Restaurant Review - Richard Blais: Hometown hero

Dishing on 'Top Chef'

Bravo's "Top Chef" has been especially emotional for Atlantans this season, with hometown chef Richard Blais in the running. Last week's finale dashed our hopes of an Atlanta Top Chef, with Blais losing to sweet and sensible Stephanie. The morning after the finale aired, I caught up with Blais by phone, and asked him about the show, his career and some of his more controversial co-contestants.

I first want to congratulate you on becoming a dad. Are you getting any sleep?

Thank you! You know, chefs don't sleep anyway, so even if you take away another three hours, it's nothing a cup of coffee can't take care of.

Was it a hard decision for you to go on the show? I think that a lot of Atlantans felt like you should be a judge rather than a contestant.

Sure. I was at Element at the time when casting called me. And it was right at the time your review was in the paper; it might have been what they were reading and thinking, "Here's a picture of a guy shooting nitrogen all over the place. Maybe he'd be worth talking to." When they called me, my ego totally jumped out of my chef's jacket. I thought they must be coming to Atlanta for an episode. It sounds so cocky, but since you brought it up first ... I was like, "Yeah I'll judge an episode if they're in Atlanta." Then they were like, "No, we want you to be a contestant."

I thought about the bigger picture and I realized it would be an amazing challenge, and then I actually got really mad at myself for having an ego that would even think that I would be above this.

How was the experience overall?

I don't want to sound like the cliché, but I would absolutely do it over again. I think the toughest part for me not winning it all is the fact that, you know, if your team doesn't win the Super Bowl, what do you do as a fan, you say well ... ?

Next year ...

That's probably the hardest thing because there is no next year. Then you start realizing, that's not really what I do. I'm not a competitive TV cook. It's not my job.

Did you watch the show as it aired throughout the season?

The first episode it was like "Everyone come over ... we're gonna have a party!" Of course, when you know you don't do well you have no interest in watching it at all. When I had that problem with the scales on the fish, I wasn't rushing home that Wednesday. I got a good kick out of watching myself on television because I'm probably the weirdest-looking person that's ever been on TV. Why didn't anyone tell me about my haircut?

Hee hee ... Have you changed it?

I've changed it a little bit. It was really roostery during the Chicago part. Why wouldn't anyone who knows me at least say, "Why don't you get a haircut? Maybe go to the tanning bed before you go on there. Hey, keep running, you know, TV adds 20 pounds."

Everybody wonders how much of the personalities that emerge on the show are in the editing. I mean, I think you're a sweet guy, but you come across as a really sweet guy. Lisa came across as so evil, and Andrew came across as a total crackhead.

I don't think there's anything editing can do to totally change someone's personality. From the things you mentioned, I think you hit all of them right on the button. I have nothing against Lisa; her personality is pretty much what you see. She's a little bit more the-glass-is-half-empty type. That's a nice way to say it. Andrew is an absolute firecracker in a locker. You couldn't edit that down because that's how he is. I'm probably not as nice as I was on the show. I do yell in my kitchen. I think I'm a nice guy. I don't torture puppies or anything like that. But I definitely think that I got a good edit.

Do you regret saying at the judge's table that you choked?

I think a lot of people look at it and it's easy to say, "Oh my god, why did he just say that? He just ruined his chances." That's probably the most edited part of the show. Hours of dialogue get cut into a very small amount of time. No matter what I made, the type of chef that I am, I'm never really happy with anything I do. All you're doing at that point is letting the judges know that you're self-aware. What I'm saying is not that it didn't work out, what I'm saying is, "Look, this wasn't the best meal of my life."

How committed are you to staying in Atlanta?

I have no intentions on leaving Atlanta. I have the intention of getting to a place, hopefully very soon, to be able to wake up and say, "I'm gonna go to work right now and I'm gonna cook the food that I want to cook." And I want people to enjoy it. I don't want to make food that people are like, "Ah, that's weird." I do want to fill a restaurant up. That's one of the things that being at Home is teaching me. I mean, some people are pissed off that I'm not in the dining room with goggles and a nitrogen jet pack, but the restaurant's full, and a lot of people are coming back and that means something, doesn't it?

It does.

I want to get to that point when I'm doing my own food. If that happens in Atlanta, then it happens in Atlanta. And I would love it to happen in Atlanta. I want it to happen in Atlanta.

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