As part of the 50 Food Faves package, PEOPLE named our top tastemakers — including Selena Gomez, Kristen Kish, and more — who made an impact on the culinary world with their cooking and creativity in 2022. Catch up with Kish below, and for the full list, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Kristen Kish has had one busy year.
This summer, the Top Chef champ co-hosted Netflix‘s Iron Chef: Quest For An Iron Legend alongside Alton Brown. While the gig was a dream role, Kish tells PEOPLE it also made her appreciate downtime with her wife, Bianca Dusic.
“We travel so much and, especially recently, being home feels like a vacation,” says Kish. “Being home is the time when you can actually decompress and just wear sweatpants all day if you want.”
A self-proclaimed “homebody,” Kish likes to “do nothing at home” while she’s not traveling all over the world with Dusic for work. The couple — who celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary in April — haven’t always been jet setters after all.
“At the beginning [of my career] it was very, very difficult because [Bianca] had a traditional Monday through Friday job. She was in the corporate food and beverage world, so she had a very, very full schedule — and in some cases, a lot more full than mine,” says Kish.
So the pair made a rule: don’t go two to three weeks without seeing each other.
“Now we’ve come into having the luxury of being able to travel together. In the most recent five months or so in all my travels, she had the option of coming with me should she want to come, so she can choose which trips that she wants to join,” says Kish. “I leave it up to her, but we’re much better because we have more opportunity to travel together.”
Dusic wasn’t with her while filming the Iron Chef reboot given it was during the “height of Covid” — but the job was still a dream come true for Kish.
“I definitely grew up watching the show religiously,” says the Korean-born chef of the series which is inspired by the Japanese original. “I think it was the very first show that I ever watched with subtitles or dubbed over something, and I was just completely enamored by the whole thing — so obviously very iconic and familiar for me.”
Kish admits that being a part of such a long-running franchise felt like a pinch-me moment. “The amount of conversations I had with my wife about, ‘Oh my God, is this happening? Can I do this? I’m crazy to be doing this?'” she recalls. The pressure of the reboot streaming worldwide also gave her pause. “If you don’t do well or something happens and, I don’t know, you fall flat on your face, everyone sees it. That’s a really terrifying thing to be in,” she adds.
Once she let go of her “insecurity and nerves,” Kish was “completely, fully excited” and by the second day of filming “felt really quite comfortable.”
“I think I’m most proud of the fact that I actually did it and it was well received,” she says.
One of her favorite outcomes of joining the show was finding a friend in Brown. “Having such a friendship come out of an unexpected person, that will always be a highlight,” she says. While it was definitely “nerve-wracking” going into the experience knowing she’d be working alongside the long-running host, he ultimately helped her find her way.
“Knowing that, as I found my footing, he was there to take care of all the show business…it gave me time and space to figure out how I mesh with him, but also just trying to find my own voice,” she adds.
The Food Network veteran isn’t the only person Kish connected with in Kitchen Stadium — several of the challengers who competed against the Iron Chefs throughout the episodes were friends.
“It was a really nice thing to be able to have your friends come in as challengers. It’s always nice to see a familiar face or somebody that was part of the Top Chef family or someone that I’ve known for many, many years just being in the industry,” she says. “So being able to watch them come in was probably one of the most exciting parts of it.”
“Anytime you’re able to see your friends shine and succeed in whatever platform that may be, I think that’s a really good thing. I’m the biggest cheerleader for them.”
In her daily life, Kish likes to sit as close to a restaurant’s kitchen as she can to watch chefs at work, so a front-row seat at Iron Chef was fun.
“I think it’s a magical thing when you find a team that just dances and you’re in awe of the teamwork that’s happening. I found myself in that place a lot, watching not only our Iron Chefs, but our challengers and their teams,” she says. “I learned a lot there.”