SPOILER ALERT: Don’t keep reading unless you want to know who was eliminated from Top Chef last night.
Restaurant Wars is one of Top Chef‘s signature challenges. It’s been known to topple great chef-testants, but this year’s casualty was especially shocking. No one expected Kristen Kish, the young sous chef from Michigan, to pack her knives and go so early. As the leader of the losing restaurant theme Atelier Kwan, she was the most vulnerable, but you’d think her past wins and status as front-runner to win the whole thing would put her through over Josie Smith-Malave, who’s been skating by for weeks. EW checked in with Kish to talk about her surprising elimination and what she’s planning for the future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you surprised as everyone else was that Padma told you to pack your knives and go instead of Josie?
I was definitely surprised, but not at the same time. A part of me was expecting it.
Do you think you could have said anything at the Judges’ Table to change the result?
I’m sure I could have said more — whether or not it would have changed the result, I’m not sure. It’s kind of that weird gamble. You don’t want to say a lot when you don’t think the fight is going to end well. I think it would have kept going on and on and on, and it wouldn’t have gone anywhere.
Do you think Josie took it easy on this challenge because she knew you were ultimately responsible for the restaurant concept?
That’s hard to say. I can go only go off what I saw in the past. I knew she had struggled through the whole season. That being said, I’m not there every single time the judges are at her station or giving her feedback. I had no idea she was that kind of … I had no idea she was struggling that much.
What do you think was the biggest mistake made at Atelier Kwan?
I think my biggest mistake that I made was trying to do too much: trying to see every plate that went out, trying to do everything. Where I work now, I’m used to doing everything from peeling the first carrot to putting on finishing touches before the plate goes out. That being said, there’s usually ten people I’m serving. I think my biggest mistake is not adapting to the volume I needed to produce.
Well, you went big!
Exactly! Go big and I went home. [Laughs] All’s good.
When it came to your dishes, the judges pointed out that your French dishes weren’t what they expected. But wasn’t the whole point of Atelier Kwan to make classic French dishes with a twist?
I think when you put such a classic dish up for interpretation there’s always that risk. I agree wholeheartedly with everything that they said. Things should have had a sauce, things should have been the same as the original in some sense. I guess one of the bigger mistakes is that instead of cooking good food I tried to make too much of a theme, I guess. Which I kind of regret now, but oh well.
Out of the remaining contestants, who are you rooting for?
Definitely Brooke. She’s become one of my closest friends, for sure. And Sheldon, I think everyone needs to see his type of cuisine. I don’t think it’s really mainstream, which is fantastic. I’d like to go to all their restaurants and try their food in a real setting.
You didn’t mention Stefan! Speaking of which, why didn’t you pick him for your Restaurant Wars team?
Oh, God. I don’t know! He jokes, like, “Well we like to keep business and pleasure separate…” [Laughs] I don’t know. I have no idea.
What’s your relationship with Stefan like now?
We’re still friends! He called me this morning to see how I was doing.
What was your favorite challenge?
If I had to pick one, probably the Healthy Choice thing with the chicken pot pie. I went into that one really light-hearted. It was fun to do something outside of my box, a.k.a. not using butter.
Wasn’t that one of the challenges you won $10,000 for?
No, that one was $15,000! So that was good.
Tons of people are rooting for you to come back via Last Chance Kitchen. Is that lower pressure, since you’ve already gone through the gauntlet of the regular competition, or is it higher pressure?
I’d say more high pressure because you get ONE more chance to prove yourself. It’s really hard.
Whatever happens, at least you won more money than any chef this season, by far. Have you gone to Korea yet?
Not yet but it’s definitely in my near future, for sure. I kind of gotta put together a game plan first. So maybe a little bit of that money will go to accelerated advanced Korean language learning thing. Or maybe I’ll just point at things! [Laughs]
Follow @EWStephanLee on Twitter.