Photo: Virginia Sherwood / Bravo
Richard Blais took home the title of Top Chef at the end of Wednesday's nights finale, and all is right with the world. After a long, surprisingly spirited "All-Stars" season, Richard, the heavy favorite, nabbed the crown -- but not without a tough fight from challenger Mike Isabella. The four-course menus both chefs created were short on gimmicks, focusing heavily on technique and flavor, and the judges came down to the wire before giving Richard the title. Find out how he prepared for the finale -- and why he says he's o.k. with being perceived as neurotic.
What did you do to prepare for the finale?
I really just kind of got back to basics. I think people expected me to come out with a laser gun or a robot to cook the food or something, but really, I was baking bread and roasting chickens. I wanted to come back to the Bahamas and emphasize that although I enjoy using some modern techniques, I can also cook with a spoon, a pot and some butter and salt and pepper. So I really focused myself and did basic cookery.
Traditionally, the judges have given contestants a lot of freedom to create what they want for the finale. Were you worried they were going to throw you a curve ball?
Going back into the final round, I think all of us were surprised that it wasn't going to be just two challenges, it was going to be four. Then also knowing it wasn't going to be three contestants left for the finale, it was only going to be two. I think the pressure throughout the whole season kept building and building. So certainly by the end of it, you know you can't control it, you're just going to have to accept that and go with it. So the final challenge was a little bit different. Go build your own restaurant -- it was surprising to me, but also thrilling. You saw on the show where I said I got goosebumps -- well, I really did. For a chef to be given the task of building your own restaurant, I mean, this is what chefs dream about on the subways or commuting back and forth to work. We're dreaming of that while we're sitting there chopping carrots or peeling potatoes.
Are you glad the finale was two chefs instead of three?
I think it's a better way to go about determining the winner because it's more direct. The more food the judges are presented with, the greater the chances of things getting clouded. I think it's kind of neat to go head. Obviously it's easy for me to say that I enjoyed it, but I think it was a good way to go about it.
Everyone keeps saying how different All-Stars was from their regular seasons. Do you agree?
Yeah. This season was longer, so it turned a long-distance race into a definite marathon. And the challenges were extremely difficult. I'm sure everyone has mentioned that, but multiple times just finishing a challenge -- I had to stand back and say wow, I can't even believe that I finished that. I couldn't believe that my non-aquatic person was actually out there getting conch, or that I actually finished a challenge in nine minutes, or that I just ran around Target for two hours with no equipment. And the talent pool was just amazing -- you had 18 chefs with amazing culinary talent, and if things had gone differently you could easily have had 18 different winners.
It was obvious you wanted to win, and the camera captured a lot of your personality quirks. Are you happy with the way you got portrayed this season?
In my season I was portrayed -- whether it was true or not -- as being a really good guy, a lovable loser who just couldn't do it and choked. This time, coming back, some people are saying this guy is a neurotic mess and he's insane and he's crazy and he's just a ball of nerves. I think this time around I really wanted to express my true personality, and I was happy with the way things were done. That's me, you know? Sometimes I do over-analyze and I'm a touch neurotic perhaps -- but yeah, I'm happy with the way I got portrayed because I think it's true.