ORLANDO, Fla. – Chef, restaurateur and author Richard Blais’ culinary journey started when he was just a teenager.
“My first job was at McDonald’s when I was 14,” he said. “I was the poissonier there — which means fish cook in French — which is a very important position at a fast-food hamburger restaurant that arguably has one seafood item.”
Blais said his family wasn’t big on fancy meals when he was a kid.
“You know, like I didn’t grow up like on a farm on a milk crate scrambling eggs — a lot of chefs have that story, but I’m just like a normal dude. My mom wasn’t a great cook and we ate food out of the microwave and the freezer.”
Despite these humble beginnings, Blais ended up at a prestigious culinary school.
“I went to school at the Culinary Institute of America, which is — their claim is (it’s) like the Harvard of culinary schools,” Blais said. “And I loved it. I loved culinary school. You don’t have to go — if someone wants to learn how to cook — but I was such a student. I love learning. I actually got locked in the library one night, because I was up there reading like 19 books about carrots.”
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After school and several years in the culinary industry, Blais eventually entered the world of televised cooking competitions, ultimately gaining fame as the first winner of Top Chef All-Stars.
“I never got into (cooking) to be in front of a camera or to cook competitively or judge or host TV shows. It just happened naturally,” he said.
Since then, Blais has made the rounds with a variety of celebrity chefs.
“I’ve been blessed to work with like, the legends of the celebrity chef world, whether it’s Gordon (Ramsay) or Guy Fieri or Rachael Ray, and they’re just, they’re great because they work so hard,” the chef said.
He admits that his view of celebrity chefs was not always so rosy.
“I think I was the chef — like, you know, seven years ago — who would tell my staff, ‘I don’t know about Emeril (Lagasse) — Emeril, with his bam and his TV shows,’ and then I realized how hard it is to do.”
Blais is now part of a trifecta of hosts — along with Rasay and Nyesha Arrington — on Next Level Chef, a reality cooking competition on Fox.
On top of his hosting duties, Blais is working on a new cookbook and also runs several restaurants, including the newly opened Four Flamingos at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando.
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Blais shares his favorite dishes from his new Orlando restaurant. He also talks about some of his early experiences working in fast food and his first experience seeing an alligator in the wild while visiting family in Florida.
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Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.