Food Writer's Diary
Implicit lessons from Richard Blais

Implicit lessons from Richard Blais


I get asked a lot of silly questions. At the end of last month I was asked if I’d like to have a lunch of hamburgers and beer and then interview celebrity chef Richard Blais.

Of course I would. 

The occasion of the lunch was the New York City round of the Battle of the Burger, a contest to determine who will compete in the Burger Bash at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival.

The competition is being sponsored by a particular light beer that has declared itself The Official Beer of the Burger. Richard Blais, who thanks to Bravo TV's Top Chef franchise is now a celebrity of some note, is one of the judges. 

I don’t really care about burger competitions. I write for a trade magazine, and my readers, as a general rule, don’t have a tremendous amount of interest in those things, and neither do I.

But I do like to eat hamburgers, I like to drink beer, and I like to interview Richard Blais, who even before his national television debut was an accomplished chef in Atlanta.

At the moment he has three Flip Burger Boutique restaurants and is also chef of The Spence, a fine dining restaurant that’s part of Bob Amick’s Concentrics Restaurants group, whose restaurants Blais cooked in for a number of years before all the fame came his way. He had a hot dog restaurant called HD1, about which I interviewed him a couple years back, and which, I learned while tracking down appropriate links for this blog entry, just closed.

I would have known that it closed when I interviewd Blais, but when I got to the lunch I was told he wasn’t allowed to talk about his restaurants.

“I hope that’s not a problem for you, coming from Nation’s Restaurant News,” a representative from the beer company said.

Actually, not being particularly interested in the chef’s personal life, and disinclined to write ad copy for the beer company (if I’d wanted to write ad copy, I’d have a job writing ad copy), it was kind of a problem. 

But hey, if there’s no substance in a lunch event, there’s no substance, and a guy has to eat.

And I interviewed Richard Blais anyway. We had a good talk, and Richard showed that he knows how to cultivate the press and say polite and endeering things to people.

“Good to see you. Again,” he said, stressing the ‘again,’ — as though I were jet-setting all over the place, constantly hob-nobbing with celebrities — because he managed to remember that we’d greeted each other in passing in June, in Aspen. He remembered that I was headed to Matsuhisa and that he thought that didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

So that was Richard Blais’s implicit lesson #1 for being a likable celebrity: Treat people like they’re special. Make them feel important and memorable.

He’d recently tweeted that he was in my hometown of Denver, so I asked how it was, and he said he liked it and that the city’s downtown still had kind of an Old West feel, and it occurred to him that every city still had vestiges of its history.

Implicit lesson #2: Say nice things about someone’s hometown.

I asked him about this whole beer and burger thing and he said The Official Beer of the Burger paired “incredibly” well with hamburgers. 

“You want a flavor that’s not competing or trying to drown out all these burgers that we’re tasting,” he said. “A heavier beer, like a stout, isn’t going to work. At the same time, you want something that’s effervescent, light — something that’s not going to fatigue your palate from a technical standpoint.”

So, O.K.

I also asked him if he had a favorite burger city.

“It’s hard to top New York,” he said.

Lesson #3: Compliment the city where the person you’re talking to lives.

And Lesson #4: serve people a good hamburger.

This puppy to the right (from which I removed the raw tomatoes because I hate them) was a delicious patty of ground short rib, brisket and chuck meat, served with candied onion, braised bacon and Cheddar cheese on a nicely toasted Engish muffin. I added Blais’s “umami ketchup” and what he called Sri-rancha — a combination of Siracha sauce and ranch dressing that also is part of this week’s Cool Plate.

Sri-Rancha — a new trend.

August 26: This blog entry has been edited to correct spelling and punctuation errors.

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