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Celebrity Chef Richard Blais is more than a TV personality; he is also an aspiring abstract comedian. This native New Yorker turned San Diegan and “Top Chef” winner sat down with us and explained what he does in the wild, among other things, and talked about his restaurant Juniper & Ivy, located in Little Italy. Read on for more enlightenment by Blais in subjects ranging from the microwave to yoga positions. Richard Blais

Q: What’s a typical day of urban foraging like for you? Richard Blais

Richard Blais: It’s not necessarily foraging, but collecting things like beach rocks and stones and pine needles, things you’d find in the canyons. These objects found in nature are inspiring to me since I’ve recently moved to Southern California. I’ve been here less than a year, and the plant life is very different. It’s being aware of what’s around you, and then, taking them home and using them in the kitchen or in the restaurant. It’s discovering a Pink Peppercorn Tree on my block. My backyard is full of nasturtium. It’s the garnish du jour of the modern chef. It’s like watercress, and it’s delicious. We’re going to be using it here at the restaurant (Juniper & Ivy), and business wise, it’s not a bad practice, because it’s free when it grows in my backyard. Richard Blais

Q: What’s the difference between gentlemen’s relish as opposed to relish I would find in the store? Richard Blais

RB: It’s another name for a savory jam, if you will. It’s very British. It almost sounds risqué, but it’s a savory chutney.

Q: I see that you’re currently inspired by Monterey Aquarium. Can you talk a little about that?

RB: I do a lot of work with Monterey Aquarium. I have a responsibility as a chef to make sure that we’re bringing in products that were raised, harvested or caught in a responsible way. We’re working with a lot of great people and fishmongers to make sure our seafood is sustainable. It’s something that’s really important to me. I trained for a year at the Culinary Institute of America in New York as a fish assistant instructor, sort of like a fellowship program. Seafood is really important to me and my work with Monterey is really just to raise awareness.

Q: Congrats on your new cookbook, Try This at Home: Recipes from My Head to Your Plate! What’s the first recipe I should try? Richard Blais

RB: The book was great. We’re working on developing ideas for the second book right now. I just want to be passionate about everything I do, whether it’s a restaurant, TV show or a book. I don’t want to just push another book out that’s like, Richard Blais’ Chicken Wings, I feel like a lot of chefs do that and make pretty good money at it. Maybe I should be doing that, but I’m not. The first recipe you should check out from my book is the roast chicken with lemon curd. It’s a great recipe, it’s easy, and everyone loves roast chicken, unless you’re a vegetarian.

book cover richard blais

Q: Did your neck start to hurt by the end of the photo shoot for the cover page? Did you get a little pepper in your eye? It looks like there is a fun story behind it. Richard Blais

RB: The cover was awesome, because it was an impromptu sort of thing we did between sessions. We rented a little flat in East Atlanta and shot the whole book in twelve days. So many people have probably wanted to put my head on a platter before, including all of the sous chefs that were there shooting it with me, so we just messed around with that idea. The photos that didn’t make the book were of my head trussed up and wrapped in a bag, it got a little dark. A lot of publishers usually want the cover shot of a book to be the chef dressed up with a glass of wine and a basket of vegetables, but my publisher let us go in this direction. As soon as the book came out there was a review on Amazon that gave me a one star review and said, “I’ll never buy this book because of the cover. The cover is disgusting.” But isn’t that the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” The review has since been removed from the website, but I thought that was funny, and somewhat hurtful because that’s my face. Richard Blais

Q: Name two of your favorite books. Richard Blais

RB: I would say Outliers or Tipping Point, pretty much anything that Malcolm Gladwell writes, and Fergus Henderson for cookbooks. Richard Blais

Q: What other mediums would you say your creativity flows into? Richard Blais

RB: (laughs) Obviously comedy. I don’t really consider myself that creative, but I like to write, which falls into comedy. Richard Blais

Q: You’ve showcased your talents in a variety of dynamic cooking environments. Which would you say was the most challenging and what would you say you took away from it? Richard Blais

RB: TV shows are great. I’ve done “Iron Chef, ” “Chopped, ” multiple iterations of “Top Chef, ” and they are all different. I’m a runner. I run marathons, and they are all different races with different distances. “Top Chef” is a marathon, “Iron Chef” is a team challenge, and “Chopped” is a sprint. I’m a marathoner, and I’ll leave it at that.

Q: Ok, onto the food questions: What’s your favorite protein to cook with? Richard Blais

RB: All sorts of seafood, because it’s so diverse. Salmon, tuna and sardines are all from the sea but each so different from the other in terms of flavor profiles and texture. Richard Blais

Q: Favorite toy in the kitchen? Richard Blais

RB: Microwave. It gets a bad rap. It’s the most molecular thing we have. It’s a box where you put something in and press a number, and then, your food is ready. It’s not the microwave that’s really the problem; it’s the food that goes into it. Richard Blais

Q: Favorite vegetable to work with? Richard Blais

RB: At the moment, it’s romanesca, which is related to cauliflower. It looks like a triceratop’s tail and my kids love dinosaurs. It’s a cool vegetable to work with. Richard Blais

Q: Honestly, how much do your children really like vegetables? Richard Blais

RB: They love vegetables. They also like quinoa, grains and brown rice. I’m glad I got them ready for Southern California before we got here. My youngestone, Embry who’s three, is a little more open to trying new things, and Riley who’s five is like a normal kid who doesn’t like everything her parents cook for her.

Q: Any tips for parents to tackle this task? Richard Blais

RB: Deception is my biggest tip for parents. Sometimes you have to be a little sneaky, whether it’s grinding up vegetables and putting them into a sauce or calling romanesca dinosaur vegetables. I have two little girls and we call pomegranate seeds princess jewels, and it works for me. We call whole-wheat tortillas bean blankets…we don’t, that’s from Aziz Ansari and I stole that line. I listen to a lot of Pandora comedy—I love it.

Q: Who’s your favorite comedian? Richard Blais

RB: John Mulaney at the moment. Richard Blais

Q: Let’s talk about your new baby, your restaurant Juniper & Ivy. Can you talk about the menu concept of this left coast cookery? Richard Blais

RB: Left coast cuisine. There are two meanings to left coast. One is obvious, we’re on the West Coast and a majority of our ingredients are sourced from the west. We are also using left as the political definition, if you will, we’re not making a political statement, but our food is a little bit more liberal and open to new ideas. Our menu at Juniper & Ivy is also going to be very vegetable focused. Richard Blais

Q: Can you tell us who’s on the team? Richard Blais

RB: There are 78 people on the team. I will tell you about some key members: Mike Rosen is the owner, who’s not only invested in this restaurant but also the San Diego food scene, which is why I’m here. Tammy Wong is our sommelier, Jen Queen is our mixologist, Dan Pena is the general manager, Jon Sloan (you can call him Sloaner) is our chef de cuisine, Brad Chance is our pastry chef, who I smuggled from Atlanta (who has actually been with me for five years), and Anthony Wells is our sous chef. Those are the main players. Richard Blais

Q: Any tips for enjoying a first time experience at Juniper & Ivy? Richard Blais

RB: Have a good time and have fun. Our menu is devised in a way where you can come in here with a group of 20 people, order some cocktails and small plates, and have a rip roaring good time. It’s also designed so that you can come here for a first or third date and get a tasting menu and have great conversation in a quieter space of our restaurant. We’re going to be very affordable, and it’s going to be a great dining experience. We’re not very serious about ourselves, but we’re serious about our craft. So, you’re going to be able to come in here and get a crafted meal and a cocktail list and amazing wine. Richard Blais

Q: What is the best thing about being a chef? Richard Blais

RB: I love what I do, I feel like I don’t have a job. It’s going to sound very surfer of me but it’s a lifestyle. I love making people happy through my food. Richard Blais

Q: What native knowledge have you acquired as a new San Diegan? Richard Blais

RB: I’m all about health and wellness now. I’m all-natural. I even started doing yoga, which is something I need, because I’m so high strung. I’d say the warrior is my favorite position, because I’m a guy. But really, I’m just a beginner. Health and wellness is a big part of my life, but I didn’t realize how big it is for San Diego. People really care about that stuff here, which makes me really excited. Richard Blais




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