Podcasts for the Food Enthusiast
ately, we can not get enough of the podcast scene, and we love using our subscriptions as a resource while in the kitchen or out on the town dining. In this summer issue, we explore the idea of using this media outlet as a gadget to add to our tricks of the trade. Perhaps we go a little off topic with regards to talk about aliens, but what do you expect when you’re talking to Celebrity Chef Richard Blais?
Whether realizing it or not and at one time or another, we’ve all come across Richard Blais in the world of food, perhaps most recognizable as the winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars.” Blais is a successful chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and television personality. Appearing on not only “Top Chef,” “Top Chef All-Stars,” “Iron Chef America” and “Chopped All-Stars” as a competitor, he is also a recurring judge on “Top Chef,” “Master Chef” and has hosted many others. He currently owns and operates, Trail Blais, a company with a forward-thinking culinary mentality that is the brainchild behind designing, consulting and operating many of your favorite trendy restos, including multiple locations of Flip Burger Boutique (located in the Southeast), and most recently, Crack Shack and Juniper & Ivy in sunny SoCal. One ongoing endeavor we’d like to highlight in particular would be his hilarious yet informative podcast, “Starving for Attention.”
I had the privilege of speaking with Richard on his two-hour drive from North County, San Diego to Burbank, Los Angeles, while on his way to film an episode of “Top Chef Junior.” Between the in-depth discussion of extraterrestrials and being schooled in the definition of ‘Blais-ians,’ I invite you to also journey along with us while he chats my ear off. Hopefully, the result is a couple of new foodie podcast subscriptions for your library.
Q&A With Richard Blais
Q: So… Richard, “Starving for Attention” has gained quite a bit of popularity over the last few years – what would you attribute to its success?
Richard Blais: So … Shante, I love your lead out, wastes no time [laughs]. This began as a passion project and has evolved into something else, and to be completely honest, authenticity has been its primary key to success. Being able to work with my wife, Jasmin, who is the co-host, has given me more opportunities to spend time with her. As we navigated the unknown early on, it’s been a really joyful process.
Q: It’s fascinating that you choose to air in your home vs. a studio. As a listener, I love that intimate vibe that it creates, like when you had your kids come on the mic and do airhorns … what is your strategy or reasoning behind this location?
RB: We actually have a studio in Beverly Hills – and then we can do additional episodes in the middle of the week at home. Doing a podcast from the closet might happen when we have an extra moment, or from the kitchen while the kids are trying to sleep. It is intentionally unpolished, crafted to be the complete opposite of what an actual commercial sounds like. We like to play with the platform. Let it rip, let it be raw. There are radio-style podcasts and the gritty podcast … we want the grit.
Q: Podcasting kind of feels like the Wild West, or what blogging looked like, say, seven years ago – what role do you play in shaping the landscape? Is this something you are consciously doing or just the natural progression of growth?
RB: At this point, I look at podcasting as another form of social media. A journey, not just the destination. It’s not really tied in with anything specific. Most of all, we are trying to embrace the authenticity – there’s so much value in connecting with people through the flaws that we all naturally have.
Q: Tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
RB: Lately its been my weird alien jokes, aliens do exist. Ghosts do not. I love numbers, I love stats, and there’s just way more facts on aliens. My wife is trying to convince me that everything is energy, so I’m somewhat leaning into that, but not entirely convinced.
Q: We love your episode with Thug Kitchen where you asked them what the worst kitchen invention was, and Michael said the microwave. We know you are team microwave. Can you elaborate to our readers on your stance?
RB: General stance -it’s not the microwave, it’s what you put in it. It’s the best molecular gastronomic tool we have of our time. Like for example, microwaved pizza sucks, it’s terrible. Who wants that? I’m all for trying new things through experiments. Embrace the failure. An at-home favorite is chopping up the rind of parmesan and microwaving it – it creates almost like a cheese-it type cracker. But the best thing to use the microwave for is speeding up the cooking process to make a quick puree, like smooth butternut squash, especially when competing.
Q: So you’ve been on both sides of the microphone, interviewing people on your podcast and then appearing as a guest on their podcast. Can you talk about the fluidity of the narrative?
RB: I try not to script it, ever. It’s much more fun and natural to connect the dots during the conversation. Start with the basics – and weave in the fun things. I will say though that I am THE worst guest and a total disruptor.
SS: What types of conversation are you looking to create through your series?
RB: We really want to get into the things that people aren’t typically discussing. Like where do they spend their time? I really love the behind-the-scenes stuff and getting those questions answered. One thing I talk about almost every episode is Salt Bae. I completely fangirl over him, and I’m super bummed that people hate on him. He’s always been a butcher. He’s always worn v-necks and, no, he’s not in a boy band. But my question is, how can he be in so many places at once? Is there more than one Salt Bae, like, for appearances? He always has sunglasses on, so is it actually the real Salt Bae every time? Nobody will ever know.
Q: What’s is your favorite or first real memory of experiential food?
RB: A young child, I’d say 4 or 5-years-old. A dish of stuffed clams. You just pop em open but they are hard to open and they’re weird. It was Long Island, NY. I remember them being interesting and delicious at the same time. This is a memory that I didn’t tap back into until much later in life, I was able to vividly reflect on during another time that I was either eating or cooking them.
Q: Have you ever had a guest on your podcast that sort of stole the show? What were you two riffing about? Or is this how all shows go?
RB: The people I have a deeper relationship with and where I tend to want to be a listener. One of my absolute favorites was Antonia LoFaso and David Lewis in my hotel room – and we are good friends, so it went to a funny place very quickly. With friends it’s more just like an open conversation where you forget the microphone is on, instead of an interview.
Q: What are your favorite go-to foodie podcasts?
RB: “The Sporkful” by Dan Pashman, which is the the exact opposite of what I do, it’s intentional and thoughtful. I love “House of Carbs,” they feature hot topics and Houston news, but mostly I love the creator and the makers. Also “Nerdist,” “The Bill Simmons Podcast” and “You Made it Weird With Pete Holmes,” admittedly, this is where the the whole Alien thing came from, it’s stolen. Honestly, I generally don’t listen to food podcasts. I don’t want somebody else’s ideas to influence what I put out there.
Q: If your listener subscribes to your podcast, who else do you think you’d find in their library?
RB: Basically all of the podcasts I don’t listen to, are all the ones that they are wanting. Like the “Top Chef” podcast, but it’s great because it helps me understand that all of them are interested in food. We have a five-star rating! Hopefully they are more than just foodies, I am hoping to transform the audiences into full blown Blais-ians.
Q: With all of this in the mix; “Starving for Attention” Podcast, regular appearances on “The Food Network,” success of Juniper & Ivy, The Crack Shack and a cookbook – what can we expect from you next? A curling restaurant where they serve curly fries?
RB: Oh, you heard about that? [laughs] Yeah, why aren’t there curling alleys, like for the adults, with more of the Dave and Busters vibe? The next thing that I would like to do is to create the television project, not be on the television project. It’s really not about the success for me, it’s all about the journey.
Concord Grapes and Ricotta Toasts
Serves 5 or 6
This one is so femme, it could be served in the dressing room at Anthropologie. Being so easy, light, and airy, it’s a perfect Sunday brunch dish. The key is to cook the grapes long and hot enough so that they shrivel and resemble olives. This culinary illusion elevates the sweetness of the toasts because you expect salty, not sweet, when you bite into one.
- 5 or 6 thick slices sourdough bread
- 5 cups ricotta cheese, drained in a colander for about 1 hour
- Grated zest and juice of 3 large lemons
- Kosher salt
- 8 cups Concord grapes (3½ to 4 pounds)
- ½ cup Concord grape vinegar or balsamic vinegar
- Mustard flowers, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Grill or toast the bread until golden. Set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, stir the ricotta with the lemon zest and juice and a pinch of salt.
- Spread the grapes in a single layer on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a little salt, and roast for about 1 minute. Turn off the oven and let the grapes sit in the hot oven until wrinkled and softened, about 10 minutes.
- Spread the ricotta on the toast and then top with the roasted grapes. Drizzle with the vinegar, garnish with mustard flowers, if using, and serve.
CONCORD GRAPES AND RICOTTA TOASTS is excerpted from SO GOOD © 2017 by Richard Blais. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.