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Fast Foodies Chef Kristen Kish on Reimagining Drive-Through Classics 

Kristen Kish

People do crazy things in ads, Marge Simpson says on an episode of The Simpsons, “like eat at Arby’s.” The implication of the animated show’s repeated ribbing of the fast-food chain over the years is that even this all-American hetero workingman’s family would be hardpressed to find something redeeming at the eatery.

So it’s unexpected to have a top chef (and Top Chef winner) cite Arby’s as a culinary influence. (OK, it’s no Tim Gunn admitting to pandemic lounging in sweats, but still.) Although she may not go there for “the meats,” which is what the chain’s ads currently promote, Korean-American chef Kristen Kish acknowledges her drive-through favorites include “fried chicken in any form and french fries — always. Curly fries for the win if you can find an Arby’s!”

But Kish is not your typical chef, and she wasn’t your typical reality contestant in 2012 when she was on the 10th season of Top Chef and made an unprecedented comeback. After being eliminated, Kish not only returned to the show courtesy of the web series Last Chance Kitchen, she went on to win the Top Chef prize. When she did, Kish became only the second female winner in the history of the Top Chef franchise.

In 2015, Kish cohosted 36 Hours, a series on the Travel Channel with Kyle Martino that gave them just a day and a half to explore a new destination. The chef’s cookbook, Kristen Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques, came out in 2017, and her restaurant, Arlo Grey, opened in Austin the following year.

But Kish makes it clear that a chef doesn’t need to be tied to a restaurant to find success. “Not everyone who is a chef wants to make a restaurant their life,” she explains. “It can be hard financially and emotionally, and if that does not fit into your desires, that shouldn’t mean you can’t be a chef. It is such a specific lifestyle you are committing yourself to that not everyone wants.”

Now Kish stars on Fast Foodies, a cooking competition where chefs re-create and then reimagine a favored fast food. The second season of the TruTV series launched January 27. Kish is joined on the show by fellow chefs Jeremy Ford (winner of Top Chef: California) and Justin Sutherland (winner of an Iron Chef America episode and a competitor on Top Chef: Kentucky). They might be elevating drive-through, but Kish insists the demarcation between haute cuisine and the meals of the masses no longer holds.

“I believe that line is more blurred,” she says.

It’s no longer a world where women cooked recipes that came from BIPOC people, while (white male) chefs set themselves apart as inherently better even while “elevating” the garbage part of a fish to the height of flavor. “Chefs have been open about what we eat versus what we cook for a while now,” Kish says. “Foods, both casual and fine dining, are being recognized for technique, heart, and storytelling. [On] Fast Foodies, we are using fast food as a point of inspiration and relatability — I believe there is no rule on where we get that from and how we can connect to others.”

Indeed, Kish argues the show is “less about the fast-food item and more about using it as a jumping-off point so we can showcase our individual chef brains and how we can reimagine something seemingly so simple. We are all starting with the same item that many viewers know or have an idea of what it tastes like. It puts us all on the same starting line before we go off the rails but still being able to provide context and conversation around the flavors, aesthetic, and textures we choose to use to remix them.”

As season 2 premieres, Kish says Fast Foodies fans can expect “even more remixing, reimagining, and new food items. Fast food is defined by much more than the golden arches, speedy tacos, or flame-broiled items.” Plus, she promises, “Our guests are still as lovely as ever. Funny, engaged, and appreciative!” 

 

Lemon & Herb Steamed Chilean Sea Bass (Remixed McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish)

Filet O' Fish

INGREDIENTS 

3-4ounce portions of Chilean sea bass

1 cup caper brine mixed with ½ cup cold water kosher salt

5 ounces heavily dry toasted brioche bread

1 quart of heavy cream

1-2 quarts (or as needed) of chicken stock or water salt and pepper lemon juice

5 sheets phyllo dough a few sprigs of dill, leaves removed melted clarified butter

5-6 plumes of parsley with thin stem still intact

1 cup rice flour

½ cup all-purpose flour

cold soda water as needed

¼ cup capers 

½ cup brown butter 

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice f

finely sliced chives

dollop of crème fraîche

sea salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

1. Place fish in a shallow pan to allow the brine to completely submerge the fish. Brine for 30 minutes, refrigerated. Drain and pat dry, set aside for cooking. Season with salt and steam with aromatic water (lemon and parsley stems) until tender, about 6-7 minutes depending on size and thickness of fish.

2. Make the brioche sauce by placing the cream and 1 quart of stock in a large saucepot; bring to a boil, and lower heat to very low. Add bread and a few turns of fresh ground pepper. Allow to steep over very low heat for 20 minutes or until bread has completely permeated the liquid with flavor. Add more stock/water if the bread has soaked up all the liquid; this will depend on your bread and how long you steep it for. Strain through chinois, pressing the bread with the back of a ladle through the strainer to release all the liquid. Thin out as necessary and season with salt and lemon juice to taste. 

3. Make the phyllo dill crisp: Layer one sheet of phyllo with butter (brushed), dill leaves, salt, and pepper. Repeat until you have 5 layers of phyllo. Cut into rounds using round cookie cutter. Bake at 350 degrees under weighted and lined sheet trays until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

4. Make the tempura parsley by whisking the flours together, adding soda water until mixture resembles a thin cream consistency. Add ice. Dip parsley plumes in batter, allowing excess to drain off. Immediately deep fry in 350-375-degree oil. Fry until crispy. Season with salt immediately, draining on a grill rack or paper towel.

5. Remove capers from brine. Pat dry. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with finely sliced chives, a dollop of crème fraîche, and sea salt to taste.

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