Top Chef Kristen Kish

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KRISTEN KISH

How does the elegant Top Chef unwind? With a Miller High Life and “shitty” chicken fingers.

Boston chef Kristen Kish’s most recent tattoo—inked just two days before her photo shoot for this magazine—represents irony. The 30-year-old says it has become an overarching theme in her life: She’s meticulous and has “a tendency to over-think,” yet things never seem to go according to plan— albeit in a very good way.

Take last year, for example. In February, she won Season 10 of Bravo’s Top Chef, but she had to do it by clawing her way to the top in a parallel web series called Last Chance Kitchen after being eliminated from the regular competition. The roundabout win isn’t the only way her life has changed course unintentionally. Although Kish was born in Korea, she was adopted at four months by an American couple and grew up in Michigan. She set off to study international business in college, but ended up a chef. Even the fact that she’s in Boston at all is a bit of a fluke. After graduating culinary school in Chicago, she was having a rough time and figured, “the best way to start over was kind of just to start over.” That meant moving halfway across the country to a city where she knew exactly one person. “I lived in what was essentially a frat house, with five other people I didn’t know,” she says. “It was a tough year and a half, but it probably helped propel me to where I am now.”

And where she is now is a very good place. After Top Chef, Kish was named chef de cuisine at Menton, one of Boston’s best restaurants. “It probably looked to many like I won a TV show and got that job, but it had been in the works for a while,” she says. In her position she leads a team that creates seasonal, French- and Italian-inspired food with meticulous French technique. “I do elegant, refined cooking all day, but at the end of the night, I just want a bourbon, a Miller High Life, and some shitty chicken fingers,” Kish says, proving that irony was indeed the right theme for her most recent tattoo.

The piece, inked by Ian Dana Camp at Good Faith Tattoos in Clinton, MA, depicts a boy holding a bunch of balloons with strings that have been cut. It’s an image that would be kind of sad if it weren’t for the fact that the “balloons” on the other end of the strings are actually rocks. The tattoo joins a collection of other images Kish has, including, on her right arm, the identifying number and Korean name she was given before she was adopted and, on her left arm, odes to both her parents, a music note, fines herbes, a spoon, and a few others. Kish is also thinking about getting a tattoo inspired by the work of her favorite artist, Justin Bua, but she doesn’t want to plan too far ahead.

“If I start thinking about the future and where I want to be, I lose focus on the present,” she says. “I mean, when I was 18, I wanted to be married by 24, have a white picket fence and a fucking dog—all that.” But she has adjusted her thinking. “Now I just want to be happy. … I feel like you succeed more when you don’t put as much pressure on yourself.”

 

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