Richard Blais appears at the Mid-American Restaurant Expo this weekend.
Chef Richard Blais is known for appearing — first as a contender and later as a judge — on Bravo's “Top Chef.” Since then he's become a regular on reality TV cooking shows, all while opening several restaurants, authoring cookbooks and making a cameo appearance in the 2016 film “Why Him?”alongside stars Bryan Cranston and James Franco. Blais is giving the keynote address at the inaugural Mid-America Restaurant Expo at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29.
What's the focus of your keynote?
The focus is storyline and writing in the restaurant concept world, how certain concepts relate to the things I'm doing, whether technology or foraging or farm-to-table or celebrity chef-dom.
Anything new you've been exploring personally?
If anything, it's the idea of looking backwards at historic cooking methods. The new thing is our mindset of finding inspiration through things that were done 50 or 100 years ago. I think it's more difficult now to be creative because we can get any ingredient or buy any piece of technology we want. Instead we're having chefs play inside the box — their backyard — not just for the sake of saying, “We cook local because we're doing the right thing,” but really seeing what kind of creativity can come from those boxes.
Did it feel natural to transition from competing to judging on reality TV shows?
In the beginning, none of it is natural, because you're a cook. It's important for me to remember it all started just because I like to cook, and one day someone threw a camera in front of me. As far as judging, let's be honest, it's a lot easier to eat food and talk about it than to cook and scramble and compete. But if you show up to judge and don't give the viewer anything else than, “I like it,” that just doesn't work. Judging is more difficult than people think … but it is easier than competing.
Between competing on “Top Chef,” “Iron Chef America,”et cetera, is there one show you've found more difficult than the others?
I'm a big runner, so I like to think it's all different races. Some people are marathoners; some people run sprints. For me, obviously I won a season of “Top Chef,” so I enjoy the long form, the marathon. That being said, there's nothing more inspiring than cooking for 30 minutes and having no idea what's going on and literally improv-ing all the way.
Do your kids take after you when it comes to food?
They take after me; they're incredibly neurotic and emotional. But, you know, they're kids. There's this perception that chefs' kids probably eat everything. But one of my girls is the classic peanut butter and jelly and chicken fingers, and one will eat escargot for the dare of it. We try not to push anything on them, with the exception of eating whole foods. Outside of that, they're kids. I packed their lunch today. One of them is having a cucumber sandwich and one has straight up peanut butter and jelly, with peanut butter and jelly that I did not make myself. And I'm okay with that.
How did your cameo in “Why Him?”come about and how was that experience?
You know, the phone rings, and sometimes it's something amazing. Of course, when I got the opportunity I said yes. To be on a movie set and see those artists perform, to get a chance to write some of the menu. In my head I was playing myself from like five years ago, that guy you might know from “Top Chef” who was all sous vide and liquid nitrogen.
What upcoming projects are on the horizon?
I'm hosting a new show coming out this year called “Man vs Master” on FYI network. I have a new book called So Good coming out May 16. Columbus is bread and butter for me, so hopefully we can do a tour stop in Columbus. And then we have a second location of Crack Shack, my chicken and egg concept, opening up in California.