, “shit, it really was that bad” with the lack of creativity.

Did you think there were any dishes that were just a disaster?
I only saw the chocolate dessert that Lizzy [Binder] and Danyele [McPherson] made after the fact. It was just sitting in a hotel pan and it didn’t look very appetizing. But, when I tasted it, I thought it tasted good.

(Spoiler Alert!) When CJ [Jacobson] lost, he admitted to Tom Colicchio that he went back and forth about his decision to just make a hamburger in order to utilize pickles (his assigned artisanal ingredient.)
It’s a weird mind game you play with yourself. You’re asking yourself, “Do they want something creative and funky? Or do they just want something simple?” I mean, last week I won for something extremely simple. Whatever the initial idea is, there’s always that thought, “maybe they want the exact opposite.”

Not to jinx you, but what’s your opinion of Last Chance Kitchen?
I like the idea. But when I got on this season I wasn’t even thinking about it. I think Josh [Valentine] said it really nicely in an interview he gave yesterday when he said you go on expecting to win, not to ever be kicked off.

How are (er, were) you enjoying Seattle?
I know they were debating which coast to choose before the season. But Seattle is one of the places I’ve always wanted to live, to try out, so I was very, very happy. It definitely helped that we were put up in an amazing place where we got to see a lot of the city from the balcony. If they ever need to fill that apartment with anything again, I’ll volunteer to go back!


Find last week’s interview with Kristen Kish here.  For more online food coverage, find us on Twitter at @ChowderBoston.