Food & Wine welcomed Top Chef All-Stars winner and molecular gastronomist Richard Blais to our Facebook page for a live chat. Blais shared his thoughts on cooking for family, his favorite foods (including McDonald's), and where he finds inspiration. Here are some of the highlights.
In this Chat:
Cooking Tips: Modern and Classic
Question: How can I learn to be a better cook without breaking the bank?
Richard Blais: It's all about technique. There's no discrimination among ingredients! Cauliflower is as luxurious as foie gras and truffles. Just use good technique.
Question: Chef Blais, do you use liquid nitrogen at home? Or do you just try to keep it simple?
Richard Blais: It's actually really good for sweeping the floor, just roll it out and it collects all the dust into a frozen pile! Seriously though, I've been known to bring some home to make ice cream, but my restaurants use it extensively.
Question: Do you find that molecular gastronomy and local, ingredient-focused cuisine work at odds with one another?
Richard Blais: Not at all, as a chef you should always be focused on using quality ingredients and local when possible. Molecular Gastronomy is just another group of techniques used to manipulate taste, texture and temperature.
Question: Chef Blais my husband and I are huge fans, so congrats on your Top Chef win. My husband works as a chemist, so he loves that you incorporate science into your food. Any suggestions on how we can use some of your techniques in our home kitchen (besides purchasing a giant canister of liquid nitrogen)?
Richard Blais: Do some easy research on hydrocolloids, gums, starches, etc. that you can find in the vitamin section of any Whole Foods is a good start. Xanthan gum, lecithin, etc.
Question: What can I do to pesto if I don't want to use nuts? And does Thai basil work?
Richard Blais: Don't use nuts, it's not essential. And yes, any herb will work. Make a shiso pesto!
Question: Hi Chef, do you have any recommendations for a couple of quick appetizers?
Richard Blais: Man, I'm a chicken wings guy. They are rather easy to throw together. And with the weather, any beautiful summer vegetable tossed with a vinaigrette!
Question: Chef, I'd like to try making mussels at home...are you a fan? How would you suggest I start?
Richard Blais: Big fan. Wash them well. Remove the beards. Cook some garlic and onion, with maybe some sausage of your liking, in a touch of olive oil. Toss in the mussels and a few splashes of dry white wine, then close the pot until they open. Shower it with your favorite herbs, a swirl of butter, sprinkle of pepper or spice, or dash of hot sauce and serve with grilled toast....Now I'm hungry.
Question: How does one introduce finer foods in an area where fast-food/drive-up restaurants are the norm?
Richard Blais: Tread slowly, but feature those foods in their freshest state. There's nothing wrong with fried chicken, burgers, etc, but give people fresh ingredients with sound technique and ween them slowly into more creative offerings!
Question: Chef, as a brand new culinary student who has been inspired by the food world my entire life, I'd love to know what inspires you to create the incredible things that you do.
Richard Blais: Inspiration is literally all around us, and I just keep myself aware that it can strike anywhere. The botanical garden, a sports arena, walking down the street! Smell everything, look at everything closely, you'd be amazed! And then write it down, I always forget that part. ;)
Question: Chef what is the most inspirational cookbook you own?
Richard Blais: Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones & Butter. I have this on iPad and I am in the second reading of it!
Favorite Foods and Tools
Question: Hey Chef! What is the most exotic ingredient you've worked with and what did you make with it?
Richard Blais: Lately, dragon fruit has been in play a lot and I'm using it in cocktails. I was just in China and brought back many ideas for a variety of ingredients that I'm eager to cook with!
Question: What is your favorite non-meat ingredient to cook with and why?
Richard Blais: Right now, like this minute: eggplant. Mushrooms, artichokes, beets. Man, I don't discriminate, vegetables rock!
Question: What's your favorite small kitchen appliance? I'm looking into getting a pressure cooker and not sure why a novice like me would need one other than just wanting what you guys have.
Richard Blais: I would say a pressure cooker and a vacuum packer are in use everyday for me. Pressure cookers are kind of retro, and I also love that about them. No other way to braise meat in a quick fire challenge!
Question: Chef Blais, what's your favorite cut of beef to grill and what advice can you offer on how to grill chicken without drying it out while making sure it's cooked through?
Richard Blais: Beef = rib eye or short rib. For the chicken, brine it, or cook it sous vide and then finish on grill. Check out my work with Sous Vide Supreme!
Question: Chef Blais, what's your go-to summer side dish?
Richard Blais: I'm a classicist. Tomatoes and vinegar, some basil and olive oil.
Question: Chef Blais... I'm in the market for new kitchen knives. What would you recommend as far as brand and style of knife?
Richard Blais: I have some MAC's at home but if you are very serious check out Korin.com! That's where I get my "battle" gear.
Question: Chef Blais, What's your favorite McDonald's menu item or what new item would you add if you were back in their kitchen for a day?
Richard Blais: I love the Filet-O-Fish and you can't go wrong with a Big Mac. If I was in the kitchen for a day, I'd upgrade the Filet-O-Fish, change the batter to make it crispier, add some pickles and a shot of lemon!
Question: Hi, Chef. What is the biggest obstacle you came across as an up-and-coming chef and how did you overcome it? I ask this as an aspiring chef without many resources.
Richard Blais: Biggest obstacle is maintaining a healthy lifestyle both mentally and physically! Spend time with your family/friends and exercise to not get burned out.
Question: Hello Chef, what is your take on nutrition and balancing it out when you cook?
Richard Blais: I'm mindful of cooking healthy, but at the same time NEVER if it compromises flavor. It's not easy.
Question: I am thinking about opening my own restaurant. Do you have any suggestions so I don't go gray over this?
Richard Blais: Yes, use someone else's money. ;)
Cooking for Family
Question: Chef Blais, what's your favorite thing to cook for your older daughter? And a favorite baby food recipe for the younger one?
Richard Blais: Youngest one is on local organic mama milk still.
Question: Haha mine toobut when the time comes? :)
Richard Blais: Older one...Spaghetti and meatballs. We eat topless to save laundry costs. It always throws house guests for a loop when Riley asks them to take their shirts off for dinner.
Question: Chef, what is your favorite dish to prepare for your family? Are your kids into molecular gastronomy ;)?
Richard Blais: Spag & meatballs! Riley is old enough now (3) to help make meatballs, grate cheese, etc... It is very fun. Riley has adventurous tastes: foie gras, bone marrow, fishhave yet to see if she is into Xantham gum and sodium alginate. :)
Video: Richard Blais Makes Veggie Burgers