House Rules BHG design with images of chef Kristen Kish

Kristen Kish’s House Rules—Take Off Your Shoes and Tell Her What You’re Craving

This chef—and new host of ‘Top Chef’—is all about keeping her home tidy and sticking to a solid routine, no matter where her work takes her.

If you’ve watched the cooking competition show Top Chef in the past decade, you’ve probably seen Kristen Kish. The Korean-born, Michigan-raised chef won her season in Seattle in 2012. Since then, she’s appeared regularly as a guest judge and, most recently, landed the role of Top Chef’s new host. Taking over for the original host, Padma Lakshmi, after 19 seasons, Kish has some big shoes to fill. But her long-running history with the hit reality series, along with starring on the celebrity cooking competition show Fast Foodies, and hosting cooking series such as Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend and Restaurants at the End of the World, for which she also serves as a producer, have her primed as a great new face of the show.

“I didn’t really think about it as what am I going to do to make my mark,” Kish tells Better Homes & Gardens. “I think the beauty of anybody taking on a new role is it will be different by nature because we’re all different human beings and it’s going to be a different experience. My job is to be me, to be honest, and come at it from a point of view that is always with the chef in mind. The show is not anything without amazing professional chefs choosing to come and go through the experience.”

Kristen Kish’s House Rules

Q: If you had to hang a list of rules in your home, what would they be?

  1. We hope that our home is a comfortable place for visitors and guests. The last thing we want anyone to feel is stressed out or uncomfortable. Really the only non-negotiable house rule is: Take your shoes off. I have a wholesale pack of disposable hotel slippers, should anyone need them. 
  2. There are no shoes. We have indoor sneaker shoes, like workout shoes, that don’t go outside. It’s a cleanliness thing and I don’t want to say I’m a complete germaphobe, but I definitely pay attention to where the germs are, so I don’t want outside shoes in the house. We are a no-shoe household. 
  3. Put everything back where it belongs. My wife and I are both from the hospitality industry, so everything has mise en place. Things are in order. We don’t necessarily require that of houseguests, but we’ll probably subconsciously scurry around and put things back. 
  4. We also have a thing where you don’t wear your day clothes. Don’t sit on the bed or don’t put the dirty sweatshirt you’ve been wearing outside—don’t lean against the pillow your head goes on.
  5. There’s more that Bianca and I have unspoken rules for we both agree on. We squeegee the shower door to remove water spots. I think all the “rules” l stem to cleanliness. Period. It’s immaculate.

Q: Did you have any house rules growing up?

My mom instilled in us to strip the bed and make the new bed every Sunday. When we would go to the movie theaters or a public place, we’d come home and those clothes came off and you put new clothes on. So that’s probably where my rules come from.

Kristen Kish

Be a good houseguest and a kind human being. That’s all you can really hope for when you allow people into your home, which is such a personal place.

— Kristen Kish

You’ve been traveling a lot for work. In what ways do you create a homey atmosphere in a temporary living situation?

Keep your routine. If I’m somewhere for like a week or less, I don’t really need to settle in that much. Long things like when I was in Wisconsin (for Top Chef) calling one hotel room home for two months. I stock the fridge. I have a routine in the morning where I always drink lemon water at home, so I got a mini cutting board and fresh lemons so I could have that. I prefer to do my own dishes in this scenario, so as opposed to a hotel service to get clean dishes when you put out the dirty ones, I’d rather wash the ones I have. We go to the store and buy everything from sponges to dish soap. Also, everything gets unpacked.

There are also little things like having certain sprays that I like the smell of—anything that smells fresh, like fresh laundry. Also palo santo—I burn that in my dressing room. And I always bring my own slippers to make it feel more comforting.

Q: Let’s talk food. What are some of your pantry staples?

Chicken broth. I have stacks and stacks of it. Here’s the thing with chicken broth and bone broths and stocks and ready-made soups and things: Will a homemade chicken broth be something I always do in a restaurant? A thousand percent, no questions asked. Is it something I occasionally like to do at home? Absolutely. But also, there are many days where it’s just not going to happen and I don’t want to make it happen and that’s also OK. I think having those things that make life a little easier when you do go and cook. Not a shortcut, but certainly something that saves time is really important. 

Canned artichokes are great. I drain them and put them in a salad or add them in the last ten minutes of roasting a whole chicken. I have copious amounts of vinegars and oils. Certainly there are things I probably to need to part with because they’re expired.

Q: Do you have an easy go-to pantry recipe to share?

Ready-made soups is really great. I created a recipe for Pacific Foods using the creamy tomato soup. Tomato soup is not something that I always love, but being able to see it [as] not just a soup in and of itself, but how do you incorporate that into any other recipe. So I did this baked egg dish with kale, onions, spices, and herbs, and smeared that on toast. Then you have what was a ready-made soup is now a fully formed meal, so I like things that just take a little time in the dinner prep area.

When you can take something that already has flavor that’s ready to go that you can eat on its own, but you can amp it up in a different, creative way. Like this baked egg dish I created used things up in the refrigerator that needed to be used. Not only am I utilizing a shortcut, but I am also utilizing things that are on the way out so it doesn’t go to waste.

Q: Do you have any cooking rituals?

At home, I love to put on music. I grew up with my dad playing Van Morrison through the house, so that always has a special good memory attached to it. Everything needs to be clean. Maybe we’re sensing a theme here. Clean as you go; things need to be organized. I prep everything as I would in a restaurant. I put it all in my deli containers, I clean everything up, and then I go to cook. It just makes the process more enjoyable. If it’s not something you’re used to it sometimes feels like you’re doing extra work, but I promise once you find that rhythm and the routine, it saves time and I think a lot of headache and hassle.

Q: What does a typical dinner for family and friends at home look like?

I like a box to work within. We just had friends over, and I was like, “What do you want to eat?” And they’re like, “Anything you want to do is fine.” That’s great and I get it’s being polite, but also please tell me because otherwise, I have to somehow dream up something in my head out of all the different things. I know how to cook most everything, [to] some varying degrees of how great I can cook it, but at the end of the day I can make it happen. I like a little bit of direction because I cook for other people and that’s where the joy lies.

When creating a recipe, I really like to try and pull from people that mean something to me. Food memories. Something that bridges the gap between past and present. There's a recipe I developed for Pacific Foods—a creamy chicken paprikash. That dish all came from my wife and I chatting, she reminded me of this dish her mother made for me in Australia when I was sick during a recent trip. This made me realize how similar my grandmother and my dad’s side of the family, who’s Hungarian, they cook. So we brainstormed this idea that bridges her mom and my family together. We created something new and different that is now our tradition. From there, we shared leftovers with our neighbor. So it was a combination of a lot of important people to make this dish, which to me, those are the most memorable things to enjoy.

Kristen Kish

When creating a recipe, I really like to try and pull from people that mean something to me. Food memories. Something that bridges the gap between past and present.

— Kristen Kish

Q: Who or what inspires your cooking?

When I think about the food at my restaurant, I had to redevelop the definition of what my food was. When I went to culinary school, I was trained in French technique, so saying that, there’s no insight to how you cook. The way I describe my food is that it’s a story of my life. Different flavor profile, the inspiration to where something came from, who it’s for, that’s what inspires my food.

Q: How do you stay creative when making new dishes?

The beauty is the assumption that I have to have these new dishes, but I don’t. When you’re doing your job, you do your job. And when you let it go, you let it go. The beauty of being part of a restaurant [Arlo Grey in Austin] and having a great team is there are people to bounce ideas off of. So it’s not just this singular thing that I’m in charge of, the restaurant is a team of people that lends itself to not only challenging each other but also bringing new stories, techniques, and points of view. 

Q: Any food trends you’re enjoying?

I find that the food trends—they come and go. They form the industry. I think at the end of the day the biggest trend that I gravitate towards the most is a unique story. I’m not saying it needs to be something unique that’s never been done before. I like to see the genuine connection of where it’s from and whose brain it came from. If you can deliver a story with it, that will make the food taste better. It just always does, when you get a glimpse into somebody. If you can call it a food trend of making food real personal, that’s what I love to see and I don’t think it will ever go out of style.

Q: What are you reading or watching these days?

I’m very much a person that needs to visually watch something. It has to be an instructional video, it needs to be a documentary, it needs to be something I can watch. So I don’t read a ton of books. For me, it’s hard to track the first page onto the last page. I would love nothing more than to just sit on a beach and just dive into a book, I can’t. I get lost in videos. I watch a lot of 20-minute instructional things on my phone. I watch a lot of how it’s made kind of stuff. Like I watch a lot of woodworking videos. I don’t think I’m going to ever know how to do it or get the chance. I also think I could maybe do it but not well, so I’ve become obsessed with the process.

Q: What can we expect from your new hosting journey on Top Chef?

The hosting side comes with a lot more responsibility that I placed on myself. I will say the transition from former competitor to guest judge to host has been seamless by way of Gail [Simmons] and Tom [Colicchio] and all the crew. It’s been so lovely to feel supported from every angle. The process itself has been incredibly enjoyable. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve often thought about the best part of holding this role, and it’s really being able to see the whole process from my point of view. When you’re a contestant, you’re going through it. It’s hard to see it as an outsider and you’re a ball of nerves, you’re just trying to make it one more day. As a guest judge, I would come in for a few episodes at a time and then you leave. That’s an important role because you’re going in truly judging them on that one episode and trying to get to know them as much as you can in that one episode. 

Being the host and being able to see the whole thing kind of arc and go through the entire process has been really fantastic. I was able to step out of my own body and nerves in some ways because I was fully enjoying it as an audience member, watching the chef’s progression and getting to to know them through their food in each challenge. That’s been the biggest difference and one of the more exciting differences [with] being the host.

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