Chef and TV host Kristen Kish eats everything from eyeballs to brains

South Korea, Thailand and Singapore are on the top of American chef Kristen Kish’s travel list.
South Korea, Thailand and Singapore are on the top of American chef Kristen Kish’s travel list.PHOTO: WILDFIRE BURGERS

Reality show Top Chef winner Kristen Kish gets to see the world as co-host of a travel show

Winning the 10th season of reality cooking competition Top Chef has completely changed the life of American chef Kristen Kish.

No longer a nervous contestant cooking to avoid elimination, the spunky chef now co-hosts travel and food show 36 Hours - named after The New York Times' travel column of the same name - and travels frequently to do guest chef stints.

All this is happening to someone who says that being on television had "never appealed" to her.

The 32-year-old decided to try out for the show after restaurateur Barbara Lynch encouraged her to take part. The Boston-based Kish had worked at Lynch's restaurants Menton and Stir, as well as French chef Guy Martin's Sensing restaurant, all in the city.

Speaking to The Straits Times from New York, where she had gone for a work engagement, Kish says: "I have been working professionally in restaurants. But since she (Lynch) suggested that I go and put my name out there, I thought, why not. I'm always looking for something to push me anyway."

She will be heading to Singapore to cook at burger restaurant Wildfire Burgers at 313@Somerset on April 2 and 3.

  • BOOK IT / UP CLOSE WITH KRISTEN KISH

  • WHERE: 313 Orchard Road, 313@Somerset, 01-28, Wildfire Burgers

    WHEN: April 2 and 3, 7 to 10pm

    ADMISSION: $110 (20 per cent off for HSBC cardholders)

    INFO: Call 6509-4408 or 6734-2080

The event, priced at $110 (20 per cent off for HSBC cardholders), is in partnership with Eazy Gourmet and HSBC. Eazy Gourmet, organised by Sphere Exhibits, a subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings, and food consultancy Poulose Associates, is a year-long foodie fiesta with dining themes that change monthly.

On the menu are Kish's specialities, such as slow-cooked beef brisket, sweet peach olive oil cake and brown butter pistachio financiers.These will be served alongside Wildfire Burgers' offerings such as Sriracha chicken sliders, Perigord sliders, smoky chipotle sliders and yuzu kosho ebi.

Born in Seoul, she was adopted when she was four months old by a family in Michigan. She was raised there and later moved to Boston.

Although she does not cook any Asian food, Asia is on the top of her travel list, especially South Korea, Thailand and Singapore.

In Seoul, she has no plans to look for her birth parents, but wants to savour the culture and cuisine.

She says: "What South Korea means to me is very intimate and specific. I will have to be ready for that mentally and emotionally."

The chef started cooking at age five when she baked chocolate chip cookies with her grandmothers during the holidays and watched her favourite cooking show, Great Chefs Of The World.

"I love food and I naturally took to cooking. I was born to be in the industry," says the graduate of culinary school Le Cordon Bleu (Chicago), who is single.

Known for her chic style and good looks, Kish also dabbled in modelling from the age of 13 to her 20s.

On her image, she says: "I'm not trying to be fashion-forward. It's about being comfortable with myself. I dress simply in jeans, a T-shirt, jacket and boots."

More projects in the pipeline include her first cookbook, to be released next year. It will have recipes that she learnt from her travels and work experience.

Fans of her cooking can also look forward to her new restaurant, which she prefers to keep mum about for now.

Admitting that she struggled with mild depression and anxiety in her younger days, Kish also gives talks on self-worth to students and budding chefs.

On her busy schedule, the multi-tasking chef says: "It is more challenging for me to do only one thing. When I have many things to do, it keeps me inspired. I do not have an end goal, I keep going."

While she spends most of her time travelling, she also tries to check out new restaurants in Boston and goes to Chinatown frequently.

She says: "When it comes to food in the United States, everyone thinks of New York or San Francisco, but Boston is incredible and has a tight-knit community in the restaurant scene. A lot of restaurants are opening and focusing on local produce.

"Of course, we are known for seafood and have lots of crab and lobster shacks. Nearly every restaurant will have a New England dish on the menu, but with its own interpretation and influence."

The adventurous foodie eats everything from eyeballs to brains, saying that "if it tastes good, I'm going to eat it".

But throw some smoked salmon on a dish and she gets all squeamish.

She says, laughing: "I don't know what's wrong, I just can't eat it. I didn't have a traumatising moment. Perhaps if it's the best smoked salmon ever put in front of me, I might try the smallest bite."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Have frying pan, will travel'. Print Edition | Subscribe