Kristen Kish warms up the kitchen with some seasonal cooking tips, interview

Kristen Kish, photo by Natalie Engel
Kristen Kish, photo by Natalie Engel /

From her Austin restaurant Arlo Grey to her new role as Top Chef host, Kristen Kish lights up the culinary world with her creativity, knowledge, and desire to invite all cooks to explore flavor. While Kish is willing to travel the globe, take a seat at the table, and open the conversation to food trends and cultures, she appreciates that the home cook might stay a little closer to home. Luckily, the home kitchen and table hold a bounty of possibilities to enjoy.

As the summer sun fades and the winter chill takes over the landscape, favorite recipes transition into hearty flavors. It may be that robust stew that simmers all day. Or, it could be the root vegetables that take on layers of flavors. No matter the situation, the cooler temperatures change not only what people crave but what is more readily available to serve.

Recently, Kristen Kish graciously offered her insight on how to embrace those winter ingredients and flavors. While the home cook might not be under the time clock pressure of a Top Chef cooking competition, there can be some uncertainty when the home cook steps behind the stove. Learning how to enhance the flavor of seasonal produce is a key to making the best meal possible.

Kish suggested home cooks, “Use hearty seasonal produce – specifically for winter produce, use root vegetables, pumpkins, or squash. I find they can take on so many different and robust flavor profiles.”

She went onto explain, “With hard vegetables, I like to brine them like you would a protein. Use a Pacific Foods broth as the base of your brine, add salt, spices, herbs and flavorings of your choice to get a head start bolstering the flavors.”

Since some people might be familiar with brining that turkey, the idea to use the same method helps home cooks to apply the same technique. It is the flavor that will have them coming back to the concept time and again.

While the technique is helpful, the ingredient needs to be the best it can be. Although people might happily stroll the farmers markets during the summer, the cooler months may not have as many options.

Kish suggested, “If the farmer’s markets aren’t as readily available to you where you live, look for sections in your grocery store that feature local produce. It may take a little more conscious effort but it’s worth it.”

Even as home cooks peruse the produce section, all those vegetables can be a little overwhelming. Whether it is understanding how to prep the food or how to incorporate them into a dish, the home cook needs to step away from the doubt. It is all about understanding how to use them and starting with something that is manageable.

As Kish commented, it is about starting small. She said, “Smaller winter ingredients like root vegetables, pumpkins and squashes are a good place to start. You can whole roast them in the oven, just be sure to score or dock the skin for some so they don’t explode during cooking – often times the skin becomes edible, or you can scoop out the insides, or if you really want to skip all of that you can buy precut.”

Speaking to a simple concept that anyone can master, Kish said, “One of the easiest things you can do is roast them with other aromatics and herbs/spices, simmer them in a Pacific Foods broth and then puree it into a great soup. It’s a great way to try different root vegetables but also different combinations.”

After getting comfortable with those concepts, it can be time to push the boundaries a little. Taking a stroll down the international aisle or just trying a new spice can be that first step. As Kish said, “There is so much out there to discover! We should always look to explore and introduce our palate to someone else’s comfort.”

While people may sit at the table to enjoy a great meal or spirited conversation, that food is more than just sustenance. It is an express of who people are, where they are from, and how they want to connect with others.

As Kish shared, “Food reflects not only your traditions, your heritage, your memories but is also specific to time, season and place. So, what better way to learn about somebody than through their personal storytelling and environment.”

Even if the temperatures outside are a little chilly, the kitchen and the table welcome home cooks with a warm, comforting feast. From great conversation to satisfying food, the bounty of deliciousness is waiting to be enjoyed.

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