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Top Chef All Stars: Our Interview With the Winner
Don’t click through if you don’t want to know who it is yet!
Check out Washingtonian.com’s recap of last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars finale and a conversation with the runner-up here.
The final showdown was a nail biter, with the judges finding lots to love about both Mike’s and Richard’s dishes. But in the end, there could only be one Top Chef . .
And the winner is … Richard Blais! In my earlier writeup, I mentioned that Richard “seems like an incredibly nice guy.” After talking with him, I can say he’s an incredibly nice guy.
And most important, it looks like I—and all Washingtonians—may get a chance to try that Cap’n Crunch ice cream sometime in the not-so-distant future, because Richard is still planning to open a burger place here.
Why switch out the Cap’n Crunch ice cream for the foie gras ice cream?
Cap’n Crunch ice cream is something I’m doing in my restaurant right now. We do a Cap’n Crunch milkshake. Going into the event, I just thought that fois gras kind of thematically fit the restaurant I was building more than the Cap’n Crunch.
What did your wife say during that phone call when you told her you won?
She pretty much just said OMG and congratulations. It was some sort of combination of joy and surprise for sure. It was really early in the morning, so I’m sure I caught her off guard a little bit.
You famously second-guessed yourself throughout your original season. You were nervous at the final judges’ table last night. Right before Padma revealed you had won, were you still thinking she was going to say Mike’s name?
Throughout the season, I’m just expressing what I think chefs feel when they’re awaiting criticism. I just think I’m constantly analyzing what could’ve gone wrong. I was prepared certainly to shake Mike’s hand and say congratulations. It was definitely up in the air.
The other chefs have consistently said you were one of the best guys to work with. Was it important for you to be a good guy in addition to a fierce competitor?
I don’t intentionally try and be a good guy. I guess that just happens. But I love what I do, and I love sharing information. I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. If I have a new toy to play with, I want to share it with my neighbor. It’s always a big honor to hear one of my colleagues who I admire and learn from say that they were rooting for me.
Did the judges ever give you any indication of what put you over the top to win? On TV, it sounded like it was dead even between you and Mike.
I’m saying this after reading Tom Colicchio’s blog this morning, so this is where I’m getting this information. But it was just that it was the overall experience—maybe thematically my food fit more than Mike’s did—and that the whole meal in its entirety might’ve been a little bit more cohesive. I’m kind of paraphrasing what Tom said in his blog. The differences between the courses—I think he said I won the first course by a long way, and Mike won the meat course by a little bit.
You said last night that you willed this win to happen. What did you mean by that?
I won—this is the first time I’ve really done that. I had to teach myself how to try and win. I knew what the consequence of not winning felt like, and I certainly didn’t want to feel that again. When I say I willed it, I thought about winning, I thought about everything I was doing in reference to how to win, to the point of watching the US hockey team 1980 “miracle” speech on the plane on the way to the Bahamas. That sounds really dorky, which is me. But I wanted this really badly.
There was talk of you bringing your burger chain, Flip Burger Boutique, to DC. Is that still in the works?
It is in the works. We did, in the 11th hour, lose a location on Seventh and H, so we are now on to a new location. I don’t have the information in front of me, but I would say hopefully we’re within a year of being in DC. That’s definitely our next move.
Have you been to the Washington restaurants of other past Top Chef contestants?
I’ve been to Spike’s burger place; I haven’t been to his pizza place yet. I thoroughly enjoyed it. He really took good care of me, and I love that part of town. I had one of the best meals in recent memory at Zaytinya when Mike was still there.
How has your cooking changed since you first did Top Chef?
I think I said it last night in the episode. At some point after losing the first time and going through experiences in the real word, a switch just went off and I became very tired of trying to keep up with doing food that was so progressive that I was starting to lose track of what food’s all about—making beautiful, tasty food that people want to come back and eat. That’s my goal. I want to make food that people want to eat every single day, not just say that they had it or it was an interesting experience. Delicious has to be the first thing. That was definitely the biggest change as a chef over the last few years for me.
There was a lot of talk after your original season about how you let the pressure get the best of you in the end. How did you avoid letting the anxiety overcome you this time?
One of the good things about failing the first time is I’ve had enough time to figure out where I failed. It was very much in the conceptual part of it. I have so many ideas. Sometimes the scrolling database of what I want to do doesn’t stop. I just made a commitment this time around to commit to certain ideas, or at least have a mental time clock on when I have to stop making decisions conceptually.
What are your plans for the $200,000 you won?
The show is set up so that when you win this big prize, you use it to better your career and move forward. I’ll either invest it in the restaurants I’m operating or find new investments. Maybe do a Tongue and Cheek restaurant (the name of his "dream restaurant" on last night's episode) one day. Of course, part of it will go to some real-world needs and my kids’ educations and that kind of thing
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