After two years, Richard Blais finally "exorcised his demons" about losing Season 4 of Top Chef by winning All-Stars. So does it mean more to win an all-stars edition as opposed to a regular season? "I think so, for sure," he tells TVGuide.com. "I had to wait two years to get another opportunity. It just worked out really well. I learned a lot from the first time around. I think winning All-Stars — the field and the competition are a lot deeper." See what else the Season 8 champ has to say about his victory, if he really needs to see a therapist and if he'll take Fabio to Barbados.
Who won Top Chef: All-Stars?
You seem shocked when Padma said your name. How confident about your chances were you?
Richard Blais: Well, I didn't get a chance to taste Mike's food or even see his food. But I did obviously hear the comments from the judges and everyone gushing and raving about Mike's food. ... I definitely didn't think that I won, but I'm always like that. ... You never know. We never get a chance to see the serious deliberations. But I did read Tom's blog ... and I think it was the overall impression of the meal [that helped me win] — the four courses and what left a bigger impression.
You seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown at times and Gail said you needed to see a therapist. So do you need to?
Richard: I tweeted Gail back. I don't think I need to see a therapist. Here's what I think you saw on the show: a chef being very honest about what chefs go through when you're waiting for a review to come out in a major publication. That happens maybe once a year for a chef. On Top Chef, that happens every day. ... So really, all you're seeing is that window of "Oh my goodness, a review's coming out. I'm getting critiqued." ... I think this time around, obviously, I was more focused on trying to win, trying to get to the end and actually win, so I was a little bit more competitive. Anxious? Nervous? A little bit of both.
You were the favorite since the cast was announced, but you kept insisting you were the underdog. Were you trying to manage expectations after losing your finale?
Richard: I was trying to manage expectations and also [inhabit] the spirit of the underdog. ... I actually watched a lot of, like, you know, the 1980 U.S. hockey team — the Miracle — Braveheart and all this stuff ... because I think that is my spirit in life. I wanted to make sure that I didn't trick myself into thinking that, hey, you're so good you can win this thing. That's what happened the first time around. I wanted to remind myself that everyone here is talented, which they are, and this is not in the bag. I just wanted to embody the spirit of the underdog.
I thought it was genius to have Spike spy on the judges.
Richard: [Laughs] I don't know if that was intentionally planned, but the front of the house has to operate with his ear to the ground and let us know [what's going on]. ... You have be aware of what guests are saying and that's good and bad. There were a couple shots [in the episode] where a plate of food comes back. Chefs have to keep people happy. If a plate of food comes back, you want to know why. So Spike did his espionage. ... I love Spike. We've worked together before. He's a great businessman, very smart and a great chef. I knew what he was telling me was real. It definitely helped me to have Spike, Antonia and Angelo. I lucked out in having a great team.
Top Chef's Antonia: Mike didn't have it out for me
How much did you change in the foie gras ice cream for the second service?
Richard: We didn't change a lot. ... We made it more into a traditional sort of sorbet. There was some cilantro that garnished the first round and we changed it to candied violets. Nothing drastic. ... The biggest issue was calling it ice cream. You set this expectation of something that's smooth and obviously that wasn't what I was even trying to serve. That was more of bad menu writing on my end. At my restaurant, Flip Burger, we have a foie gras milkshake, so that's kind of our big signature item, so foie gras milkshake, foie gras ice cream.
You were very forthcoming in sharing information and technique with the other chefs and some of them thought you shouldn't have been so helpful. Why were you?
Richard: I share the things that I know with the people that I'm playing the game with. To me, it's like a kid on Christmas morning. I want to show you my toy, here's how you use it. Yeah, you can borrow it, but bring it back. I'm just really excited about my craft. It's not intentional. I want to learn as well. Sharing with someone also makes them comfortable with sharing their ideas about knowledge and technique. I think I went around [sharing ideas] with really the whole cast. A chef teaches. I don't mind being a teacher to other students.
We never saw you and Mike settle chicken oyster-gate. Did that happen off-screen?
Richard: We put that to rest. It was over pretty much immediately after it happened. I think Mike saw a picture, acknowledged he saw a picture, got inspired by the picture. If you're a painter and you walk through a museum, it's kind of hard not to be inspired at all. He gave me recognition for it. He has this locker room bravado going on, but it was over with and it kind of got blown out of proportion. But he didn't steal my dish. He was inspired by it and that's fine.
What are you going to do with the $200,000?
Richard: I haven't thought about it. It's not enough to just open up a restaurant, but definitely going forward into opening a restaurant. Some of it will go to my kids' education and stuff like that, but I haven't really put the pieces together yet.
Why are you always expecting a kid when you appear on Top Chef?
Richard: [Laughs] If I come back for Masters, I'll have another kid. That's just how it works out. I don't know. Every two years. It's perfect.
Are you really going to take Fabio to Barbados?
Richard: [Laughs] I will take him! The invitation there. The offer still stands. I'd love him to join us. I think that'd be great.