Kristen Kish on Reviving 'Iron Chef' and Why She Prefers Hosting Over Competing (Exclusive)
After first competing on (and winning) Top Chef: Seattle in 2012, Kristen Kish has become a fixture in the culinary world as well as on TV thanks to her longtime success in the kitchen and, more recently, as one of three chefs featured on TruTV's cooking competition show, Fast Foodies. Now, Kish is teaming up with Alton Brown to co-host Netflix’s revival of Iron Chef, the famed Japanese cooking competition series.
Although “the original is iconic in its own way,” Kish tells ET that when “you put it on Netflix, it just becomes bigger. It becomes grander.” But just because there’s “more bells and whistles,” she adds, “it doesn’t get in the way of the original DNA of the show.”
Dubbed Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend, the streaming platform has increased the stakes of the competition by introducing the chance for a challenger to be named the first-ever Iron Legend. Each week, various challengers face off with a different Iron Chef in a reimagined Kitchen Stadium as they create a flawless tasting menu that also includes that episode’s secret ingredient.
This installment’s world-renowned culinary masters include Curtis Stone, Dominique Crenn, Marcus Samuelsson, Ming Tsai and Gabriela Cámara while chefs Mason Hereford, Curtis Duffy, Claudette Zepeda, Esther Choi, Gregory Gourdet, Mei Lin and Yia Vang attempt to earn their way into the winner’s circle.
While Kish has dominated cooking competitions in the past, her immediate response to hearing about Netflix’s revival was, “I’m not cooking because I can’t. My anxiety can’t handle that anymore,” she says.
So, if she wasn’t going to compete, that only left two spots on the show: judging or hosting. And it wasn’t long before Kish got the call that she'd be sharing the stage with Brown, who has presented past iterations of the cooking competition on Food Network. “All of a sudden, it just started happening,” the chef says, noting “that’s kind of how all the great things start in my life.”
On the series, Kish and Brown bring levity to the competition by offering insight and hot takes on what’s being prepared in each episode. While Brown stays behind the podium on the platform perched above Kitchen Stadium, Kish often goes down to the floor to find out what’s being made -- and sneak a few bites of the culinary offerings.
It’s hard not to enjoy how much fun she’s having as she interacts with the competing chefs, presents the final courses to the judges' panel led by Andrew Zimmern and Nilou Motamed, or banters with Brown. “I was having an absolute blast,” Kish says, revealing that Brown “left the door wide open for me to be who I wanted to be.”
And when it comes to making her way around the set as often as she did, Kish says, “I have a hard time staying in one spot… Perhaps it’s just my personality, but I’m constantly moving.” But it also proved a helpful way to “define my role” and offer something different from Brown.
As for the competition, the weekly face-offs deliver on the drama, especially when it comes to the shocking reveal of the secret ingredient. Like the original series, there’s no expense spared on the variety of culinary twists thrown in the chefs’ direction.
For Kish, her favorite ingredients are the ones that oftentimes are not at the forefront of the recipes. One example is milk, “because it’s something that we all can cook with at some point,” she says, explaining that it typically “becomes this secondary ingredient. And in a lot of ways, with the exception of ice cream, what else can you do with it being the star?”
The competition also sees other Top Chef alum, Gregory Gourdet and Mei Lin, taking on the Iron Chefs with Jeremy Ford, who serves as their sous chef during the challenge. In addition to winning season 13, Ford is also one of the chefs on Fast Foodies. While Kish has no effect on the outcome, it was fun to reunite with her Bravo and TruTV families. “To be able to watch my friends shine and watch my friends showcase what they’re good at, like, that makes me excited,” she says.
Meanwhile, when it comes to appearing on Top Chef again, Kish is always happy to return -- as long as it’s to the other side of the competition. She most recently appeared on the last two seasons as a guest judge alongside many other notable alumni, including Gourdet. But with the upcoming 20th season being filmed entirely abroad, it’s unclear who will get a chance to show up again.
“There’s so much I owe to Top Chef,” Kish says. “Even getting me to this position of being able to co-host Iron Chef. Like, I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for that. So, I will always take an opportunity, if I am able to, to return and be a part of an iconic show that helped shape my career.”
Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend is now streaming on Netflix.
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