An aspiring Top Chef talks about "The French Chef"

By David McOwen
Chef Kristen Kish

The first episode of The French Chef aired on WGBH on February 11, 1963, starring Julia Child. To celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary, David McOwen, the museum's new media developer, had a conversation with another of television's French chefs.

Chef Kristen Kish. Courtesy BravoTV.
Chef Kristen Kish. Courtesy BravoTV.

When it comes to food and television, Chef Kristen Kish isn’t a household name... yet. That doesn't mean she hasn't been busy. Chef Kish is the Chef de Cuisine at Stir in Boston, MA, across the river from Julia Child's iconic home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her style of contemporary French cuisine earned her a place on Zagat's "30 under 30" in 2012. Most recently, she's spent time as a "chef'testant" on this season of the competitive cooking television series Top Chef.

I spoke with Chef Kish to get her thoughts on Julia Child and the show that started a television revolution, The French Chef.

You're a French chef, so the assumption is that you were influenced by Julia Child, but is that true?
Oh my god absolutely! I mean she's a huge pioneer in French cooking and, you know, one of the first shows that I really watched on television. She's one of the chefs that caught my interest, for sure.

What's your first memory of watching The French Chef?
I don't know if there's a distinct dish or anything, but it's definitely just Julia being Julia. Which is obviously a huge influence on my career, you know? Watching her made me want to cook.

Did your interest in French cooking predate Julia or did she steer you towards it?
I started watching her once I really got into that kind of cooking. So I watched her at the beginning and then, funny enough, I watched that show in reruns more than I did then. But I watch it now... [laughs] a lot.

Are there any particular techniques that you learned from her?
I guess just the classic techniques of cooking. Taking what the basic principles are and then putting my spin on things.

If Julia was coming over for dinner, what would you cook?
I would cook Beef Bourguignon for sure. That's definitely one of the things I cook most often that I would want to eat on a daily basis.

Have you ever seen Julia's kitchen at the museum?
You know, I haven't. Unfortunately not. I mean it's definitely something I'd like to do. [laughs] Trying to find the time.

What do you think about your own television cooking experience?
This whole television thing is still brand new to me. It's definitely been a huge influence. Ideally I'd like to inspire somebody with my style of cooking, whether or not they do exactly what I do. But for me television and cooking shows were a huge influence on my life, so I just hope to be able to do that for somebody else.

Do you see yourself going the traditional chef route or being more of an educator, whether on or off television?
My job right now is I cook every single day. I craft menus and do everything. But since I'm in such a small environment people are welcome to ask as many questions, and ideally I want somebody to walk away and have learned something in some form. And whether I go the traditional route and do this whole TV thing and teach people that way, or teach people coming to my restaurant, it's a huge passion of mine, definitely, to teach and educate people whether they realize they're learning or not [laughs].

What do you think Julia would say about these competitive cooking shows?
You know, that's tough. I would hope she'd enjoy it and I think shows like Top Chef for sure are most respected in that way. So I at least hope she'd enjoy that show.

How do you think she would do?
I think she would just laugh the entire time. I think she would give people a lot of @#$%&!, but in the best way possible [laughs].