Ever since Chef Richard Blais (and his hair) appeared on Top Chef Season 4 I’ve been a fan. While competing, his food (though only viewed through the power of television) seemed to never (or at least rarely) miss the mark. And unlike some I actually found his seriousness and constant reach for perfection admirable and endearing rather than cold and serious. So when I moved to Atlanta last year and began plotting all the new restaurants I was going to be able to dine at, of course Richard Blais’s name came to mind.
He’s built quite the little (large) food empire here in the A. From Flip Burger to HD1 to The Spence, well Richard is pretty much a household name. So much so that people seemed to be quite up in arms this summer when rumors started to fly that he was leaving us and heading out West, California specifically. Don’t worry though, I chatted with him and yes he is opening a restaurant in California and yes he does also have a home there, did you catch that also word, meaning he’s still in Atlanta as well. So everyone can just calm down and take a breath on that topic.
Anyway, one of Richard’s big initiatives in food has always been making food healthier and living a life of balance, not starvation. An initiative that hits very close to home because at one point, early on in his career, Richard may have tipped the scales just a tad (though that’s a distant memory as he’s now an avid runner and well you’ve seen him…he’s in fighting shape). One of Chefs latest ventures has been partnering with The Mushroom Council to create a mushroom centric burger for Flip he’s called The Earth n’ Turf. We had the chance to dine at Flip and the Mr. loved every single bite of the Earth n’Turf (I didn’t try it as I’m a vegetarian but I have complete faith in the Mr.’s ability to determine a burgers deliciousness). The Earth n’Turf has actually been so popular it’s now been added to the menu for the rest of the summer (and hopefully longer), so if you didn’t get a chance to go last month go now! And for those of you that don’t live in the A, I’ve included Richard’s Earth n’ Turf recipe above and additional mushroom centric condiment recipes and others can be found HERE.
Along with dining at Flip I was also able to have a little chat with Richard the other day which I’ve recapped for you below…we talked mushrooms, Atlanta, his hair, Top Chef, wizards, and he may or may not have compared Thomas Keller to Lady Gaga. (Side note, I am not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination so you’ll simply be reading my question then Chef’s answer. Easy breezy people). Plus thanks to The Mushroom Council we’re giving you a chance to win a signed copy of his book, Try This At Home. Trust me you want this book, it’s so good! And just in case you’re reading this Chef, sorry I totally went over my allotted 15 minutes of time for the interview! So without further ado, here we go! truly, MKR
Was becoming a chef always it for you…“I mean definitely no. I sort of fell into our industry. I started at McDonalds with very humble roots and many years in to pay for tuition I fell into the fact that it was a kraft. And the kraft became an art to me then the idea of instant gratification and making people happy. Then it sort of became my home. But it was quite by accident. Like I think like a lot of young people I wanted to be a super star athlete or writing is something I have some aspirations to write, and I still do. But it was kind of an accident to fall into the culinary arts for sure.”
Where did you gain more knowledge, culinary school or working at some of the best known restaurants in the world such as The French Laundry…”I think it’s all cumulative. To be honest I think you learn different things from different places. I believe that culinary school is great for people who will thrive in that sort of an environment. For me culinary school was great as it gave me time to study carrots for 2 hours in the library and take time to learn things that weren’t just physical skills but more knowledge and history of cuisine. But it’s hard to say where I learned the most. Certainley working at The French Laundry, or Daniel, or going to Europe these are things that shaped me as a Chef but it would be hard to say what was most important. Though when I came back from The French Laundry I felt like I was a Chef.”
…Speaking of The French Laundry, do you still feel it’s one of the best restaurants in the world…“I mean it’s certainly one of the best restaurants in the world still. I think when you start talking about ranking restaurants and the world’s best they sell magazines and gets hits on websites it’s kind of hard to judge these things. But it’s also, I think a restaurant is sort of an album. The album is still a good album, it might not be a top 20 hit this year because this year people are listening to Lady Gaga or whatever but Thomas Keller and The French Laundry is still a great album, and certainly one of the best restaurants in the world.”
…Where do you eat in Atlanta…“Obviously I love all of my own restaurants and what we do, but outside of that I love Bacchanallia. The bar specifically at Bachnallia. It’s an institute and Anne Quatrano is one of the most underrated and unknown Chefs in the country. Empire State South, Hugh Acheson is a great chef.. Shaun Doty work. He’s doing a lot of casual dining and he just opened up Chick-A-Biddy in Atlantic Station. And I say this all the time, because it’s true I love Chipoltle. For a fast and casual place, with the right message.”
Food you’re most over seeing on the menu...”With the risk of upsetting people I love pork as an ingredient, but I’m over the everything pork, bacon, bacon, bacon phase. I’d personally like to see a little more lamb and duck on the menu. I’m trying to eat well and feed my family healthy. The mushroom burger is a great example of that. It’s not about totally cutting out a food from your diet or starving yourself it’s about a balance which is why we did with the Earth n’Turf burger.”
Big food trend we’ll see in 2014...”Always tough to predict the trend, but I think the continuation of more vegetables, less protein on the center of the plate. Grains, not just because they’re healthy but because there are so many. The idea of heirloom seeds and true heirloom vegetables is going to continue. And the idea of not just local, but foraging. Though it may have been an upscale trend but even if you have a restaurant in Atlanta or Chicago theres wild food thats safe and growing in window boxes of these restaurants and in sidewalk cracks and even in Piedmont Park there’s patches of wild tribes and swiss chard everywhere.”
Hardest thing about writing your book Try This At Home…“I think for me it was one, to me that book is a getting to know me book. You know I went on a TV show and when you’re competing your’re intense, whether you’re an athlete or whatever it is you’re just doing your thing. You’re not acting, or doing a cooking show where you’re talking in to a camera. You’re competing. And I’ve grown tired of the you’re so intense and so serious, I am unfortunately intense. And I can understand why people think my food is serious. But it’s not really everything about me, certainly I cook with other ingredients other than liquid nitrogen. It wasn’t a marketing attempt to sell books. It was really me trying to express I’m serious about my kraft, not so much about myself. Hey I cook hamburgers, hey I cook grilled cheeses sandwiches for my kids. And it was challenging because you don’t want to upset people, and I think I did. A very small percent of people. But it was more important to me to show people that I could cook regular, normal food.”
Top 3 things that every home chef should know how to do...”Seasoning is where everything goes down. Acidity specifically. People are not aware that a spritz of lemon juice a dash of vinegar, almost every dish needs that. And then shopping. You have to shop great, you have to buy great ingredients. It doesn’t matter if you’re a wizard or a molecular gastronomist you can’t take a bad peach and turn it into a great peach sorbet. The product has to be great. And to cook with instinct. Try not to rely specifically on recipes. Follow a recipe and then go with your instincts. The quicker you begin doing that the better you become as a cook.”
Will there be a second book...”There will be a second book. It’s in the process of being developed so no information on what it will be about or who will produce it, or when it will come out, but we are in the process of developing a second book.”
Last, and most importantly is your hair product really half duck fat and liquid nitrogen…“I do throw it in my hair when I’m on stage, but it is not an everyday hair product. But I do, I do put some duck fat in it and splash some nitrogen in it when I do some shows. And it would work, if there is a quick fire challenge to develop a hair product on the fly that would be mine and we’d probably win with it because it’s quite creative.” Now that’s a quick fire challenge I would love to see!
The legal mumbo jumbo...this giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents and will run through Sunday the 18th with our winner announced Monday the 19th. We’ll be running this all through Rafflecopter (below) which allows you to earn points for each item completed with a simple click of the button. The more points you earn the more likely you are to win (and remember you probably already have entry points if you’re a regular reader of the blog).