Since her exciting Top Chef season 10 win in 2012, Kristen Kish has been very busy traveling and cooking alongside fantastic chefs all around the world. Her new project 36 Hours (Travel Channel) finds the out chef and co-host Kyle Martino bringing the hit New York Times column of the same name to life. The two will be exploring new cities in a short timespan to experience and learn as much as they can about local customs.
Kristen kindly took some time out of her schedule to chat with us about her new show, coming out—and she even appeased my need to talk about Padma Lakshmi whenever possible.
AfterEllen: 36 Hours, premieres tonight. I watched the first episode—it’s a lot of fun! How did you get involved in the show?
Kristen Kish: You know, I had no idea that the show was even being made or that it was even in the works. And one day my manager called me and was like, “Hey, they want you to screentest.” And I was like, “Okay.” And so that’s exactly how it started, it was essentially a call out of the blue and I was just like, “Alright I’ll do this audition process.” And then, that was that. So, really, I mean, very anticlimactic, actually. [laughs]
AE: [laughs] That’s okay! So did you know your co-host, Kyle [Martino], before you began filming?
KK: Basically once they decided on me, I did a little speed date round of potential co-hosts. And we landed on Kyle, and everyone agreed that he was awesome and I adore spending time with him. And just, right off the bat, it was the first time we had met, for our screen test, and immediately, I was like, “Alright, I could be friends with this guy”—and that was the entire goal of casting two people together. So I couldn’t be happier with him.
AE: You guys packed a lot into a short amount of time. Did you have a chance to recover from jet lag before starting to shoot? Did you have time off between cities, or was it really fast paced?
KK: Typically, we fly in the day before we start filming. So, we’ll have a half a day, if not a full day, depending on where we’re going and how the timing works out. So, we get there, and we have a little time. Kyle, will fly from LA and I’ll fly from Boston, so him and I will catch up at some point, maybe grab dinner or walk around. For Berlin, actually, it was great! We got there a day and a half early. Basically we had an entire day before we started filming. So Kyle and I walked around, explored the streets, got lost a little bit, went to the zoo. And took it in from our perspectives without a camera first. And then from there, we do five days of straight filming, and then we leave and go on to the next place.
AE: So your itineraries were built by New York Times editors and contributors, right? Did you get to give any input there?
KK: You know, I was along for the ride, happily, because I’d never been to Berlin. When you have the New York Times and the Travel Channel pulling together your plan, you’re kind of like, “Alright, you guys know far more than I do, so I’m just going to trust you on this.” I think, for me, I like this element of surprise. I like to be able to do things for the first time without having to have done certain things, or maybe not having a lot of information going into something. And the show is not so much of an itinerary. It’s not A, B, C, do this and this is how you’re going to plan your trip. It’s more trying to gather what you can out of a city. I think it’s going to be really cool to see this season play out, because each city, we’re pulling a different story out of. So every single one will be very, very different. Not just visually and aesthetically because we’re in a different place, but the tone of the show will change from episode to episode, which is really cool.
AE: Was there a particular city or episode that you’re most excited for people to see?
KK: I’m super, super excited about Istanbul—it’s obviously visually stunning and colorful. I learned an incredible amount while being there. There are some things that we did in Istanbul that I can’t wait for people to see, and that was exploring this duality of cultures. Berlin is very history driven, as it should be. And then, Boston—I get to explore Boston and show Kyle around my home city, so that will also bring this other tone which is exciting.
AE: So, do you have any advice for people while traveling —how to eat well in these types of places? What types of restaurants to look for, where to search out these types of experiences?
KK: I think a lot of travelers look to different websites and different Google searches, trying to find the best place, with all the five stars, but my recommendation is to stay off of those. I think it’s fine for basic information, but I think the best way to explore a city is to literally get lost in it. And kind of go in having a plan, but not too researched. Just go with the flow. The best thing to do is just talk to people. Everyone is familiar with a visitor, and probably will take you under their wing a little bit. But when you ask questions to locals, they’re happy to answer, because they want to share their city with you and show you the best things. So, obviously, at bars, prop yourself up—a little social lubrication of alcohol, or a snack or something, gets people talking and you can plan your next day by going out the night before.