Richard Blais

(No — is not talking to himself!) The Season 4 finalist talks about his personal experiences with guest judge Grant Achatz.

on Dec 1, 2008

I never wanted to hear those words. And I didn't even like hearing them uttered for a different Richard. But in the end, Richard's cheekiness did him in. It was only a matter of time. There was a small window of time, where it was very stylish to present comfort food in a fine dining setting. It was for a few years in the early Nineties. A time when David Burke was king, and tomato soup with tiny grilled cheese sandwiches ruled. You can still see remnants of the fad on menus all over. Remember Eric's corn dog last year ? and wasn't that Episode 3 as well ? But it's outdated, and so were Richards 'mores.

What isn't outdated is the cuisine of our guest judge Grant Achatz. If anything, it's ahead of it's time. Way ahead. I don't need to go into the accomplishments of Grant or his restaurant. You can find that in just about any food magazine worth it's salt now a day. But what I will share about Grant is something rather personal, and even more telling of his success.

I worked under Grant at the French Laundry as a commis over 10 years ago. Besides an unusual appettite for power bars, and an understandable one for all things related to food knowledge, Grant was the first chef I worked with that understood self expression as a chef. By the good fortune of being one of the least important members of the dinner service brigade I got a chance to travel with Grant, the pastry chef and TK to Hawaii for an event. After this event, in a moment Grant will most likely not remember, he told me about how he wanted to do something different with food. How he wanted to lighten and purify sauces. How he saw things being different from where we cooked then.

At a time, when the French Laundry was quickly becoming one of the best restaurants in the world, and arguably the best in the United States, Grant saw things could be different. And better, to him at least.

This was pre Ferran Adria, pre molecular gastronomy, but all of what you need to know about Grant Achatz as a chef. I've never eaten his dangling bacon, or inhaled his aroma filled pillows. And I don't have to. I want to, but thats a different topic!