Harold Dieterle is perhaps best known for winning the first season of Top Chef, but he’s been obsessed with cooking since high school, after which he attended the Culinary Institute of America. He’s cooked at Red Bar, 1770 House, and The Harrison.
After winning Top Chef, he opened Perilla, and last week, he launched Kin Shop, a modern Thai restaurant.
In this, the first half of the Q&A, we got Dieterle’s thoughts on the new restaurant, reality TV, and his childhood food memories. Tune in tomorrow for the second half of the interview. And click through to see a few food shots from Kin Shop, too.
How did you develop the menu at Kin Shop? Does it focus on any particular region of Thailand?
The menu was inspired by the Thai food I enjoy eating, while some others are inspired by dishes I had in Thailand. Even some very small components of dishes from my trips to Thailand are now the basis for entire dishes on the Kin Shop menu.
You went on a sabbatical to Thailand in 2004 to learn about Southeast Asian food–have you been back since in advance of Kin Shop’s opening?
I went back in 2008 on a proper tour; I did some press dinners in Bangkok with Rob Mckweon of the The Mangkut Group [a design and consulting firm that specializes in Asian hospitality culture.] Then he took me around for the insider’s tour. After that trip I knew opening Kin Shop was inevitable and that it would be a contemporary Thai spot.
You were the first winner of Top Chef, before the show became such a blockbuster. If you could go back, would you do it again? And would you be interested in returning to reality television?
I’m very grateful for what Top Chef did for me and while I am glad I did it, I am generally way too cranky to go through it again. I don’t mind doing television, but it becomes tricky when you’re spending more time in front of the camera than in the kitchen–ultimately that is where I want to be.
What’s your first food memory from your childhood?
Serious Italian feasts with the family on holidays. When I got a little older, I also used to throw fits when my parents tried to save money by trying to make me order off the kids menu. My father called me “Mr. à la Carte” for years.
How did you become interested in cooking?
I actually took a home economics class in high school to meet girls. I don’t remember how many girls I met, but I did get hooked on cooking.
Does your Italian-American heritage influence your food?
Absolutely, at Perilla: I’ll do refined versions of dishes my grandmother used to cook for me. I joke with the staff all the time that we’re going turn Perilla into a red sauce joint on Sundays called Perelli’s.