We’ve always seen molecular gastronomy from Richard Blais, but with his new cookbook – Try This At Home – he wants everyone to know that he’s not just a scientist. Blais cooks great food, with great ingredients, and his new book is about taking those simple recipes and daring to take the next step. We all fell in love with Blais on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars (which he won with flying colors). With his win he achieved the ultimate redemption, and he continues to impress – and we’re psyched to sit down with his new cookbook (something everybody should pick up).
What would be your ideal food day?
Breakfast in Japan, lunch in Scandinavia and dinner in Italy.
How has your experience working under the best chefs in the world (i.e. French Laundry, Chez Pannise) affected your career and your cooking style?
You learn different things from different chefs. Working at French Laundry for Thomas Keller, I learned to be organized as a chef, with great delivery and just having everything in the right place. It was a brief time I had at Chez Panisse but in general it was about caring for your vendors, being a good purchaser and sourcing great ingredients.
If you had won Top Chef your first time around, rather than Top Chef All Stars, do you think anything in your career would have been different? Would you go back and change anything?
I never would intentionally say “I’d love to have lost if I went back and did it again.” It was probably for the better though, because I was able to go back a second time – keeping me more in public eye. So it worked out better, but I wouldn’t say I’d go back and lose the first time – obviously it wasn’t intentional. Would it be different if I had won the first time? Probably not much. Top Chef would’ve turned what was a staircase into an escalator, but we were already climbing that staircase and building something great, so it’s hard to tell.
Has food TV changed a lot since that first season? Has it been for better or for worse?
I think in general there’s a lot more food TV out there. That’s just good in general for the eating population. Now, people know more about food. I’m all for people having as much access to and information about eating and cooking as they can get.
What was it like doing molecular gastronomy when it still hadn’t fully caught on yet?
I wouldn’t categorize my cuisine just as molecular. I have a cookbook coming out, and the biggest challenge is to get people to understand that my food is just good food that’s creative and whimsical. I wouldn’t say it’s just molecular gastronomy. It’s one of those words that doesn’t sound appealing; you don’t hear people going to dinner saying, “how about a molecular gastronomy place tonight?” Anytime you can use science to make food better is great, but my frustration is being known as just a science guy when that was never really the case.
Is aesthetic as important to you as to how it tastes? If so, how do you keep the look from distracting from the food?
In the book, we talk about aesthetic a lot. Aesthetic frustrates me because as chefs we want our food to be beautiful and different than what we’ve seen. It’s frustrating because food is all about flavor. A lot of the time, amazing presentation can make food taste less good because we are worried about how it looks on the plate. Most soulful dishes are some of the ugliest – whether that be Goulash, Molé or Boeuf Bourguignon. They’re all soulful and slow-cooked but not very visually appealing. With cooking, it’s always flavor first. Presentation is a bonus.