Iron Chef premiered on Japanese television in October 1993. This over-the-top culinary competition took the world by storm. Over the course of seven seasons and 309 episodes, viewers were wowed by renowned chefs facing off against culinary legends for the ultimate title in food televised competitions. Recently, the show was brought back in all its former glory by Netflix, with a new co-host: lesbian chefKristen Kish.
Kish is probably best known for her incredible comeback victory on season 10 of the Food Network's Top Chef. After being eliminated in episode 11, Kish battled back, winning five consecutive sudden-death victories to rejoin the main competition, which she then went on to win, becoming the first-ever contestant to be crowned champion after being previously eliminated. She recently joined Netflix's reboot of Iron Chef as co-host and floor commentator among the likes of Alton Brown and the infamous chairman Mark Dacascos. Windy City Times spoke with Kish about her journey in the kitchen and her new endeavors as host.
Windy City Times: Was cooking something that was expected of everyone in your household, or did you develop the interest on your own?
Kristen Kish: My job as a child was to be fed, and my parents fed me. My interest in cooking was probably scary and a relief for my parents, [who wondered,] "At least she has an interest in something, but she's going to cook for the rest of her life?" My mom couldn't understand being a chef could be my career, though much later in life she was the one who pushed me to go to culinary school.
WCT: Was there a certain food that made you realize you wanted to be a chef?
KK: Oh, no! I didn't understand that until I was into culinary school. I grew up loving a lot of convenient foods: Hamburger Helper, Rice-A-Roni, mac and cheese. I take all those nostalgic flavors because I truly love themand I do them in a way that I can sell them at a restaurant. We make our own noodles, and we use this beautiful extruder we got from Italy [as well as] local grains, a sauce that takes three days to make, and it's inspired by Hamburger Helper. The process of food is definitely the heartbeatwhat it takes, how long it takes, the preparation of family.
WCT: What's something interesting about being on Iron Chef that surprised you?
KK: My banter and relationship with Alton Brown... That was definitely a surprise, in a good way. We had just met a day before we started filming.
For the most part, kitchen stadium is big, and there are lights and camerasbut the heart of the show is food celebration through competition. Netflix made it grander in a lot of ways, but the soul of Iron Chef is very much still chef-driven, storytelling and the food.
WCT: What was it like working with the legend of Alton Brown?
KK: The anticipation is terrifying. Every scenario in my brain that could go wrong was going to go wrong. "He was going to hate me, or I wouldn't have anything good to say." Getting there, it just clicked into place. And when that happens you're like, "Holy shit! Is this my life? Is this happening?" I went from scared and very insecure going into it and coming out with a new friend and someone I would call close to being family.
WCT: Kitchens are not always shown as being warm and inviting. What is like to not only be a female chef, but a female chef and member of the LGBTQ community?
KK: Kitchens certainly have gotten that rap because it was like that for a very long time; and some kitchens are still like that. However, ask all of the Iron Chefs about the kitchens that they lead. The tide is changing. I think there are more happy kitchens that are out there than there aren't. And some of the best chefs are leading by example.
We're a business, yes, we have to hold people accountable, but it doesn't have to be so harsh. There is a fine balance between being the boss and being in charge, but also doing so with kindness.
WCT: What advice do you have for other LGBTQ+ youths interested in pursuing a career as a chef?
KK: I think it's all about, whether it's a professional job or a personal relationship, you need to align yourself with people of similar mindset. I have a lot of people at my restaurant who are a part of the queer community. I have a lot of younger, more green cooks, looking to learn and find a place where they can come cook. I'll take that any day over an army of the best militant chefs.
It's about finding someone you personally respect and like and going to work there. You don't always have to chase the best restaurant in the city. It's about spending your time with people you can work with. Every cook is different.
WCT: How does feel going from a chef in the kitchen to the host of a TV show?
KK: I watch them in awe. I know what it feels like. I've lived that hour of Iron Chef. To be able to stand back and watch your friends and talented chefsto be able to have the vantage point that I have, to be able to watch that take placeI am happily not critiquing. I am happy to enjoy it. I get to be an audience member.
Catch this newest season of Iron Chef exclusively on Netflix.