Atlanta’s Richard Blais won “Top Chef All Stars” last year with a mix of dogged determination and consummate skill. He also happens to have a TV-friendly persona and warm disposition to boot.
He seems to be a decent businessman as well, creating three successful Flip Burger Boutiques and a new hot-dog specialty spot in Poncey-Highland called HD1. And he’s getting ready to open his first high-end eatery since his first “Top Chef” stint in 2008: Spence, in April. He is also taping a food special for the Cooking Channel.
Healthy changes: Blais has lost 50 to 60 pounds over the past five years since he met his wife Jazmin, a personal trainer. He became an avid runner and ran his first marathon last fall, raising $28,000 for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. He peaked at 220 pounds and is now around 170.
Take that, Gordon Ramsay! Though he cooks primarily at home, he said Jazmin too is a great cook. In fact, he thinks his two young daughters prefer her cooking. If you think Tom Colicchio is a tough customer, take his three-year-old Riley.
He recently poached asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and bread crumbs. “It was pretty,” he said, “a three-star dish.” She tasted it. She threw it on the floor in disgust. “It was a big moment,” he said. “It taught me that at the end of the day, kids care about flavor. Three year olds don’t care about gastronomy. I threw the asparagus in the oven, roasted it. She liked it. She taught me that maybe it wasn’t all that good in the first place.”
Hot diggety: His HD1 restaurant so far isn’t doing quite as well as Flip Burger. The hot dog, he acknowledges, never gets the respect of the burger. “It’s really a little more of a passion project,” he said. “High-end burgers have gone mainstream. There aren’t too many fast casual hot dog restaurants.”
Haute dog: “I get a lot of heat for doing hamburgers and hot dogs. But I bring in farm products. I use local companies. I don’t get to splash liquid nitrogen around. But the ingredients we buy are not frozen. That’s important for me to mention.”
Push this: Blais’ daily goal is to do 100 push ups and he’ll do it in odd places, including the Delta Sky Club. “I’m kind of obsessive,” he said.
Paula Deen’s disclosure of her diabetes and ties with a drug company that creates drugs for diabetes: “I can’t take a side. I don’t know the information. That is her thing and her life. But the conversation is healthy, even in the negative.”
Future book in the works: “It’s a cookbook for the home cook so they can cook creatively. We don’t have a title. It should be ready by spring of 2012.”
His philosophy for the new Midtown restaurant Spence: “I want to deliver food people want to eat every day over the presentation or wow factor just for the sake of it. I want it to be great tasting food and want it to be artistic. I want to cook affordable food.”
What he’s promoting now: He is spending the month working on a healthy heart campaign with Campbell’s soup. Campbell’s created a competition online in which you can vote for a recipe created by Blais or one by Campbell’s Soup Master Chef Thomas Griffiths. Blais created a spicy bouillabaisse which he calls Spicy BouillaBlais using low-sodium spicy hot V8 while Griffiths made Spiced Chicken with Balsamic-Blueberry Green Bean Salad.
Here’s a quick interview I did with him:
And here’s his Campbell’s challenge:
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk