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Atlanta Chef Richard Blais on Iron Chef America


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#1 Gifted Gourmet

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Posted 28 February 2006 - 02:59 PM

I have known Chef Richard Blais for many years as he rose to his current fame for creative, highly inventive cuisine here in Atlanta. He has always been most gracious in sharing his expertise with me, as well as his cooking abilities. Although he told me in advance that he would not divulge the winner of his ICA Contest, nor even the "secret ingredient" as per his confidentiality agreement, he did consent to share his insights on the entire experience here with me and, now you, at eGullet ... so, without further ado, I present to you my exclusive interview with Chef Blais:

Q: Richard, I recently read two articles on the MSNBC website by eGullet's Jon Bonné:
Food gets its closeup on 'Iron Chef America'

How 'Iron Chef America' makes its magic

which opened up a number of interesting questions on this topic for me. Because you have just been a participant in ICA, I have some questions to ask of you, Chef Blais.

Q: What types of dishes were you preparing for this competition?

We wanted to make sure we did our food. We had 2 weeks to prepare for the battle, but we didn't want to try to come up with anything we didn't do already. Even though we always have ideas on the chalk board and new techniques in the works, we wanted to represent what we do every day. It will be interesting to see where we are when the show finally airs, to see how far we have come since the taping. But we were fighting the urge to do things that weren't ready yet. I'm glad we didn't.

Q: What was the general atmosphere of the ICA event? Was it intense? Did you feel any pressures from the ICA staff and managers?

The event itself is very intense. I think when you watch the show, you say things like, it's really not an hour, and they know the ingredient, and all the common misperceptions. It's really 1 hour, and when you arrive at Chelsea Market, there is makeup, and an interview, but then it's showtime, no mise en place, turn on the equipment and go.

The staff at ICA were all top notch. You get the feeling that you're about to have this huge moment in your career, possibly totally embarrass yourself, but the staff does this every day, so they are very relaxed, just another Monday sort of vibe. But everyone there was professional and hospitable.

Q: What guidelines were you required to follow? Would you have tightened those guidelines or loosened them?

The guidelines are pretty simple. No mise en place, you can bring certain equipment, have certain ingredients available, and then you have 1 hour. Very different than a restaurant. Especially for our food. I mean we dehydrate things for hours and cook sous vide for days. That wasn't going to happen on ICA.

Q: How much time were you allowed to interact with Alton Brown before, during, and after the competition?

Alton came in and poked around some of the ingredients, said hello, but I've had more interaction with him at the restaurant. After the competition we chatted a bit, but, with another episode being shot behind us, he was very busy...

One of the coolest things about the competition is Alton annoucing the whole thing. I'm sure they plug certain things in after, but he just calls the whole event non stop. That was thrilling actually, really pumped me up hearing him.

Q: ICA is, according to the MSNBC articles, more focused upon the simplicity of the “secret ingredient”. Without divulging the ingredient itself, can you tell us whether it was easy to work with? Did you get some advance notice of 5 possible ingredients beforehand, as the article notes?

I would say that the MSNBC article sounds accurate. I signed a confidentiality agreement, so I can't talk about the ingredient. But, it was challenging for us. A simple ingredient in some styles of cooking, but a challenge for us, especially in the time frame.

Q: What were your personal reactions to the experience as a whole .. best and worst parts ?

I had a blast doing ICA. The best part was when it was over, as far as stress is concerned. As well, our training really brought our team together. Not just the chefs who went with me, but we had a good portion of our team showing up at 6AM to practice, help with timing, etc. it was a bonding experience. The worst part was choosing who to bring. We have a very democratic kitchen and a lot of talent, so making that decision was tough. And the actual start of the competion was rough for me. There were a few seconds where the reality hit me, and I realized there were cameramen and robotic cameras eveywhere.

Q: Was this truly a learning experience for you? Or was it simply pretty much what you knew already?

A big learning experience. You can do a lot in an hour. And I don't think I can ever be nervous about anything on camera anymore. I mean that's it, you're totally exposed, it was awesome.

Thank you for joining us on this occasion and offering your own personal insights on this experience!

Readers of eGullet: If you have ever visited Atlanta, or actually live here, have you had the opportunity to experience the food created by Chef Richard Blais?
Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

#2 Collins

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 08:49 AM

Thanks, Melissa for a nice "warm up" to the episode! Had the pleasure of dining at ONE a few weeks ago and had the tasting menu, which was absolutely phenomenal, but more to the point, about as much fun as I've ever had in a restaurant. Chef Blais was not working that night, but did stop by the restaurant later and made a point of coming over and saying hello and making sure everything was great. Chris and Eli (forgive me if I spelled that wrong!) were beyond gracious and my girlfriend and I had a fantastic time interacting with them and talking shop, so to speak (sounds presumptuous on my part, i realize).

They spoke about ICA a bit - definitely watching their tongues about details...gotta love those NCA's! Got me really excited for the episode - I know they're going to do a great job and really show the viewers just what Chef Blais and his team can do!

It's been discussed on this board before in a separate thread, but if you love food and want to really experience a unique approach to cooking and dining, you MUST, MUST, MUST go to ONE and do the tasting on a Mon or Tue night. It is a truly fantastic experience on all levels - from the service to the food to the interaction with the staff.

Edited by Collins, 01 March 2006 - 08:50 AM.

#3 Gifted Gourmet

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 09:39 AM

Collins, my appetite has been whetted (in keeping with the food theme) to watch the ICA episode featuring Chef Blais as well .. probably will even tape it when it happens.

The thread on One Midtown is here and it includes the website as well. I agree with your must, must, must!
Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

#4 docsconz

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 09:52 AM

Very interesting interview, Mel. It gives a nice perspective on the event from the participant's point of view. I haven't been to his restaurant yet, but it sounds like one that I tend to enjoy very much. When is his episode scheduled for?
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#5 Gifted Gourmet

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 09:57 AM

When is his episode scheduled for?

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He will let us know when the air date is set for, unless I miss my guess!

If you are ever in Atlanta, docsconz, please do have dinner at this restaurant. Blais did some of his training at elBulli in Spain where you had the pleasure of dining recently.
Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

#6 Voodoo

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 10:06 AM

How much and how long is this famous tasting menu at OMK?

#7 Collins

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 10:32 AM

Voodoo - the night we went, believe dinner lasted about 2 to 2 1/2 hours or so...nothing too long. The beauty of Mon/Tue is the restaurant is pretty quiet, so it really moves at whatever pace you want it to...if you just wanted to eat and not really chat up the staff, you could probably plow through the 7 courses (that's what we had) pretty quickly, but I think that would really be a mistake.

As far as cost? It's a STEAL - we literally told them we felt like we were stealing from them. 7 courses WITH paired wines for each course came to roughly $85-$90 per person....absolutely filthy! I was stunned...

By the way - when Chef Blais came by, he was wearing a t-shirt that said "I heart Mayonnaise"...wonder if anyone knows where to find one like that? Would wear it PROUDLY!!!

#8 Gifted Gourmet

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 10:42 AM

By the way - when Chef Blais came by, he was wearing a t-shirt that said "I heart Mayonnaise"...wonder if anyone knows where to find one like that?  Would wear it PROUDLY!!!

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here you are! the shirt of your dreams! :wink:
Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

#9 Lawen

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 09:27 PM

Great interview, I'm really excited to see this episode on the air. Chef Blais is spectacular, I had the opportunity to eat at Blais a couple of times before it (sadly) closed and both meals were incredible. I only recently found out that he's cooking at One:Midtown and have made a mental note to get over there as soon as I can. Guess I better hurry before ICA airs and it becomes impossible to get a table.

BTW: Hi GG! Long time no talk. :smile:

#10 Gifted Gourmet

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Posted 07 March 2006 - 08:16 AM

When the date nears, I will post it here and then we can prepare ourselves by dining with him at One Midtown. You will be told well in advance, fear not! :wink: The schedule is not on their website yet and I rather imagine that Blais will let us know as well.
Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

#11 Lan4Dawg

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 03:43 PM

Melissa you did not ask the most important question--at least for most of the men on this board--is Cat Cora as hot in person as she appears on television? ":^)
in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--
the best cat ever.

#12 blais

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 12:25 PM

I didn't get a chance to meet Cat Cora. But Mr. Batali is very handsome.
Richard Blais


#13 Guest_MNewman_*

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 02:19 PM

I didn't get a chance to meet Cat Cora. But Mr. Batali is very handsome.

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You obviously had a few drinks before the competition.

Looking forward to seeing your mug on TV.

Edited by MNewman, 14 March 2006 - 02:22 PM.

#14 BryanZ

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Posted 12 December 2006 - 10:09 AM

I caught this battle a couple weeks ago and was proud to see Chef Blais go out there give it his all for "Team Modern." Although Wylie and Richard have not reigned supreme, and I'm not sure if the Cantu battle has aired, it's great to see modern cooking on a channel that is decidedly not.

I was watching the battle with my roommates and when they saw Chef Blais using a lot of the same techniques I use, they suddenly thought me (a little) less crazy. Certainly a great battle to watch for two very different takes on an interesting theme ingredient.

#15 KendallCollege

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Posted 13 December 2006 - 12:11 AM

I agree with you, Bryan. I saw the episode last week and it was a relief to watch "the home team". I, sadly, missed the Wylie episode. However, I can't wait to see the Homaro episode. I worked with the man, so I can only imagine what he pulls out of his nitro-hat.

It was a shame to see Chef Blais lose.


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#16 Voodoo

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Posted 13 December 2006 - 07:20 AM

Blais' loss was highly predictable. Won comfortably on originality and plating, lost big on taste. I think Blais is a heck of a chef, but given the secret ingredient and time constraints, it's no wonder Batali with his Mediterreanean background and ICA experience was able to do more with the chick pea and 1 hour time limit than Blais. I also am not sure Blais is quite to the level of chef that Batali is. Blais was one of the best chefs in Atlanta when he left, a noticeable step above most, but also a noticeable step down from the very top. That's no slight to Blais. There's nothing wrong with being excellent rather than superb, especially considering his youth.

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