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KRISTEN KISH It wasn’t always about cooking

for Kish. At 13, a talent scout spotted her tall, lean fi gure and offered her an opportunity to do some modelling, otherwise known to Kish as “taking a few photos”. Then, after graduating from high school, Kish enrolled in Grand Valley State University, Michigan, “with the intention of studying international business,” she says. “I realised mid-semester I was terrible at it and didn’t have a passion for it.” After a little soul searching and some encouragement from her mother, Kish knew her destiny was culinary school. She moved to Chicago to attend Le Cordon Bleu, then an independent programme known as Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC). During school, an externship took her to the Union League Club, where she learned banquet work and stayed for a year as line cook after graduating from CHIC. At the young age of 22, Kish was offered an executive chef position at a restaurant she won’t name. When the cheques started bouncing not long afterwards, she split. “I cooked around Chicago, maybe partied a little too much,” Kish admits. “After a while I had to fi gure out what I was going to do.”

That next move was heading to Boston on a whim. It was a city that intrigued her. “I had no job, no money, not even a clue as how to fi nd an apartment,” says Kish, who ended up sharing a house with some college kids and fi nding a job as a line cook at a local restaurant where she “sweated it out”.

Little did she know that time

spent fi nding her feet would pay off tremendously in the long run. Kish went through two other line cook positions before ending up working with Lynch – a position she aggressively researched and sought out. She exhibited the fi erce, fi ghting, persistent and prolifi c approach Lynch values. At Stir, where she quickly rose to chef de cuisine, Kish was responsible for overseeing the entire demonstration kitchen and cookbook store as well as planning and hosting demonstrations and dinner parties seven nights a week. “Working at Stir I was cooking everything in front of others,” she says. “I did it all myself – cooking, plating, dishwashing. I was a nervous wreck – my hands would shake sometimes. But once I started gaining confi dence I learned to love the process and that adrenaline. I fell in love with being there.”

"No matter what chef job you take you’re going to be judged and it’s up

to you to prove yourself and earn the respect"

In fact, Kish adds, it was this direct customer exposure that she loved most about the job, and perhaps one of the reasons why she excelled on Top Chef, where she had to work quickly, effi ciently in front of colleagues, fi erce judges and a national audience.

“I loved the interaction, the intimacy of things, and getting to know different people,” says Kish. “There were 10 people maximum so we could have conversations and really talk about cooking and food.” It was also at Stir and later as chef de cuisine of Lynch’s Menton that Kish began to hone her cooking style. “My style defi nitely falls more on the fi ne dining side, but not stuffy,” she says. “I like to think it’s refi ned and perfectly executed. Everything is based on classic techniques.” Growing up watching great chefs make their beurre blanc and mother sauces really did pay off.

Her status as a woman chef begs the question – is it more diffi cult working in a predominantly male industry? “Working for Barbara I didn’t feel it,” she says. “But no matter what chef job you take you’re going to be judged and it’s up to you to prove yourself and earn the respect, whether you’re a woman or an Asian or on TV – everyone does that to everyone. You’re forced very quickly to fi nd the teamwork and trust people – you have to – because if you don’t, your guest suffers.”

Little did she know then she’d be judged plenty – and on a very public platform. Kish didn’t actively seek out a

Top Chef audition, but the opportunity arose when head judge Tom Colicchio approached Lynch




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