You can hear loud clanging of plates as Richard Blais comes on the phone, which is only fitting. Blais, a finalist on last season's Top Chef, is accustomed to banging out dishes — and gourmet food — in a hurry. On this day, he is at the Actors Studio in New York City, preparing a cooking demonstration for students of the Culinary Institute of America.
Blais is the spiky-haired culinary alchemist from Atlanta who, during the Top Chef finale, candidly said he "choked." But Blais, 36, got over his disappointment quickly. He is now throwing his energy into consulting work and the November opening of Flip, an Atlanta joint he envisions will be the first in a chain of gourmet slider restaurants.
Blais, who will be in Tampa Saturday as part of Top Chef: The Tour, spoke with tbt* about his TV experiences, "molecular gastronomy" and what may be the most decadent idea we've ever heard for a milkshake.
Tell us about Flip.
I have this interesting technique called flavor sheets that we worked on for these burgers. Basically, sheets that look like sliced Kraft cheese that are flavored with anything from rosemary to butternut squash. They have this kind of gelatin structure that just melts on the burger. It's going to be a hamburger restaurant, but very, very exciting.
I hear you are working on a Krispy Kreme milkshake. Does it really taste like the doughnut?
Absolutely. What makes it pretty simple is you take vanilla ice cream base or even just a plain ice cream base and you throw two hot doughnuts in the blender with the ice cream base. Right now that's the recipe. We do have a version of it that we're calling — I'm not sure if you are familiar with the donut shops but they do something called "Hot (Doughnuts) Now" ...
We're too familiar with Krispy Kreme, that's the problem!
Mine as well. We are working on the amped-up version of that, where the bottom of the milkshake is actually this warm doughnut-sort of fluid, and each sip is that warm glazed doughnut, and it gets warmer as you drink it. We're calling it Hot Now, Cold Later.
We were impressed with you in the Top Chef finale when you said you "choked." What's been the reaction?
Some people feel real sympathetic that that happened. Quite honestly, I was over it the day after. The other half of the camp is, "Wow, that guy has so much integrity to say that." People always talk to me about editing on the show, and I always tell them that the only edit that I think was a little off was I got "The Nice Guy With Integrity" edit.
What word would you use to describe host Padma Lakshmi?
Smart. (laughs) Not the answer most people are going to say. I tell you what, the lady knows a lot about food. She's had cooking shows. She's not just a pretty face — she is a pretty face — but she's a lot more, too.
What about molecular gastronomy?
I don't think (the term is) a fair representation of what the chefs in our genre do. I think we are creative cooks. I think there's a certain scientific aspect to it. ... A couple is not sitting around their living room getting ready to go out on a Friday night and says, "Hey, I want French or I want Italian — wait, I want molecular gastronomy!" Someone needs to coin a phrase for it.
What about your Tampa appearance? Do you tailor your demo to each tour stop?
I like to be inspired by the location. We basically show up a day prior, we go to the market, buy some ingredients and cook. I'd say it's the closet thing to a Quick Fire challenge from the show. My wife is from Palm Harbor and I have lots of family down there, so this is a pretty important stop for me.