Chef Richard Blais, renowned chef and competitor on Bravo TV’s Top Chef, started a new venture in May 2012: the Spence restaurant in Tech Square. Owner of BLAIS and other establishments, Chef Blais has been involved in the food service industry since age fourteen and has since become a famed chef around the world. Recently, the Technique had the opportunity to talk with him about his most recent culinary endeavors.
As a celebrity chef, popularized by Bravo TV’s Top Chef Season 4 and Top Chef All Stars Season 8, what would be one of the most exciting accomplishments you’ve completed with the jump start the show provided?
I mean, it’s kind of hard to pinpoint one specific thing; it’s changed my life from going up a staircase to an escalator. It’s provided so many opportunities. In general it would be the platform to touch people and really think about food in a different way.
The show Blais Off on the Science Channel is a show you host, integrating food and science together. Do you feel this is a unique or innovative approach toward cooking?
I mean, food is science, and if you can use science and technology to make food more delicious, then that’s great. Although I hesitate to call myself a food scientist or molecular chef, it’s about making food tasty.
Where do you get your inspiration as a chef?
For me, it was by accident. My first job was McDonald’s when I was fourteen. So I always like to say that I started there and worked my way up to some of the nicer restaurants in the world. But the inspiration of being a chef really came from that moment when I realized that you can cook and make someone happy.
After an intense evening in the kitchen, how do you relax and relieve stress?
Not too many people know this, but I have a video game addiction, specifically sports video games. You know, I am that dork that goes home and takes it out on the game. We have the GameStop across the street, and that works out nicely. Definitely, that’s sort of my vice. Not drinking or partying or anything crazy, but going home and playing video games.
What is a guilty pleasure food you enjoy?
I certainly love a good cheeseburger, tacos; I like good old American junk food.
What was your favorite food growing up as a child?
Both of my grandmothers were very different. I have a French grandmother who was very much like Julia Child. She would make all her own stocks and sauces and was very grand with everything she did. My other grandmother was Irish-English. She would make the best fork crush mashed potatoes, you know the really simplistic, rustic kind of thing. And I grew up in New York City, where all my friends growing up were so varied, so global cuisine was something I grew up with. Those are the things that tie in to my food now.
What is one of the most challenging things about starting a new restaurant?
Just getting it opened and getting into your groove. It takes 60-90 days for a restaurant to find itself and get into the routines. Waking up every day and cooking and finding your teams is those initial 60 days. Unfortunately, everyone wants to try your restaurant in those first 60 days, so the pressures of that and the fact that it’s new make it the most difficult part. And raising money of course is a challenge.
What is the most rewarding thing about working as a chef?
It’s the instant gratification. I can look, and that’s one of the main reasons our kitchen is in the middle of the dining room. I can cook for you and see whether or not you’re having a good time. It’s my biggest reward, making people happy.
How was The Spence started?
This is for a big city restaurant. We are a casual space. People can come in and get a burger or a salad. I don’t think we’re fine dining at all. Here, it’s just about creating a restaurant where you wanna get together.
What would be your signature food, aesthetic and style?
Style is tough. My cooking is definitely creative American. I would like to take a high-low approach. I like to take a humble idea and elevate it, or take a perceived elegant dish like fois gras and turn it into a milkshake. As far as the aesthetic for the restaurant, we want the vibe of The Spence to be somewhere you wanna hang out. I don’t want it to feel stuffy.
The restaurant, accurately named The Spence, is both a pantry and an eatery, and achieves the feel of an urban, energetic venue. Stocked with modern aestheticism and contemporary design, The Spence has a vibe appropriate for a fun night. From eclectic wine storage to metal tables and a talkative staff, this restaurant makes dining a dynamic experience. The menu can be found and reservations can be made at thespenceatl.com.