Q&A: Richard Blais
Top Chef champion Richard Blais—he won the all-star season in 2011 after taking the runner-up spot in his first go-round in 2008—has expanded his addictive Crack Shack chicken eatery beyond Southern California for the first time, opening his sixth store right on the Strip at Park MGM. If you’re looking for these tasty eats, step right outside Eataly and head north. You’ll have a harder time catching up with the chef, who’s constantly traveling for TV appearances and always developing something new in the kitchen and behind the camera.
You’ve been running all over the country lately. Is that normal these days? And where’s home now?
I live just north of San Diego, but I’ve been on the road so much. It sounds much more romantic than it is and it’s not always like this week, which has been a four- or five-city week. A lot of it is more on the television and media side, and I do a live show that’s actually perfect for Las Vegas, so maybe this can inspire some new work for me.
What’s that show about?
I call it stand-up cooking. It’s one part cooking demonstration and one part weird science-slash-stand-up comedy. It has been keeping me on the road, but as far as restaurants are concerned, it’s really about Crack Shack, and this is a massive opening for us.
Most people recognize you from Top Chef or one of your other TV appearances. Do you consider yourself a celebrity chef? And what’s it like to bring your brand to the Strip?
I’m a celebrity chef in air quotes. I think when you get to Vegas it validates some sort of celebrity chefness. You get off the airplane and there are (billboards with) Gordon Ramsay’s face, and Giada (De Laurentiis), and my friend Guy Fieri has a place across the street, not to mention all the world-famous culinary talents that are here but not on Food Network or Top Chef. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s an honor. But I’m not Gordon or Guy, and I don’t have that sort of household recognition, so I sort of sit on the fence of being a TV chef. But being here helps me feel like I’m heading that way, which is great.
Crack Shack is not the average fried chicken joint. What is it that makes this restaurant stand out?
A lot of fried chicken places understandably have origins in the Deep South. We have biscuits on the menu, and our batter might be a version of a Southern recipe, but we’re from Southern California. It sounds like a funny thing to say, but one of the big (factors) is that our take is a little lighter and fresher. We have lots of Mexican influences on the menu since our first location was in San Diego so close to the border, and generally that’s the type of food we like to eat as well. And we’re very sandwich- and salad-based, where a lot of other places are just about fried chicken.
You’ve probably been too busy to have any time getting better acquainted with Park MGM and other parts of Las Vegas. Are you looking forward to that?
I haven’t had a lot of chances and I’m still figuring out the vast catacombs of these casinos. I walked into three different kitchens and could not get back to my own restaurant, so I’m still figuring it out. But I’ve always been a fan of Vegas. As a native New Yorker, I know there aren’t many places outside New York and Vegas that have this energy. As soon as you land, you know you’re someplace special. But I’m a big spa guy and have not sat poolside yet or found the time to relax and hit the spa at NoMad. I’m also a big fitness guy, so I’m looking to explore more local Vegas. I like running in 100-degree heat. I’m weird like that. So I can’t wait to...do a little hiking and experience all those things most people don’t think of right away.