Eli Kirshtein on the weirdest thing about being on Top Chef: Las Vegas

Plus 12 other questions for the executive chef and partner at the Luminary
Photograph by Austen Risolvato
Photograph by Austen Risolvato

13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. Eli Kirshtein is the executive chef and partner at the Luminary in Krog Street Market.

What was the most important thing you learned working under Kevin Rathbun at Buckhead Diner?
I was, like, 16 years old. I was the fry guy. Kevin was the first guy who taught me how to hold a knife. I was in high school, and I showed up there never having been in a kitchen. Kevin taught me a lot of basic stuff: how to salt stuff, how to wipe down a station.

What was the weirdest thing about being on Top Chef: Las Vegas?
The isolation is the weirdest part. You’re just so disconnected from reality. You don’t have newspapers or TV. Any books you had had to be prescreened by producers. You’re totally isolated because they don’t want you getting recipes or food ideas.

When you aren’t in the kitchen, how do you spend your free time?
I’m on my bike, I’m hanging out with my wife, or watching CNN. I would love to meet Wolf Blitzer; he’s iconic.

What’s your favorite junk food?
I’m a really big fan of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Your wife, Andrea, is a pastry chef. Do you two have any disagreements about cooking or ingredients?
It’s usually very collaborative: She does most of the shopping, and then we cook together. But she always overcooks. I’ll do a salad and a steak, then she’ll add two more sides, and I’ll tell her that’s too much food

What’s the last TV show you binge watched?
We somehow got into The Whispers on ABC, which is just ridiculous because it’s not good and nothing happens. We’re also watching True Detective, the new season.

What’s one thing you wish you knew how to cook?
I really wish I could cook bun bo hue, which is a spicy central Vietnamese soup. It’s not as easy it seems.

I know you’re a big Outkast fan. What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?
I’ve been to a lot of shows. My very first concert, I was 10 years old. It was 1994; I saw Pink Floyd play at Bobby Dodd, and I fell asleep to “Comfortably Numb.” And I saw Paul McCartney at Piedmont Park, and that was just insane . . . He played “Blackbird,”  and on the first note it started to rain, and I thought, Paul McCartney controls the weather.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?
NFL scouting and trying to be a general manager of an NFL team.

You tweet about the Hawks and Falcons a lot. What’s your favorite thing about being an Atlanta sports fan?
Whenever Atlanta teams start winning, it’s the most amazing thing that happens culturally anywhere. It’s incredible to me the amount of excitement and energy. The Hawks and Falcons help bring us all together.

The Luminary is in Krog Street Market right off the Atlanta BeltLine. What’s your BeltLine pet peeve?
People who come park at Krog Street Market to go on to the BeltLine. And those four-people-wide groups walking on the BeltLine—I ride my bike up and down the BeltLine, and you have to come to a complete stop.

You grew up in Garden Hills. What do you feel like the city’s missing?
Open water. If we had a proper massive lake, not like Lanier, no one would ever talk about Atlanta as not being awesome, but then it would probably be as expensive as New York or Chicago. Also, I wish we had a hockey team in Atlanta. Once you have baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and hockey, no one can say you aren’t the real deal.

What’s the best secret of your neighborhood, the Old Fourth Ward?
How close I live to Dr. King’s grave. I ride my bike by it pretty much once a day. It’s incredible that we aren’t having to go out to Arlington National Cemetery to see this.