"It's hard to resist a smoky grilleven if you cook your meat or vegetables sous vide first." That quote says a lot about Richard Blais, the winner of Top Chef All-Stars. As the owner of Atlanta's growing Flip burger chain, he's adept at grilling; as a modernist chef, he loves using sous vide, and especially liquid nitrogen, to create complicated dishes. The question from F&W: Could Blais create low-tech side dishes to accompany grilled meat and fish, using no more than five ingredients?
Spoiler alert: Most of the time, he couldn't.
This should come as a surprise to no one. The chef, a married father of two who was born and raised in Long Island, New York, started experimenting with food as a 14-year-old cook at McDonald's, serving Filet-O-Fish sandwiches "topless." After attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he worked at places like Napa Valley's French Laundry and apprenticed at El Bulli in Spain. Those experiences informed his harder-is-better philosophy. For his favorite Top Chef challenge, which took place in the Bahamas, Blais prepared a version of linguine with clam sauce using sweet-potato noodles he painstakingly made by hand and conch he dove for himself. "I loved divingor whatever you'd call what I was doingto get that conch," he says.
For F&W, Blais simplified his style using clever ingredients with big flavors. To make a sauce for steamed artichokes, for instance, he created a variation of his smoked mayonnaise from Flip"It's pretty much my signature"with smoked salt and smoked paprika. It's easy to makebut for anyone who's counting, it requires nine ingredients.
But here's why Blais is a big winner at F&W: His lovely spring garlic puree requires just four ingredients: fennel, garlic, cream and milk.
Carrots with Seaweed
Winning Ingredient: Furikake
Blais uses the seaweed-flecked Japanese seasoning to add briny flavor to baby carrots and the ginger-lime sauce they're cooked in.
Artichokes with Smoked-Herb Mayonnaise
Winning Ingredient: Smoked Sea Salt
At his Flip burger chain, Blais uses smoky hickory powder in mayonnaise; here he adds smoked salt and smoked paprika, which are easier to find.
Tomato Salad with Walnuts & Blue Cheese
Winning Ingredient: Pickled Walnuts
Blais makes pickled walnuts by tossing candied nuts with a little bit of vinegar. He uses them as a fun, crunchy garnish for his colorful tomato, celery and cheese salad.