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Richard Blais: Top Chef Winner's Challenge

Richard Blais is a master of molecular, more-is-more food. The F&W challenge: to make simple grilling side dishes.

"It's hard to resist a smoky grill—even 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.

Top Chef All-Stars: Winner Richard Blais with Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio
Richard Blais with Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio. Courtesy of Bravo.

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 diving—or whatever you'd call what I was doing—to 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 make—but 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.


Ginger-Lime Baby Carrots
© Quentin Bacon

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
© Quentin Bacon

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
© Quentin Bacon

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.

Video: Richard Blais demonstrates his healthy veggie burgers

Related Top Chef Content:

Published June 2011
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