"Top Chef Seattle" winner and Kentwood native Kristen Kish was recently promoted to chef de cuisine for Menton in Boston, a five-diamond and five-star property of Relais& Châteaux.She chats with REVUE about chicken tenders, Olga's Kitchen, and refuses to stick it to someone in her past.
After winning "Top Chef Seattle," do you have any advice for cooks and chefs?
When it comes to cooking, I don't follow recipes. It's very hard for me to write them. If you mess something up, it's just food. It's going to taste good. If you put good ingredients together, it doesn't really matter how you cook them if you season what it is you are making. Cooking is fun. It's not supposed to be an intimidating thing. Ideally, it's enjoyable. A goal as chef is to inspire and make people do it at home in their own kitchen.
Is there a food or ingredient you can't live without?
I cannot live without chicken fingers. I eat them often. They're kind of my guilty pleasure, even though I don't feel guilty about eating them. I eat crappy, crappy chicken fingers. I would never serve them. It's my personal dinner. When it comes to ingredients, I love farmers markets. When I don't have access to one, I become a little sad, almost. I really look forward to walking through farmers markets and getting beautiful, fresh ingredients. And my go-to secret ingredient is sherry vinegar. It kind of goes into everything I do.
It's highly publicized that your favorite desert is a macaroon. What is the best filling?
I don't think there is any bad filling for them. My personal preference is for anything tart, whether it is a lemon curd or a really tart berry jam. Or, completely opposite of that is peanut butter. You can put peanut butter on anything.
Growing up in West Michigan, what were the restaurants you loved?
The 44th Street Bistro. It changed a few times. I always used to get chicken tenders and broccoli cheese soup. They served warm white bread and my parents would always pick it up for a treat as a kid, growing up when they didn't cook. Although... one of the things I kind of crave, at Olga's Kitchen at the mall, is the orange cream shake drink and the chicken wraps. Amazing.(laughs) I like simple food. Now, my favorite meal when I come home is my mother's cooking.
What wouldn't you eat growing up?
Raw tomatoes, cooked mushrooms—the smells alone would make me sick and I would hide in my room—sour cream and English muffins. As an adult, I love those things. As an adult, two things in particular are salmon or lamb.
What do you do on your days off?
There's never a day where there is nothing. There's always a few hours of work, but I do like to run and clear my head. I also meet and catch up with my friends. We don't really get to sit down and chat like we used to. And, going out to eat.
Is there anyone in West Michigan you'd like to stick it to?
I had a teacher in high school that I told I wanted to be in finance and business, that sort of thing, and he basically told me, not in as many words, that I couldn't do it because I wouldn't be good at it. But now, that threw me in the direction I am in now. I can't really be mad. I will say thank you to him. No grudges though. (Laughs.)
Interview conducted and condensed by Matt Simpson Siegel. Edited by Lindsay Patton-Carson.