Richard Blais has wowed at-home foodies across two season's of Bravo's hit cooking competition Top Chef. His new cookbook, Try This At Home: Recipes From My Head to Your Plate, hits bookshelves in February. Blais spoke with TakePart about his favorite holiday recipes, and dished out some easy tips for making your holiday season healthier and more sustainable.
When you're thinking about entertaining your friends and your family, what are the things you think about cooking? What are your go-to recipes?
We try to balance the idea of tradition and comfort, with a little bit of excitement. We present a lot of foods and flavors that my guests are going to be familiar with, but also give them mild twists. That might be cooking a turkey sous-vide or it might mean replacing the butter with yogurt in the mashed potatoes. We're always looking to keep people excited and also honor the traditions of the holiday.
Is there a particular ingredient that just says "holdays" to you?
Definitely for my family it's an odd ingredient, but rutabaga, really signifies holiday cooking. We probably only cook it for two holidays a year and it makes its debut on Thanksgiving. And this humble, knobby old root vegetable is something that we end up putting salt and pepper on and it ends up being the highlight of our table — these mashed rutabagas.
Are there one or two tips you can give to people who might want to break away from their own traditions and try something new?
A lot of my work at this time is showing people how to cook in a more creative and nutritious way, so swapping out certain ingredients for others is an easy way to do that. Certainly one of the things we're all worrying about when we're cooking and eating in the holidays is gaining weight. Simple swaps like with mashed potatoes using a high-protein Greek yogurt for butter or if you're making butternut squash soup or acorn squash soup, doing the same thing. That little change makes the dish healthier and taste a little more exciting as well.
We've been highlighting our 100 favorite sustainable and local food shops at TakePart. For you as a chef, why is it important to buy these kinds of ingredients?
The number one is reason is because nine-and-a-half times out of ten it's going to taste better. As a chef, you're probably going to know a little bit more about the story of an ingredient if it's local. But number one is flavor.
Do you have one or two stores somewhere in America that you go to that embrace these themes?
Out in the East Bay in California there's a place called Frog Hollow Farm, and they sell fruits and preserves and jams. You can buy a mystery basket of fruits for the month, or once a quarter and it's what I got my wife a few years ago. I've been on the farm and there's kids running around there, and it is a small business, and it's amazing to know the difference between a peach and an apple from a farm that's really doing things right.
It's not too late to have your own "food done right" Thanksgiving. Check out our TakePart Tastemakers guide to find local businesses where you can grab those extra ingredients to make your meal pop or get inspired by the healthy creations from Chef Ian Knauer.
Interview edited and condensed