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Kristen Kish’s Culinary Journey as an Adopted Korean

Dinesh Shrestha


American chef Kristen Kish was adopted by American parents when she was just four months old.

She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and spent her first four months in a number of orphanages before being adopted by the family.

“As I grew up, I realized just how incredible it was to go from unwanted and abandoned by my birth mother to being part of a new, welcoming family, who felt only joy at my arrival,” she said.

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Kristen Realized She Was from Korea When She Was Seven

As Kristen Kish was raised in America, she didn’t know the culture of her motherland, nor the food.

One day, her adoptive parents brought her to the Grand Rapid Food Festival. There, she tried spicy fermented cabbage, called Kimchi.

The chef was seven years old when she got to taste Korean food for the first time. From that point forward, the to-be chef couldn’t shake off the taste of the traditional Korean dish form her mind.

She was eating everything and anything until that age. Kish didn’t even know if she specifically processed that she was Korean, and that Kimchi was her food.

Kristen Kish’s non-biological parents [Photo: Instagram]

Kish didn’t know anything about Korean culture. Further, she said that her adoptive parents were her family, and that’s all she knew.

People Thought She Could Make Some Asian Cuisine

People frequently assumed that Kish must prepare some type of Asian cuisine based on her physical appearance.

The chef described a few situations where she mentioned how much she enjoyed making pasta, and someone replied, “Oh, do you make ramen?” She didn’t.

Kish was aware of where her lane was, and it wasn’t in her expertise to cook Asian cuisine. Kish stated that she loved to eat Korean food, but she didn’t need to cook it because other people could do it better.

Instead, she focuses more on the French technique. She said her grandma’s stuffed cabbage will always be one of her favorite dishes.

The chef started helping her grandma when she was younger than 10, standing on a step stool.

She even shared a version of one of her beloved family recipes, a charred three-bean salad, in her book. It was one of her family’s staple picnic carries. Albeit, her mom bought the original three-bean salad in a jar.

Not usually, but sometimes Kish threw an Asian ingredient into a dish. She said if she used soy sauce, it was because she wanted an umami-salty thing.

She loved Miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning dish, because of its different flavors. Kish looked at it just as rolodex of different flavors as opposed to where it came from.

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Kish Thought about Finding Her Birth Mother

After being adopted by the family, Kish eventually thought of finding her birth mother. At the same time, she felt hesitant because she didn’t view that person as her mom at all.

She didn’t focus on reconnecting with her Korean roots, but she still wanted to at least visit the hospital where she was born one day.

Kish explained, “Thinking about it is emotional, yet I feel oddly disconnected because my family is my family.”

Moreover, she continued that maybe she wouldn’t have become a chef if she had grown up in Korea. She said she was put up for adoption for a reason, whether she was unwanted or her biological parents couldn’t care for her.

“Being in a family that wants you, that life is much better,” she clarified. Kish’s life wouldn’t have been great as it had been, if she had grown up in her motherland.

She was well-raised by her adoptive family after being taken in at such a young age.