Saturday, July 5, 2008

blais bliss

Whatever my opinion on reality television in general, Top Chef definitely ranks amongst my top three current television shows, and in fact beats out all other food related shows, including Alton Brown's Good Eats, if only because Good Eats is only a half hour long and Alton Brown keeps selling out to the Food Network and accepting gigs on other, fairly stupid shows. Anyway, I digress.

My dad shares my love for Top Chef and brings to the table a certain amount of common sense and foresight, and so decided to make a reservation at Richard Blais'--one of the, err, "Cheftestants" that made it to the season finale this season--Buckhead restaurant home as part of our July 4th celebrations. We weren't particularly sure what to expect; a late-evening telephone to the restaurant to check on the dress code introduced to us "Ted" (must have been a pseudonym) who informed my stepmother that ladies should come to the resto "sexy casual".

In reality, home is located in an old house, and has all sorts of fun charms, including real silver flatware left over from the previous occupant (another restaurant), enormous wine glasses and portholes into the kitchen (ask for table thirty for a great view). Sexy casual is an excellent way to describe the dress code and style, and even the menu, which features all kinds of twists on overwhelmingly delicious southern basics.

This post isn't really about the dreamy meal though, it's about the dreamy experience with chef Richard Blais, who took several minutes out of his busy evening of chef-ing it up at the kitchen of home to make the meal incredibly special for me. We checked that he was cooking when we arrived. That shocked me, as in true jaded New Yorker fashion I imagined that celebrity (or even semi-celebrity) chefs didn't cook in their restaurant kitchens all that often, and especially not on holidays. As we were left to our table (yes, the aforementioned table thirty), I witnessed Richard pow-wowing with some staff and perhaps due to my awkward and embarrassing reaction, he came over to greet my party and was as friendly as could be. He chatted with us and wished us a wonderful meal and we sat down and had one.

At the end of the meal when Richard was doing the rounds and the waitress came by to ask us if we needed anything else (we were bordering on stuffed over the cornbread cake with coffee ice cream, blueberries and caramel-butter sauce, not to mention the Coke float with vanilla-cardamom ice cream), I asked her if Richard would sign a copy of the menu for me. We were working on the check when Richard stopped by and asked us how our meal was and so on, not carrying my signed menu. I figured no one had told him or he had forgotten and since he was working I wasn't going to pressure him, but then, before ducking his faux-hawked head back into the kitchen, he asked if we'd like to see the kitchen. I stammered out a "yes, please" and he told us that our waitress would bring us in when we were done settling up and she did. She also brought me the day's menu which he'd drawn all over, and scribbled with birthday messages and other sweetnesses (my birthday is in forty-five days). Fans of the show will understand when I say that Richard showed us his nitrogen tanks and circulators, he introduced his protein chef and showed us where he approved the night's dishes. At the very end of the evening he shook my hand again and said he hoped to cook for me again.

I was too nervous to ask all sorts of intelligent questions and so on, but what really impressed me was his graciousness as a chef. I am guessing his run on Top Chef (a very successful run at that) has popularized the already nifty home, and I am sure he was busy enough without bringing a troop of six diners into his kitchen. Instead of shunning his guests, he was a charmer and a true host. He made me feel absolutely special and he guaranteed that I would travel to home again on a future trip to Atlanta. His faux-hawk may not be bobbing behind the portholes as he chugs water and furrows his brows, but his excellent, sometimes hilarious, food will be on the table, and that in itself is well worth the trip.

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