Richard Blais On Next Level Chef And What To Expect At California English - Exclusive Interview

Not many people can say they are a "Top Chef: All-Stars" winner, but Richard Blais can. The celebrity chef currently owns four restaurants, with his newest business endeavor, California English, recently opening in San Diego. The menu features the United Kingdom's most well-known foods, like beef tartare with a side of chips or beans on toast, which isn't necessarily common in the United States.

During an exclusive interview with Tasting Table at the Sun Wine and Food Fest, Blais revealed his most coveted cooking hacks — including one he learned from Gordon Ramsay himself. Blais also judges on "Next Level Chef" alongside Ramsay and Nyesha Arrington, Season 2 of which is set to premiere after the Super Bowl. He disclosed some behind-the-scenes mishaps from the show and offered up his finest food suggestions, given Valentine's Day is on the horizon. (According to the restaurateur, it is okay to opt for red velvet cupcakes on the holiday!)

The egg trick Blais learned from Gordon Ramsay

With "Next Level Chef" premiering right after the Super Bowl, are there any cooking tips or kitchen hacks that you've learned from the contestants themselves?

Wow. From the contestants? They're under such duress. I'm sure I have, but it's hard to remember what that thing was. I have learned from my fellow mentors, which is not going to surprise you, that I've learned something from Gordon Ramsay.

What have you learned?

Something really simple. I'm going to give you a simple thing, and this is me embarrassing myself — but it's how to crack an egg without getting the shell in the eggs.

I still do that every time.

I have the answer for you. Now, normally when I make eggs at home, I have the bowl. Not to brag, but I can crack an egg in each hand at the same time. But even every once in a while, while I'm doing that, two eggs at the same time — it might get a lot of TikTok views, but every once in a while, you get a little shell in there. If you don't want shells in your eggs, crack them on the table and then go to the bowl. You will never put a shell in your mixing bowl.

It sounds crazy. It sounds like blasphemy. Dare I say it? But that is how you never get a shell in the eggs. Crack it on the table and then into the mixing bowl.

I will do that. I always get shells in the batter.

It's never going to happen again. I'm telling you, whatever it is, the mysteries of what happens with egg whites ... Things stick to them. If you do it that way, I should know the scientific reason why [this works], but I feel like something about the fact that you've [heard it] ... now it's in the air or whatever; I don't know. It's like I'm talking about UFOs right now. [laughs]

I've never shared that tip, and I've never shared that I learned it from Gordon. I've never told Gordon that I learned it from him. I wouldn't, because I compete with him. Now he's going to know.

Behind the scenes of Next Level Chef

Are there any fun behind-the-scenes mishaps that you can recall that occurred with your fellow judges, [Gordon] Ramsay or [Nyesha] Arrington?

Here's the thing — you've seen the set before you've seen the show. It's three massive stories. It really is up to that top scaffolding at least; that's where the third level is. There's an elevator for certain shots that we do, but a lot of the other shots for the mentors are running up and down stairs.

All I'm telling you is I've been very winded. I've had to run into those kitchens sometimes. You're like, "Oh." I've been running up and down these stairs. It's three stories back and forth, up and down.

You have to run a marathon to train.

I've run six, but not recently. Still, steps are different from running the New York City Marathon.

I have had plenty of wardrobe mishaps because I'm an odd fit, things being too tight on me or too loose, et cetera. My hair is a big problem.

Really? Why?

Because, well, look at it. It gets in the way of certain shots. Every once in a while, someone will have to run in and pat it down. 

California English has a U.K.-inspired menu

You live in California — where is your favorite place to eat or drink in San Diego?

Well, I have a few of my own. I like my own restaurants, Ember & Rye, and California English — which is opening this week, actually, in San Diego. That's exciting, and [there's a bit of] anxiety. I have anxiety because it's opening in a couple days, and I'm here. Truth be told, I travel so much and I have so much restaurant work that most of my meals when I'm home are either cooking at my house or at my own restaurants.

That's kind of the answer, but I want to give you something that's deeper than that. Where have I been recently that was fantastic? I should have a date night soon. Now you're reminding me, like, "Ah, I don't go out as much as I should." [laughs] Born and Raised is a great restaurant. That's in San Diego. That's a great meal that I've had recently.

What did you eat there? Do you remember?

It's an old-timey steakhouse where they do a lot of things tableside. I like tableside presentations.

A California beef tartare is on the menu

For your new restaurant, California English, what's the menu looking like?

I don't mean this to be snarky, but the restaurant's called California English — so it is English food through the California lens. It is pretty much the U.K.'s greatest hits. It's California's produce and through the lens of California's people and produce.

In the U.K., there's a very popular home dish called beans on toast. As Americans, we're like, "What?" It is exactly what it sounds like — beans and tomato sauce on toast. In California, our version of beans and toast is avocado toast. It's a mashup of all of these things that sometimes you would never think of, but we all have these similarities. One of the dishes I demoed today was fish and chips with avocado tartar sauce. That's the type of food that I'm doing at California English.

A lot of chefs think "fusion" is a bad word, but I love it. The more you do that, the more you find that there's so much commonality amongst cultures and cuisines. We all around the world are doing the same thing. Someone's got a luscious stew that someone's grandma made all night long, and everyone's got a roast off a wood-fire grill. I like that game.

You mentioned this in your demo as well, but you plan to offer a California beef tartare with a mustard yolk. Any tips for cooks who want to try making beef tartare at home?

Sure — buy high-quality meat. If you can do it, I love buying filet mignon, which is what we'll be doing at the restaurant. But you can buy the tail of the filet, which is a lot less expensive. It has to be ice cold, so have it in the fridge. When it comes out of the fridge and you chop it, chop it super, super small — it should look like ground beef. That's how minced it should be.

Then put it back in the fridge. Anytime you're using something raw, whether it's tuna tartare [or] beef tartare, you want to make sure that item is always cold when you serve it, while you're prepping it, and before it's prepped. It's a little nicer that way.

Go corny on Valentine's Day

With Valentine's Day coming up, do you have any cocktail suggestions?

Actually, it didn't work on the stage today, but we do this bubble cocktail, which is fantastic. Listen, play around. If you're cooking at home, have fun with some rose petal liqueur or ... it's going to sound gross, I apologize, but I like doing a beef heart tartare.

What is that?

It's tartare, but with heart. It's Valentine's Day. Heart tastes exactly like mignon.

Anyway — Have fun with it. Use red colors. Play around with the theme of Valentine's ... Whatever the holiday is, I'm all for it. Make red velvet cake for Valentine's Day. Or get fancy with it — buy a tub of caviar. I'm actually going to do this on a media hit next week: a bag of potato chips [and a] tub of expensive caviar, the best of both worlds.

I grew up on Long Island, and my mom wasn't a very good cook. Sorry, Peggy. But I call it Oasis Gas Station cuisine. I love the idea of Funyuns coming together with beluga caviar. That's how I grew up — not with the caviar, but I grew up on Funyuns. Now I'm a chef. It's like, mash it up and have fun. Tell your story.

You're always experimenting in the kitchen. Is there a particular ingredient you've been using a lot lately?

Black lime powder, or dehydrated black lime. I use it in my restaurants. It's a Persian lime, and it's literally a lime that gets aged and shriveled up. The skin gets really black. If it's dried out, it's got this funky — but in a good way — aged-out taste, a lemon-lime taste maybe after it's been caramelized. Then you grind it up and it's a black dust, and we crust swordfish with it in my restaurants. That's been my favorite ingredient to cook with lately.

Season 2 of "Next Level Chef" premieres on Fox on February 12 after the Super Bowl. For more information about the Sun Wine & Food Fest, visit Mohegan Sun's website. Keep up with Richard Blais' latest projects on his Instagram page.

This interview has been edited for clarity.