For celebrity chef Richard Blais, 2017 is off to an amazing start. Already known as a Top Chef-All Stars winner and now judge, Blais is a successful author, restaurateur and now… actor and writer? We caught up with the Trail Blais-er at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, to hear about his latest recipe for success.
Despite this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s snowstorms and freezing temperatures, filmmakers, movie stars and even chefs have donned their snow gear and shown up to have fun.
We were lucky enough to attend a cooking demonstration performed by Top Chef winner Richard Blais at the Chase Sapphire on Main, where the menu was a hearty winter meal: seared elk accented with reindeer moss and pine nut foam. It may sound quite exotic, but the hungry crowd agreed it was quite a robust offering, perfect for the snowy weather.
In between live cooking shows and catering cast parties for the many exciting films premiering at the festival, Blais managed to find a few minutes to sit down with us and share what Top Chef is really like behind the scenes.
What it’s like as a Top Chef judge
The current season of Top Chef is rookies vs. veterans, and to us, it seems the veterans are owning the competition. We asked Blais if he thought the producers wanted to see the newbies fail to provide maximum conflict on the show. His answer surprised us: “I don’t think they set anyone up to fail. I don’t think anyone thought the veterans would run away with it.”
Blais contends that the entire show is made with the utmost integrity, particularly when it comes down to judging the chefs’ food. “The judges take the decision process very seriously. I’ve seen it take six hours. There is a legend of a nine-hour deliberation — I just think it’s a testament to the show,” he said. “It’s four people with different opinions, and we will hash it out for hours.”
But, like any reality TV show, personalities come into play, Blais told us. “For me, as someone who is now on the judging panel for a few seasons, initially, I had to overcome the fact that it’s Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi’s show. They’re the seniors on the court, so to speak. But if you don’t speak your mind, you won’t be there for another episode.”
Inside the Top Chef house
As a judge, Blais said he isn’t privy to the day-to-day frictions between competing chefs. “We’re only in front of the contestants when you see us in front of the contestants,” he told us. “We don’t watch any of the prep. We have no idea what’s going on back at the cast house.”
Though he thinks it’s good that the judges don’t see behind the scenes because it prevents influencing their decisions about the food, Blais thinks the manipulations inside the cast house are where the real drama happens.
“As a fan of Top Chef, I would love to see more of the cast house. I guess it’s more typical reality TV, but I find the social challenges fascinating, having competed on it,” Blais said. “I remember my good friend Fabio Viviani made a meatball one time back at the cast house. It was just me and Fabio eating a meatball, so probably not a big dynamic moment for the television show, but a real genuine moment where we became friends. Besides the fights and the drunkenness that happens at the cast house, there are some really great moments that the show doesn’t have time for.”
If Blais had to pick his favorite Top Chef of all time, it would be Dale Talde: “We’re just sort of brothers. I really enjoyed him, but the list could really go to 12, 15 people. What’s great about the show is how far a contestant can go, even if they don’t win. Dale’s one of those stories.”
Don’t underestimate Lakshmi
Blais says he gets frustrated when people underestimate Lakshmi, the show’s hostess.
“There’s a fan base out there that thinks Padma is just a pretty face because she’s a model. ‘What does she know about food?’ I get pretty sensitive about that because she’s so intelligent and knows so much about food, but she just happens to be a model who’s beautiful. She’s the only person who eats all of the contestants’ food every single challenge because she’s there in the Quickfire, she’s there in the elimination challenges as well.”
Blais also feels that sometimes the other host, Colicchio, can get a bad rap. “He gets this knock for being so hard and serious, a curmudgeon even. But having sat next to him, he’s a lot more joyful. Maybe that’s because I’m no longer a competitor. He’s a fun guy, a musician. He’ll play guitar back stage. So he’s an artist, like most of us. I’m now into writing.”
Blais, the writer and actor
Yes, you read that correctly. Blais has aspirations of being a writer and even has some film and TV treatments floating around Hollywood.
“I’m collecting data on all these different chef personalities. The thing I’m working on now is, here are these four different chef personalities that exist in this world. One is a teacher, one is a mean chef, one is an absolute maniac, etc. I’m just really digging into that world because everyone eats. The stories of chefs and people who work in the hospitality industry work because we can all sort of relate.”
And if you missed Blais’s acting debut in the James Franco comedy Why Him? you’re missing out on an absolutely hilarious movie. Blais plays a personal chef with his own unique take on the “farm to table” movement. Called the “lawn to table” movement in the film, Blais raises livestock like chickens and cows in Franco’s yard until it’s time for them to become dinner, providing the freshest meat possible.
Though 2017 marked Blais’s first Sundance Film Festival, he vows it will not be his last. “Being on a movie set really inspired me and got me engaged in the acting and writing process. I’m committed to getting back to Sundance,” he said.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.