Richard Blais

Richard Blais contemplates the seasons-old question, "Who do you cook for?"

on Sep 17, 2009

I’ve always liked the term starving artist. The idea of a talent so gifted and committed to a vision, that he or she doesn’t care about anything else. They would rather starve. In their paint-splattered, plaid shirts, and ever-worn skinny jeans, they then sell out by creating work that people actually want to buy.

I mean if many people want to buy it, certainly it can’t be that good.

The struggle of conformity to mass appeal is just as relevant in the artistic world of cuisine. And we all bitch about it from time to time, how certain people don’t get our work. How we just want to cook “our” food. How the restaurant across the street banging out the 400-cover Thursday night's food sucks. We create a subclass of eater whom, as a gifted and disciplined chef, we are somehow above.

From hungry football fans to drunkards wobbling out of the nightclub; from police cadets, and firemen, to cowboys, and maybe one day, Indians. Our competition at this stage of the game, always finds itself cooking for, well, the village people.

Blue aprons. Cooking for the blue-collared.

It drives most of our chefs crazy to be both physically and metaphorically out of their comfort zone: craftsmen without their normal tools, artists not working in their preferred medium. Painting and chiseling for those they may not even respect. And through the tension, a new, familiar question arises.

Do you cook for the diners, or judges?

The underlining theme to every challenge is to cook “appropriately” for the invited special guests. And yet, maintain an individualism and signature of authorship.

And as a chef, both on this show and in reality, you have to cook for both. They have a delicate, symbiotic relationship.

Food that doesn’t sell not only loses money. It  is a loss of life.

You don’t read too many restaurant reviews that exclaim the brilliance of a chef, but the absence of an audience. Show me a critic passing out the highest number of available stars, and I’ll show you a booked dining room.

The two camps may not always be on the exact same page, but they’re always in the same range.

And here, where the deer and the buffalo roam, or maybe more like the snake and the cactus, it is no different. The campers who can best articulate and execute food for ranchers and  make the judges swoon with restaurant quality dishes, will prevail.

Last week, we heard masters like Robuchon and Boulud wax about the reconstruction of a bearnaise, a familiar, and haughty, noble sauce. And tonight, just as important perhaps, we hear the ranchers' amazement at just how much that halibut dish tasted like a club sandwich.

Sometimes ranch dressing can be art...