Richard Blais is perhaps best known for his recent stints on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars; however, he is first and foremost a restaurant chef. His culinary consulting company, Trail Blais, has worked with four-star restaurants across Atlanta, and his haute burger concept, Flip Burger, has redefined an American classic. Blais’s ICC demo showcased the tongue and cheek style for which he has become famous (and proved to be a delicious start to the morning).
Richard Blais is an exceedingly insightful chef who strives to tell a story with each dish he creates. In this hands-on workshop, Blais dubbed the dish we would be preparing “chicken of the sea”—fried chicken with raw hamachi. He explained that this plate came together one night when a chef friend was visiting one of his restaurants. In an effort to impress a fellow cook, Blais wanted to create an off-menu dish on the fly and began going down the line and piecing together ingredients from different dishes. He equated this improvisation to “the sixth sense,” the theme of this year’s ICC, and stressed the importance of cooking by instinct.
Each workstation was outfitted with all the necessary components for the dish, including four glasses from which we would be tasting different olive oils throughout the demo.
Blais began by cutting a beautiful piece of hamachi, which he chose for its high fat content and buttery texture. In stark contrast to the delicate slices of fish demoed in Chef Yamada’s kaiseki workshop, Blais cut thick pieces. He also left a portion of the bloodline, explaining that he enjoys the slightly gamey it imparts. Each of these factors demonstrates the role of improvisation in the kitchen, and that culinary “rules” can be modified in favor of personal preference.
The slices of fish were then marinated in a Picual olive oil, yuzu juice, and salt. The next component of the dish was pickled radishes and celery. In true Blais fashion, he demonstrated a technique that allows you to do a quick pickle without losing any of the flavor. Blais put the radishes and celery in an iSi canister with a bread and butter pickling liquid, gave it one charge, and immediately had brined vegetables!—very useful trick.
The next item we prepared was the chicken. Blais sous vide white meat chicken breasts with schmaltz (chicken fat) rendering them juicy and tender. The chicken was then cut into perfectly even strips. Blais commented that he prefers to leave his produce looking organic, but likes to manipulate the shapes of his proteins. The strips were coated in flour, eggs, and panko and cooked on the Jade plancha, the namesake of the morning’s demo.
The final two components of the dish were a smoked aioli and pressure-cooked mustard seeds. “When you stumble upon a mustard seed that already looks like caviar, that’s the moment,” said Blais. This proved to be one of the most poignant lines to take away from the demo, especially coming from “mad scientist” Richard Blais. He explained that when you find something in nature that visually mimics another ingredient, that’s a true instance of excitement for a chef.As all the pieces of the dish began to come together, Blais shared his “sandwich theory;” the test of a good dish is whether is would make an amazing sandwich. Between the silky fish, crunch from the panko on the chicken, pickled vegetables, pop of the mustard seeds, and smoky aioli, I can easily say I’d like to see a “chicken of the sea” sandwich on a menu!
All Photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D. Copyright Docsconz LLC 2011 unless otherwise indicated.