Celebrity chef Richard Blais doesn't just create dishes, he pushes the limits of what you can do in the kitchen. He's become well-known for using liquid nitrogen to re-imagine what cooking and eating can be. But now he's working on a campaign to show people they don't have to cook like he does to make meals at home that taste good and are good for your heart.
He stopped by HLN to do a TV segment with anchor Natasha Curry, then sat down to answer a few questions.
JF: What motivated you to start talking about heart-healthy cooking at home?
RB: What got me started was my own experience. I’ve lost 50 to 60 pounds over the past few years. I have a young family. People don’t have the knowledge to cook healthy. They think cooking healthy is boring. Having a little bit of a platform, I feel like it’s my responsibility to help people cook delicious, healthy, exciting food.
JF: Do you feel like people are ready to hear this kind of message?
RB: [We have] green, organic, farmers markets, [and] companies like Campbells that have 100 products that are heart-healthy or have the Heart Association checkmark on it. Everyone’s thinking that way. People are understanding their food a lot more.
JF: But your first instinct as a chef… tastes good?
RB: Flavor first.
JF: Right. Have you had to rewire your brain a bit?
RB: It’s flavor first all the time. But as a professional chef, we also kind of develop bad habits. We do kind of lean on salt. We do use too much butter from time to time. There is a little bit of a retraining. I’ve taught myself through spices and fresh herbs and acidity like citrus fruits or vinegar, that’s how you bring flavor. One thing I like to talk about is umami. The flavor. Savoring. Cooking with a lot of umami can make up for relying on a lot of sodium or a lot of fat.
JF: Your style that we all know is very different from this. You pull out liquid nitrogen and make popcornsicles. Is this a different Richard Blais?
RB: It’s a natural combination. Yes, I make the Cap’n Crunch ice cream with liquid nitrogen. But we just did a segment where we took the V8 Fusion low-sodium, packed with vegetables, and made a sorbet out of it with liquid nitrogen. So that’s the point. You can still cook healthy, delicious, interesting food. It doesn’t have to be boring. So, yes, we’re still using the liquid nitrogen... whether it’s a healthy sorbet or a cereal ice cream.
JF: Healthy cooking and eating has been a hot topic for celebrity chefs. Paula Deen came out and said she’s diabetic. And she’s gotten some criticism for her cooking and how she handled it. What do you think of that debate? Is it helpful for people to hear?
RB: I do. It’s a worthwhile conversation. I’m not Paula Deen. I don’t have a stance on that. But the conversation is healthy. The debate is healthy. It’s important to cook and eat healthy. As professional chefs, especially chefs who have platforms on TV, it’s a responsibility to help people do so.
JF: Let’s go back to where it all started for you. You haven’t always used the crazy toolbox. The legend of Richard Blais starts at McDonalds, right?
RB: Yeah, my first job when I was 14 when you can first get a job was at McDonalds. I was the poissonier, which means fish cook.
JF: That’s exactly what McDonald’s calls that job.
RB: Right. There’s exactly one seafood item on the menu: Filet of Fish. That was my responsibility. And, actually, the very first batch, I forgot to put the top bun on it. So I was being creative and avant garde before I knew that was my calling.
JF: In Atlanta, you have a popular burger restaurant, Flip Burger, and hot dog restaurant, HD1. I just ate there the other day. How do you balance giving people a tasty and inventive burger or a dog, but also make sure they don’t walk away feeling like they have a huge weight in their gut?
RB: HD1 is a great example. It has varieties like a lean turkey dog or a veg dog. There are salads. It’s really about: What do you want to eat that day? It’s oaky to eat a hamburger or hot dog one day. Moderation is the key.
JF: This Sunday is all about greasy food and snacks. It’s the Super Bowl. Pizza. Chips. Beer. What are you eating? What are you making?
RB: For the Super Bowl, I have to admit, I’m very partial to chicken wings. I’m kind of a chicken wing aficionado, or at least a fan.
JF: But Richard Blais chicken wings can’t just be chicken wings.
RB: No, but you can do it with the heart-healthy cooking we’re talking about. You can cook them with an adobo sauce with lots of fresh lime juice and cilantro. You can marinate the wings in low-sodium products. You can really infuse a lot of flavor. Yeah, chicken wings aren’t the leanest cut on a chicken, but it is the Super Bowl. Everything in moderation.
JF: You’re a sports fan. I know you are.
RB: Yeah. Big sports fan. All of it. Right now I’m really into hockey, English soccer, baseball, football.
JF: OK, so who’s going to win Sunday: Giants or Patriots?
RB: My pick Sunday is a little tough because I’m a Jets fan. So this is the worst combination of teams for a Jets fan. We really can’t stand the Patriots and we don’t like the Giants. But, my dad is a hard-core Giants fan. So I have to side with him. And as a Jets fan, I really cannot root for the Patriots. I love New England. I love New England Clam Chowder. But I can’t root for the Patriots.
JF: It all comes back to food.
RB: It does.