Atlanta chef Richard Blais blazes new culinary trail

Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMarch 6, 2013 

— He’s Atlanta’s king of gourmet burgers, hot dogs and foie gras milkshakes, a “Top Chef All-Stars” winner who’s been known to gunk up his hair with duck fat and a squirt or two of liquid nitrogen for crunch.

Now Richard Blais — owner of the Flip Burger Boutique chain, haute-dog restaurant HD1 and The Spence — is a cookbook author.

In “Try This at Home: Recipes From My Head to Your Plate” ($30, Clarkson Potter), in book stores this week, Blais insists he’s just a regular guy who cooks to make people happy.

“I wanted people to understand that not all of my food revolves around liquid nitrogen and science, and that you don’t have to wear an astronaut’s helmet to cook,” said Blais, the lover of kitchen paraphernalia such as sous vide cookers and soda siphons. “My television work left a lot of people with the impression that my food is overly scientific or complicated, and that’s not really the case.”

At 287 pages, the volume celebrates Blais’ roots as a Long Island blue-collar kid who got his first cooking job at McDonald’s and later honed his skills at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in California and Ferran Adria’s El Bulli in Spain.

A mash-up of foods high and low, “Try This at Home” features 125 recipes, ranging from the simple Sri-Rancha (store-bought ranch dressing mixed with sriracha hot sauce) to Lemon-Curd-and-Black-Pepper-Roasted Chicken (which involves brining and twining a bird whose skin and breast meat have been separated and filled with the citrusy sauce).

Riffing on fast food, Blaise makes sweetbread “nuggets” doused in buffalo sauce and served with blue cheese dipping sauce.

He tops a beer-battered fillet of fish with a thin sheet of jellied malt vinegar and chunky tartar sauce. He dresses up a burger with candied onions, braised bacon and (optional) cheddar foam.

“I didn’t grow up on a farm,” Blais says, explaining his playful Potato Chip Omelette and Creamed-Corn Soup with optional Cap’n Crunch garnish. “I grew up in the early ’90s, late ’80s and the age of the microwave and convenience food and frozen food and canned food. That’s how my mom cooked.” Being a husband and father of two small daughters has reshaped his culinary philosophy “300 percent,” Blais says.

Cooking at home “definitely changed my outlook,” the chef says. “It’s made me a better chef in my restaurants, to be quite honest, because I am not at a point anymore in my career where I am just trying to just make a name for myself or to do something interesting just for the sake of it being interesting. I want to make food delicious and make people smile.” Developing recipes for a general audience was challenging, though, and writing the book took longer than expected — about two years.

He wanted to include food easy enough for “Mary Smith in Kansas” while giving adventurous cooks some of the wildly creative dishes he’s famous for: oysters with horseradish “pearls,” made by freezing horseradish cream with liquid nitrogen; “impastas,” which are noodles that substitute vegetables and proteins for the flour, and ice cream frozen with dry ice.

San Francisco-based photographer John Lee shot the photos at a rented house in East Atlanta.

“We invited a bunch of friends over and cooked out of a loft sort of setting so that we were in a home environment,” Blais said.

In one memorable photograph, Blais and his family huddle at a table strewn with spaghetti, meatballs, wine glasses and sippy cups. As the chef feeds daughters Riley and Embry, 4 and 2, with both hands, his wife, Jazmin, stuffs an impossibly large tangle of pasta into her mouth.

No one is wearing a shirt.

The photo may look like a celebrity chef’s gimmicky take on a nude centerfold. “But the story is real,” the author said. After the family’s sauce-splattered Sunday-night spaghetti dinners began to take a toll on the laundry, the Blaises decided to skip the shirts.

The scene took about a half-day to shoot. “We have so many photos that didn’t make the book from that day that are just hilarious. We ate a spaghetti dinner. We cooked a dish and laid it out, and we all went topless and had a good time.” Now, don’t be afraid to try this. At home.

 

Greek Yogurt with Tandoor Honey and Freeze Dried Fruit 4 servings 1 cup plain Greek yogurt 1 tsp ground tandoori spice mix 1/4 cup honey 1 cup all-natural granola 1 cup diced fresh fruit, such as pineapple, bananas or berries, or a combination 1 cup freeze-dried fruit, such as pineapple, bananas or berries, or a combination 8 small fresh cilantro sprigs (optional) 8 fresh basil leaves, torn (optional) 8 fresh mint leaves, torn (optional)

Divide the yogurt among four small serving bowls.

Put the tandoori spices in a small dry skillet and toast over low heat until very fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the honey. Stir well to combine.

To serve, drizzle some warm spiced honey over the yogurt in each bowl. Divide the granola and fresh and freeze-dried fruit among the bowls, top each serving with one-quarter of the cilantro, basil and mint, if using, and serve immediately.

From “Try This at Home” by Richard Blais

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