Since competing on Bravo’s Top Chef seven years ago, a TV series he now lends his expertise to as a judge, Richard Blais—with his signature swoop of hair and “I’m up to something” smirk—has become quite the culinary celebrity. His knack for creating fun and fulfilling dining experiences can be enjoyed first-hand at his burger chain, FLIP Burger (located in Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham, Alabama), and at his ultra-popular contemporary San Diego restaurant, Juniper & Ivy. The latter is where you’ll find Blais in the kitchen, working alongside his team to serve up interesting plates full of local Californian bounty. The flavours here are familiar, but delivered in unexpected ways (try the “deviled eggs” with egg white meringue, yolk mousse and mustard “caviar” seeds and you’ll see what we mean).
With a youthful energy that keeps him ever-inspired by his surroundings, the 43-year-old chef and father of two is happy to share his thoughts on the American food scene and what makes San Diego special.
How has the American dining scene evolved in the last few years?
The upscale casual restaurant scene has been flourishing over the last five to eight years. There’s been less fine dining, but I think that’s great, because it gives people more access to great food.
What keeps you inspired when you’re creating new dishes?
Inspiration really is all around you. If I’m at a baseball game in Chicago, it might be a hot dog that they’re serving with added celery seeds, or, if I’m on a beach with my kids, it might be just looking at rocks on the shore. I’m always grabbing inspiration from places or professions that have nothing to do with food.
Besides Juniper & Ivy and Top Chef, do you have anything else on the go?
We’ve opened up a new spot [in San Diego] called The Crack Shack. It’s just chicken and eggs. Basically, it was an abandoned shack close to Juniper & Ivy that we’ve transformed into this new restaurant.
Best tip for sussing out a city’s food scene?
Go to social media. I have the blessing of having a couple hundred thousand people at my disposal to say, “Hey, I’m landing in this city, where do you think I should eat?” If five out of seven people say go to a particular restaurant, that is usually a great indication.
Why do chefs really love Instagram?
I find out about new restaurants all the time on Instagram just because I see a great picture and think, “Oh, wow, that looks like a great restaurant; I’m going to have to check that out the next time I go there!”
Best tip for Instagramming a picture of your dinner?
Natural light! The magic hour is right before the sun goes down. It’s pretty impossible to take a bad picture then.
Blais’ Fave Spots in San Diego
Claire’s on Cedros: “My family and I really like to go to this spot in Solana Beach. It’s just honest, farm-to-table sort of food.”
Taco Shops: “One of the things we’re blessed with in San Diego is delicious Mexican food. The taco shops are a great example.”
Cucina Urbana: “They do a really good job with Cali-Italian sort of cuisine. Any place that’s making its own pasta does it for me.”
San Diego Spotlight: You & Yours Distilling Co.
You & Yours Distilling Co. officially opened in early 2017 in Makers Quarter, an up-and-coming neighbourhood in San Diego’s East Village. It offers tours as well as a creative cocktail menu. Here, head distiller and co-founder Laura Johnson shares the inspiration for the distillery and her favourite spots for cocktails.