Monday, July 28, 2008

A Reverend, an Ambassador and a bottle of soy sauce...

So I’m back from Phoenix a few pounds lighter for sure and minus a few articles of clothing.

Kecap manis (a sweet, thick soy sauce) doesn’t do too well at 30,000 ft. As my parcel came out on the carousel, that beautiful aroma of the shiny condiment hit me and probably a few others as well. Back at the hotel, the cleaning person probably thought I murdered someone as I left more than half of my clothes drenched in a dark viscous liquid. Oddly enough, I usually leave an article of clothing behind in hotels, I’m not sure why, but I do. I left my pink crocs in Chicago for example.

Aside from the explosion, the trip went well. Betty Fraser was a trip, even though she kicked her fish back at the restaurant we went too! I’m looking forward to catching up with her again next week in LA.

The fans in Phoenix were awesome. As I was sweating my Parisian scoops off, the natives were perspiration free, and a lot of fun. Another super clean city, as I got a chance to jog both days around downtown, and see the baseball and basketball stadiums. I forgot my ipod, and so once again, I had to run w/o the influence of mid nineties hip-hop.

The next stop on the tour for me is LA next week and I’m looking forward to working again with Antonia Lofaso, my colleague from season 4.

So with the long flight back east, and a longer lay over at the airport ( something I don’t mind, as I get strange enjoyment from airports ), I really started thinking about how all of this traveling, presenting and demonstrating could really have an impact on the creative food movement. And that’s a new goal. I really want to turn as many people on to trying new things with their cooking, or better yet, their dining options. So, I hope I can become a good ambassador of my craft, a much misunderstood genre of food.

Which brings me to this….the day before I flew to Phoenix; I did a phone interview with a Phoenix journalist. ( ) and the guy, Jesse, really asked some of the best questions I’ve had thrown my way in a bit. I mean, I’m just tired of people asking me if Lisa was a bitch, or if Padma’s hot, like either of them needs my validation.

So then THE question comes, and it always comes…is Atlanta the city for me, or would I be better off in San Fran or NYC. So in answering I, and if you know me, make this long connection to the South being a conservative town and how it may take a bit for them to embrace creative cooking, because, hey, lets be honest, it took the South a long time to embrace civil rights…. And if you just winced, like my wife did, or like my friends at Amuse-Biatch did ( then I get why. I guess I have a way of talking that does not drive a direct A to B line, my mind takes the scenic route and I go along for the ride. I certainly didn’t mean anything news worthy of it. However, ironically, on our night out in Phoenix we ran into Jesse Jackson… in Arizona… weird.

So the lesson of the day is to find out if I’m being quoted verbatim, or if the writer is going to write the piece and pepper in a few quotes. This one was verbatim, and inflection, tone and sarcasm just don’t come off well in print.

So it’s back to running a restaurant for a few days, and then, back to Jamaica doing more product development for the new launch of Red Stripe… speak soonest.

Postcards from Phoenix

A recent interview...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Today Show

In case you missed it....

Who freezes popcorn?

Garrett Popcorn event in NYC

So I randomly got involved with Garrett popcorn. Garrett is a nostalgic gourmet popcorn company based out of Chicago, and recently just opened up a few shoppes in NYC. My mission was to help develop a summer time treat featuring their product, and with the request of using liquid nitrogen, we decided to develop “popcornsicles”

Now many people will think that dipping a popcorn ball on a stick in liquid nitrogen is crazy, and groundbreaking, and well, it is I guess, but it’s also something science teachers have been doing for years. I only address this, because someone, who has way too much time is going to find out that many creative chefs have played around with popcorn and liquid nitrogen, and then someone is going to say he stole that, she did that first, and here we go with the never ending shit storm that the haters bring to the table. Any time more than 1 chef has a similar idea that involves very creative cooking people rush to call him a thief. But no one does this for French fries ?

Off topic, I know.... but if you research some very old science material and work books, you will stumble across these things, like for example, Ferran Adria’s caviar. Now, of course these textbooks don’t have them flavored with apple, or packaged, but you get the point.

So during the 4 days in NYC this past week, a lot happened.

Me and Billy, one of my sous chefs served over 4,000 popcornsicles for free, to everyone ranging from media to, well, honestly, the homeless. It was a great undertaking, and a great experiment for me, as it proved that people easily embrace creative cooking when combined with a familiar flavor. It was very easy to give away a caramel and cheese popcorn ball, even though it was smoking and dipped in liquid nitrogen. Most people find liquid nitrogen scary and/or dangerous. But people know caramel and popcorn, and it made the risk of experiencing something new less intimidating. If we served the popcorn w/o the nitrogen but with an unusual flavor profile, it would not have been received as well. Just some thoughts, but useful ones to me, as I do feel super creative cooking will only grow if it can tip into the mainstream.
I met with a well known publishing house who contacted me in regards to putting together a book. This is crazy, I have always wanted to do this, and also just crazy that they contacted me.
I pitched a television show to a major executive for a major network. I can’t go into it much further, but I couldn’t scrape the Seinfeld episode out of my mind where they pitch what is basically the Seinfeld show to NBC. Also, while we were in Jamaica, Mark and I came up with a
television show based on our driver, called “Driving with Mr. Ricos” or the working title in Jamaica of course “ Soon come...” Even though I was pitching a food show, I figured if it wasn’t going well, that “ Soon come...” would be my last resort, and maybe a way to lighten up the pitch…..
We marched around NYC a lot. And I realized that I don’t just miss being in NYC, but that I need to be in NYC more often. I was literally just running into so many people who write for that magazine, or represent that company, or run those events, or operate those restaurants.
Bullfrog & Baum rock the house…
And we appeared on the TODAY show. Now I’ve done a bit of TV, Top chef, Iron chef, a lot of local stuff, but the TODAY show is like a pretty big deal to me. Needless to say, I was a touch intimidated, as the digital preview to the show read. Morgan Freeman, Meryl Streep, Heidi Klum, and Richard Blais... Richard who ?
I walked by Heidi, couldn’t get enough nerve to say hello, I bumped square into Matt Lauer, and then of course I did the bit with Hoda and Kathie Lee. I grew up with Kathie Lee man, that’s crazytown…

So the Garrett event went well. I hope they invite me to do more work with the brand, they are good people for sure.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blais on Ice

Top chef tour

So in a few days I head out to Phoenix for my second stop on the top chef tour. The tour brings top chef contestants from different seasons together for a day of demonstrations on a 48 foot bus equipped with a kitchen of course.

My first stop was Columbus Ohio, where I teamed up with Hung from season 3. And although I was a bit apprehensive of the tour in the beginning ( feeling like it had a bit of muppets on ice aspect to it ) now I’m pretty damn excited about it. See I’m a pretty big college football fan, and I like traveling in general, so visiting Columbus, a city I’ve never been to, and a college football Mecca, was pretty special. Unfortunately, I only glimpsed the Horseshoe as we flew over it on my why back to Atlanta.

I loved Columbus for a few reasons besides the football tradition. It was a really clean city, and when I checked in I immediately went for a run down what I think was actually “Main Street”. The air was fresh, that sounds silly maybe, but it just had a kind of happy quality to the place.

And the people were just amazing. A ton of fans showed up, waving banners, and cheering, and well, if you’re not a rock star, and I’m not, this was a small taste of what it must feel like. It’s pretty damn cool for sure.

Hung was a trip, we have met before, when out of no where he and Casey ( season 3) showed up in my restaurant, but we didn’t get a chance to hang out that night. I remember Hung got a lot of junk for being a jerk during his season, but his personality is pretty common in a professional kitchen. He’s just a confident guy, for good reason , and I’m glad I got a chance to work with him. I really think he’ll be someone I’ll stay in touch with. Hung, a few days later in NYC, returned volley on the meal I prepared for him in ATL, and it was excellent.

So, next on the tour is Phoenix, Arizona. Another place I’ve never been and another chef to work with that I don’t know much about. I’ll be working with Betty Fraser ( season 2) and I’ll be bringing some very cold ingredients to combat the desert heat!