Catching up with Top Chef Richard Blais

July 24, 2011
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A few months ago, I caught up with Richard Blais — the winner of Top Chef: All Stars. On a stop on his road trip with his family, he took time to talk to me. He’s a great guy!

Anyway, here’s the transcript from my interview with him…

Musings: What have you enjoyed doing since Top Chef?

Blais: Top Chef: All Stars and the new show on the Science Channel — part of Discovery Communications — Blais Off.

I own several Restaurants called Flip Burger Boutique in Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta.  I work with a company called Sous Vide Supreme that has established a line of products named after me. Sous Vide Supreme is built for home cooks.

Musings: What prompted you to audition for Top Chef?

Blais: I didn’t audition. Top Chef producers were recruiting talented chefs. Some chefs are referred to the show. While others are chosen through standard auditions. I got a cold call from casting director.

I am fascinating by the “art of casting” a show.

Musings: What was Top Chef like?

Blais: I won Top Chef: All Stars and was a finalist for Top Chef: Chicago. Experience was good. I loved the experience of the show. It was “like improv” — you never knew what would happen during each cooking challenge. The experience that comes from improv was tremendous.

It was challenging with cameras on 24 hours a day. I was mic’d all the time.

Musings: Did you find some of the contestants “hamming it up” or some trying to get more screen time?

Blais: It’s a TV show there will always be those people who want to get screen time however they can.

Musings: I saw you at the Metro Cooking show in DC. Do you do many shows per year?

Blais: I do demos. I do shows all over the place. One part of my business that is hard to understand is the shows, demos, and lectures. A big part of business is the demos. I guest speak at culinary schools, universities, and colleges for students and faculty in food service and food science programs, as well as molecular cooking programs.

Musings: Do you work with any of the Top Chef contestants?

Blais: We all know it each other. We’re like a Fraternity of cooks. You get to know each other well on the show. Some of us might be doing the same events.

Musings: Are you based in a restaurant?

Blais: Yes, I have a boutique restaurant….Flip Burger Boutique.

Musings: Did you train the show? What did you do to prepare to be on the show?

Blais: I did a little bit of preparation, but it is hard to train. You need to be aware of time. Cook in 15 or 30 minute blocks of time. Need to be prepared for the environment. Pace and timing. Getting used to working in the environment of challenges where you have to work with whatever equipment, ingredients, or time constraints you are given.

Musings: What was your favorite challenge?

Blais: The Restaurant Challenge! The Restaurant Challenge is a favorite of contestants. I love the QuickFire Challenge. The Top Chef Challenges make for a “fair playing field.” You must have pacing and timing to succeed.

Musings: What about your new show? Tell me about it.

Blais: It is called Blais Off.

Musings: How did you come up with the show?

Blais: Ian — one of the producers — hooked up with the show. Blais Off  is a show with a mission to get people to cook in a more exciting way. “Making eating an experience.”

I am always excited to show people new food I have created.

Musings: So tell me more about the show.

Blais: I am a traditionalist. It is important to start with a base flavor . On two of the shows I focused on pizza and hamburgers. These are foods people are familiar with. I want to re-engineer the food., not deconstructing the food. My goal is for you to try it and convince you that you can like it.

Sous vide — I worked with Sous Vide Supreme. Sous Vide Supreme have many applications for the home cook.

Musings: If an average person was trying to cook like you do where would he/she get the ingredients or as I like to say it “chemicals” that you use?

Blais: I have a wall of jars. You can find all of the ingredients on terraspice.com. You can find ingredients, for instance, xanthum gum at Whole Foods.

Chemicals? Well chemicals is not the right word. I prefer to use the terms: Emulsifier. Hydro carbon. Natural roots. As all products have natural roots.

Musings: What advice would you give to a young person about becoming a chef/cook?

Blais: Many decide to become a cook at age 18/19. I would advise teens to spend a couple of days in a restaurant. Ask the chef if they can hang on Saturday afternoon. Most chefs will say yes. Get the feeling of what it is like to work in a restaurant. Ask yourself if you really want to work in a restaurant.

There is a romanticism of the craft of cooking. I spend 14 hours per day cooking. Kids need to know that it is not all Top Chef.

If kids are still interested in becoming a cook, look at culinary schools. Can you afford it? Is it what you want to do for your career?

Musings: That brings me to… What s your background?

Blais: I worked in the restaurant field for a number of years. I studied at CIA in upstate NY, where I now teach.

Musings: Speaking of your new show — Blais Off — is there a dish you wouldn’t change?

Blais: There is always room for progress. I am not out to destroy tradition. But to make food more exciting.

Musings: Is there an ingredient you don’t like to use?

Blais: There is no one ingredient, but I am not a fan of organ meats or offal or kidneys. I will try them but I am not a fan.

You can find Richard Blais…

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