Travel Lens: Kristen Kish’s World

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As cohost of the Travel Channel’s new show 36 Hours (which premieres August 17), Top Chef season 10 winner Kristen Kish has a pretty full plate—which is often piled high with fried chicken.

“The amount of times I ordered late-night room service chicken fingers in various hotels around the world after filming is quite alarming,” Kish says.

When she’s not in front of the camera, the South Korea-born, Michigan-raised former model heads home to Boston, where she cut her teeth as a chef.

Here’s a look at the world through Kristen Kish’s unique lens:

Hannah Sheinberg: When someone comes to visit Boston, where’s the first place you take them?

Kristen Kish at Markthalle Neun Berlin (Photograph courtesy The Travel Channel)
Kristen Kish at Markthalle Neun in Berlin (Photograph courtesy the Travel Channel)

Kristen Kish: The best way to see Boston is to walk, so avoid coming to visit me in the winter.

I love walking from the North End to the South End and going through all of the small neighborhoods along the way. I pop into little shops, introduce people to my friends, or stop off for a snack.

I like to get the “tour” of Boston out of the way, so then it becomes all about eating and drinking.

What’s the biggest misconception about where you live?

An outsider could look at Boston residents as being harsh, but once you crack a true Bostonian you’ve made a friend for life.

They’re warm and kind but also can smell bullsh*t a mile away and won’t deal with it. I love that.

In the past, Boston hasn’t exactly been known for its dining options. In what ways has the city become a worthwhile destination for foodies?

I’ve been in Boston now for nearly 10 years—the food scene was hitting its stride back then, but in recent years it has truly boomed.

[Nowadays] it’s not just chowder and lobster rolls. Innovative, creative chefs are doing great food.

The greatest thing about the restaurant scene here is that the chefs and owners have strong ties to the area. Whether they have grown up here under the umbrella of the iconic local chefs before them or have [plied their trade] in a different city only to come back to Boston, it’s truly a tight group.

In 36 Hours, you explore a city within a limited time frame. What’s your advice for how to get the most out of a short trip?

Wake up early, stay out late, avoid brutal hangovers, talk to people, stay off Yelp, and immerse yourself in a city through the locals around you.

Locals are your best resources, so follow the stories of their city and you’ll be sure to find something special.

In your opinion, what’s the world’s most underrated destination? Why?

Any remote location: no WiFi, no fancy Michelin[-starred] restaurants, no dishes that are on every other picture on Instagram.

I don’t do that often—or come to think of it, ever really—[but] it sounds so lovely!

What are some of the most memorable dishes you’ve had while traveling?

On camera we eat some incredible food, but this particular moment happened off camera.

In Barcelona, between filming, [cohost] Kyle Martino and I went to grab lunch at one of our dinner guest’s restaurants, La Cuina d’en Garriga.

[We ordered] slow-roasted ibérico pig shoulder that was shredded into large pieces and served with roasted tomato and peppers. It sounds so simple and unassuming, but we both agree that it was one of the most amazing bites of food we’ve had…ever.

What do you never leave home without when you’re on the road?

Other than the boring answer of my phone, wallet, computer, and notebook, I don’t really have that one thing.

Honestly, leaving home with absolutely nothing sounds far more interesting to me. If I could carry a backpack with only a change of underwear and a T-shirt, I would.  I have a personal vacation coming up and that is exactly what I intend to do.

What do you do to connect with locals and seek out authentic experiences when you’re traveling?

It’s amazing how people open up over a meal and, not so surprisingly, alcohol. Restaurants, bars, outdoor markets, local shops—a happy environment breeds happy people.

Plant yourself and open up. The rest will come to you.

When you’re on the road, which restaurant in Boston do you dream about getting back to?

I kind of don’t want to say…I don’t want to overcrowd my spot!

It’s Kaze Shabu Shabu, [specializing in] Japanese hot pot. [It’s been my go-to] since the moment I moved to Boston. I order the exact same thing every time, which is at least once a week. One week I went four times. I crave it.

In what ways did Top Chef prepare you to host a travel show?

Top Chef got me on TV. I never thought I would do television, period.

I still get nervous! But Top Chef got my name out there and I don’t think that I would be hosting any sort of television show without that.

What’s the destination that surprised you the most?

Berlin, hands down. I went in with expectations only to come out happily surprised. I had some of the best food and met some truly amazing people there. It was the only city I walked away from thinking, I could live here.

Let’s go behind the curtain for a second. [On my show], we spend “36 hours in a city,” but in real life it takes five days to shoot, so there are nights we don’t show on camera. After we wrapped a scene [in Berlin], our guest for that segment took us out until 4 a.m.

It takes a special city to keep me out that long during a work week.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in your travels?

It would take a monkey riding a unicorn for me to think to myself that something is strange, so this moment is still awaiting me.

I’ll let you know as soon as it happens.

Hannah Sheinberg is an assistant editor at National Geographic Traveler. Follow Hannah on Twitter @h_sheinberg.

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