Kristen Kish Has Some Advice for Future ‘Top Chef’ Contestants

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Kristen Kish has been one to watch ever since she first competed in — and went on to win — Top Chef in 2012. Over the past decade, Kish has made herself a formidable celebrity chef: writing a cookbook; opening a restaurant; hosting a few TV shows, including the adventurous Restaurants at the End of the World; replacing Padma Lakshmi as the new host of Top Chef; and mostly recently, joining the Ninja Chef Squad as the brand releases its new Woodfire™ Outdoor Oven.

Eater sat down with Kish to talk about the ingredients she hates eating, her advice for Top Chef contestants, and what she’s been enjoying cooking outdoors.

Eater: You’re having people over for dinner: What’s your specialty?

Kristen Kish: There really is no specialty. I can’t remember the last time I had a dinner party, if I’m being honest. I would say fresh, homemade pasta; anything that can be made in one pan or one pot is always a winner; and now it’s pizza, because now I have a way to make homemade pizza.

What’s your ideal one-pot meal situation?

I love a stew or a curry — anything braised that takes a little bit of time.

Is there a food that you absolutely hate?

Number one would be smoked salmon. I cannot get it near my lips otherwise there will be a physical reaction. I just can’t do it. It’s a flavor thing and maybe a little bit of horrible memories of when I was an apprentice making smoked salmon mousse canapes. I would have to whip it; a lot of tasting of that. I feel like the oil and the fat just sticks in my nose, so smoked salmon is an absolute no-go. And lamb — I’m not a big lamb person. If I have to eat it, I will always taste it, but it is definitely not something I like.

What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve received on Top Chef?

Before you go on there, you don’t really get a lot of advice. I didn’t get any advice and I didn’t ask former contestants, because everyone does it differently, and you have to. So I think for me then, the advice to be shared with Top Chef contestants is: You really have to have a firm grasp of what it is you want to convey, because if you try to be something or be somebody you’re not, you’re gonna walk away from that experience like, What was I thinking? You don’t want to have that moment, so do what you do and do it well.

You’re on a desert island, but you have your Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Oven. What would your desert island meal be?

Well, first, if I’m on a deserted island, hopefully there’s saltwater surrounding me. I would set that bad boy to dehydrate and make my own sea salt. Second, I would honestly make pizza because it’s a new thing for me. The fact that I can truly make an amazing pizza in a very short amount of time very, very easily is something that I’m loving right now.

What pizza toppings have you been enjoying playing with recently?

The one that I created for Ninja. I basically took my inspiration from cheese corn, like Korean cheese corn at Korean barbecue. I did this bechamel with smoked gruyere and I mixed in some pommes puree and added fresh summer corn and smothered that all over this pizza dough that I bought. Then you brush the whole thing with garlic butter on the crust. It’s got perfect bubbles and all the right char. I love it so much. It’s great for the summertime.

That sounds great. How do you like your pizza crust?

I like a char because that is flavor to the max. I like the texture. I don’t like pizza that flops. I need it to stand straight out — a little cardboard-like I guess.

How do you feel about a pizza bubble?

Huge fan. When I make my own pizza dough, I always try to mess with the hydration because the higher the hydration, oftentimes you get that nice bubble. You want it as hydrated as you can get without it completely just seeping into a pool of dough-water.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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