Top Chef: Boston’s Own Kristen Kish Chats About Her Elimination

In the shocker of the season, the Stir chef de cuisine had to pack her knives and go.

Photo courtesy of Bravo

There have been several controversial exits in the history of Top Chef: Sam Talbot whiffing on the final round to petulant and unpopular Marcel Vigneron; Carla Hall settling for second fiddle to the forgettable Hosea Rosenberg; insanely-talented Jen Carroll unceremoniously booted in round two of Season 8. But this one tops them all! Kristen Kish, already a winner of four Elimination Challenges and $45,000 a mere halfway through Season 10, “fell on the sword” of an ill-prepared sous chef and is now left to battle her way back via Last Chance Kitchen. What did her in? Was it pride, untested leadership skills, or just a seasoned teammate apathetic to matters of ethics? We find out in our weekly conversation.

Do you feel like holding your tongue at Judge’s Table was the right decision?
One hundred percent! It really would have gone nowhere to sit up there and fight with Josie (Smith-Malave). We would have both just ended up looking really stupid.

Tom Colicchio on his Top Chef blog says that he wishes you would have said something regarding Josie’s insubordination. He said he shared the frustration felt by the audience, since he wasn’t privy to the behind-the-scenes issues in your kitchen.
When things come up like that, I need a minute to formulate my words so it doesn’t come across as gibberish, or so I don’t start yelling or crying. So, in the end it was probably best that I went the route that I did.

Was it an emotional moment for you?
Oh my god, yes! I don’t think I said much while I was up there because my voice was shaking. I wanted to say so much more, but I just couldn’t get it out. It was brutal.

Last week you said that you were prone to perfectionism. Do you feel like that go in your way?
I think a lot of things got in my way. The perfectionism got in my way. The fact that I was trying to do stuff that couldn’t be accomplished in that situation. But I couldn’t change the style and the way I like to cook. It became really hard to adapt.

You were making everything to order?
Yeah, I think a lot of it stems from where I’m working right now and past kitchens where I’ve worked. That’s what you do. Everything is a la minute. It’s putting the freshest and best dish out there.

A lot of your dishes at Atelier Kwan had multiple components. Do you feel that with a different staff you could have accomplished your vision?
I don’t think so. I think I needed three more people. Even looking back on it, I thought the plates looked like garbage. I hated it! Oh my god, they looked so bad! The judges made a good point that the concept and idea were only in my head. I didn’t convey it well to other people.

On Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live, former contestant Dale Talde, when asked about the episode, said that he predicted your exit because he thought you had overreached.
I think I was reaching, for sure. I was definitely ambitious. I will disagree with his comment that I was out to prove myself. I wasn’t out to prove anything. That’s just the way I cook. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the staff, resources, or time to do it.

It seemed like the bouillabaisse was the crux of your elimination. What exactly went wrong along the way?
The stock wasn’t done at the appropriate time. Because of that we didn’t have enough time to put in the gelatin. At the end of the day, I did tell Josie not put it in and to add cream because we were running out of time. I was trying to focus on heading up the line and making two dishes, and I couldn’t manage her.

When planning the meal with your team, were you specific with Josie regarding the timeline on the stock?
Yes, we talked about it the day before service. Padma (Lakshmi) was saying on Watch What Happens Live that I should have given her (Josie) a time limit and I did. That being said, the two things that I produced weren’t that great either. So, I can’t really put the blame on just that one thing.

On your Beef Bourguignon dish, you were missing a typical red wine sauce. Did you make a sauce that didn’t get plated or did you have an entirely different concept in your head?
I should have braised off the beef the night before. And I didn’t put the sauce on because it was so fatty and I didn’t have time to skim all the fat off. So I had to make the decision to put on a shitty sauce or leave it off altogether. In that moment, I just left it off. I would have gotten knocked either way.

Were you satisfied with your macaron dessert?
That was horrid! No, I was not happy with it. When I went to the grocery store, I was just trying to find almond flour to make a legit macaron. They didn’t have it and almond paste was right in front of me, so I went with plan B. At the end of the day, I should have bought almonds and ground them down, but I was trying to save some time. I was completely horrified by the results.

Besides Josie, were you happy with the performances of your other teammates?
Brooke (Williamson) was a rock star! She was awesome doing the front of the house and managing that staff. She was prepping food and helping us out in the kitchen. She was definitely the one that I couldn’t have replaced.

The standout dish for your restaurant was the charcuterie soup. Did you have a role in its conception?
That was my idea and I told [Lizzie] how to make it. The original plan was that I wanted duck and she recommended rabbit, which I thought was a brilliant idea. But, whatever, I got no credit for that one. (laughing)

Entering Last Chance Kitchen, were you surprised that CJ Jacobsen was the chef you would have to be competing against?
No, not at all. I knew he was probably going to be the one to beat.

Tom Colicchio allowed you and CJ to trade off choosing the specific parameters of the challenge. You chose snapper in a French-style, while CJ chose a thirty minute duration and a smoking gun as a method of cooking. During the challenge, it was obvious that you were having major problems with the smoking gun.
He was smart in choosing that, because I never use one. I do it the old-school way. He was definitely smart in trying to figure out the tool that I had the least experience with, and he nailed it. I broke mine right off the bat, so I was kind of screwed from the beginning.

Well, we’re all excited that you won and that you’re still alive in the competition. But, when you woke up this morning, how did it feel to have the internet buzzing about your elimination? There are some very upset people out there.
I had to turn off my phone because of all these alerts. It’s insane! It’s just crazy!

In the weeks ahead, Kish will be updating us on her progress with Last Chance Kitchen and providing commentary on the remainder of the Top Chef: Seattle season.