Korean-born Top Chef Kristen Kish is best known for her French and Italian cuisine at Arlo Grey in Austin, Texas, and as a host on Fast Foodies. This week, the elegant former model enters the new Kitchen Stadium as Alton Brown’s co-host on Iron Chef: Quest For An Iron Legend on Netflix.
In a flashy new reboot of the Food Network show that originated in Japan, five returning Iron Chefs will be pitted against challenger chefs in a bolder and more dramatic kitchen stadium filled with top of the line equipment in a larger space. The celebrity chef lineup includes Curtis Stone, Ming Tsai, Marcus Samuelsson, Dominique Crenn and Gabriela Camara.
“To be in this context on a show that I have watched for decades and watching Alton Brown shows and Ming and Dominique cook, holy shit, it’s 100% intimidating,” Kish tells L.A. Weekly at a recent chocolate challenge luncheon at Boxwood, in the London West Hollywood.
“You’re around these amazing and powerful people. We all second-guess ourselves and our self-worth, right? I remember the first day of rehearsals in the new kitchen stadium and I see Alton Brown there and the chairman doing his thing. I was like, oh my god Kristin, get it together. I had a freak-out moment, and Alton and I had a really good chat after that rehearsal, and he was so gracious in helping me and giving me my space to be me, and to figure out what role I play alongside him. I’m the new role. The iron chefs know they are there to cook, the chairman is the chairman, Alton is Alton, and I’m like this new thing. Just like when I cook in my other life, I learned that I don’t have to emulate or be like anybody else. I just need to be me.”
One of the roles Kish has taken over from Brown is the unenviable task of popping into the stressful 60-minute competition to chat with the Iron Chefs when they are elbow deep in fish guts trying to create a masterpiece worthy of the coveted golden chef’s knife.
“We all know there are cameras and this is part of the job,” she says. “But I will tell you, it is so uncomfortable to have to interrupt the process of a chef, because I know what it’s like to be interrupted and I ran when a certain judge would come up to me when I was competing on Top Chef. So I would literally tip-toe in and try to find a natural break, and just felt like such an asshole at that moment. But you’re going to get the most organic responses. Dominique was the greatest joy to go in. She was there with a spoon feeding me broth, I didn’t feel like I was interrupting, but part of the process. Never in my career would I have imagined to be spoon-fed by Dominique Crenn.”
The bigger and bolder version of the show leans more into the food stories of who the chefs are, and according to Kish, food tastes better when there’s a story.
“The beauty of competition shows is drama, edge and that there’s always a box you have to perform in, and a theme. When I’m given the choice to cook anything I want, I panic. If you give me a box to work within, I can give you something hopeful and exceptional. But without that box, I kind of float into the abyss.”
And on the subject of boxes, the cookbook author shared her guilty pleasure culinary tip with us.
“Velveeta shells and cheese with the creamy sauce. Get a can of corn, ketchup and a few splashes of Tabasco. It is texturally and flavorwise perfectly balanced, in my humble opinion. Combining the sweet texture of the corn and the acidity of the ketchup gets a chef’s kiss.”
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