Top Chef Seattle: Kristen Kish Breaks Down Last Chance Kitchen, Episode 12
If last weeks’ episode of Top Chef left viewers with a wounded sense of injustice, this week was all about retribution. Josie Smith-Malave and her obnoxious, har-de-har sideshow were practically served up to Kristen Kish in a Last Chance Kitchen revenge scheme, embroidered headband and all. We caught up with Kristen to discuss her new life on the sidelines and her reputation as this season’s most cherished martyr.
So how does it feel to be watching an episode where you’re not participating?
(Long pause) It made me want to be there, for sure. I was thinking, “I want to do sushi! I want to do fried chicken!” But it’s good. I like watching them and seeing what the other chefs are doing.
The challenges were very stripped down and simple with sushi and fried chicken. After seeing what they created, were you thinking that you could have done better?
No, not at all. Going back and watching the previous season, before I was even on it, I get writer’s block more than when I’m actually in the moment. But looking at last night’s challenge, it was all about simplicity. The judges wanted something very straightforward. I probably would have overthought it to be honest with you.
How are your sushi skills?
I’ve done sushi classes and dinners at Stir and I am Asian, so it’s in my blood. But I wouldn’t say I was a master by any means.
Something I found confusing was when a couple of the chefs started to disregard the classic, clean flavors associated with sushi. What were your thoughts on Josh Valentine and Josie adding bacon to sushi?
I don’t know, they had all this beautiful seafood, and then they add bacon? Even if you’ve never made sushi before, you know how to treat seafood. That’s Josh’s thing, so I saw where he was going, but that was classic overthinking. Just like a lot of viewers, I was confused. I mean, I would have eaten it because I like bacon and rice and eggs, but they had such an array of amazing seafood.
What are your impressions of guest judge David Chang and how would you compare your approach to cooking with his?
I love his books and Lucky Peach. He’s such a popular guy because he’s cool and laid back and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. We definitely have different styles of cooking and different personalities. But as much pressure as I put on myself, I try not to take myself so seriously. I think when that happens your food is no longer authentic. That’s where I feel that David Chang has excelled. He’s just cooking the food he likes to cook.
When it comes to fried chicken, easily, the best example I’ve ever had was at a Korean fried chicken place in Austin.
I was just going to say that! It his hands down my favorite and that’s exactly what I would have done. It’s so good!
What places should I check out?
If you would have asked me fifteen years ago, I would have said KFC. I mean, who doesn’t love a good 16-piece bucket thing? Always the extra crispy. But the BonChon here in Boston, I love and think is great. Also, Mono+Mono which is in New York. Both of those have great Korean fried chicken.
One of the things that I noticed last night, and which Hugh Acheson perfectly captured on his blog, was the party that seemed to be going on at the judge’s table. He wrote, “the judges’ panel looks like they have been watching reruns of Scooby Doo all day and eating Cheetos.” You can read between the lines.
Yeah, smoking a little pot. We can say it, let’s put it out there. They were funny! Maybe it was because I wasn’t there and under that pressure, but I’ve never laughed so hard. I mean Wolfgang (Puck), what was up with him? Whatever they did, I want some.
When Tom Colicchio asked you on Last Chance Kitchen whether you were surprised to see Josie, you were very noncommittal. C’mon, were you really surprised? I don’t think anybody was.
Well, given the fact that I was kicked off, I didn’t know what they were going to do. Watching the episode, it kind of looked they were setting up a couple of people to be sent home. But when I saw Josie, I wasn’t surprised by any means. At some point, it would get there, I just didn’t know at what point.
Were there any harsh feelings toward her?
I think I made up these pissed off feelings because I was supposed to have them, where I wanted to kick her ass, or whatever. Yeah, I was upset, but I think I fed into it a little bit given the attitudes of the other contestants. At the end of the day, it completely psyched me out though and I was so nervous.
It did seem like the other chefs were rooting for you. Could you sense that while you were cooking?
Oh my god, yes! From the second it started, you could tell that they were favoring me.
Does that happen often, with chefs siding with certain contestants they find more deserving?
Yeah, I think you start to narrow down and really pick out who your competition is. I definitely think that happens. Some people do that a little more than others and will really voice that opinion. But at the end of the day, everyone is competition, so you have to look out for all of them.
Can you describe your salmon dish?
Oh my god, it was terrible! That one was really bad. I was genuinely surprised that I won. I know that Josie had her little blunders and her missteps, but I would never serve my dish to anyone. It wasn’t good and I knew it in the moment. When we were butchering the fish, we looked like fucking idiots, to be honest. At the end of it, I was asking myself, “I know how to do this. Why can’t I do it?” I was a nervous wreck.
Are you going to be including any more raisins in your cooking any time soon?
Uh, no. I thought it tasted good when you ate it together. Everything went well together, but it was just so poorly executed, for my standards. The plating looked garbage too. I initially grabbed those big bowls with a small center. My natural thing is always: hot food, hot plate. So I put them in the oven and when I took them out I put crème fraiche on them and it completely melted. Fuck! So, I cleared all those and there weren’t any plates that I wanted to use, so I had to grab those stupid rectangle ones. And pineapple! I don’t use pineapple. Why I put pineapple on there, I don’t know. That is just not in my repertoire of ingredients that I like to use. I was trying to do things fast. Thirty minutes is a short amount of time for ten plates, but I could have done something so much better. It doesn’t matter though, I won. (laughing)
Stay tuned as we continue to check in with Kish in the weeks ahead.