You know Richard Blais. Maybe you recognize him as the guy who uses a lot of liquid nitrogen, molecular gastronomy techniques, and hair product who won the first season of Top Chef and, later, Top Chef All-Stars. Or maybe you recognize him as a judge or contestant on such shows as Iron Chef America, Chopped All-Stars, and Cut Throat Kitchen. Or maybe you’ve eaten one of his meals at Flip Burger Boutique, The Crack Shack, or via one of his cookbooks, the most recent of which, So Good, released this past May. He also hosts a podcast, Starving For Attention, and recently signed on with Chipotle to help the chain’s new burger-centric endeavor. The man has a lot of irons in the oven.
But what you probably don’t know is that Blais is also a devoted altruist who spends much of his time trying to give back. Most recently, the chef traded in his apron for a numbered bib and ran the NYC Marathon. This was his fifth time running the race, but the first time he was running on behalf of Room to Read, a global charity that works to promote education and literacy in young girls throughout Asia and Africa. Blais is the father of two young girls himself, and, as he stopped by the Fatherly offices a few days before lacing up his running shoes and answered the Fatherly Questionnaire., Blais spoke of them with a deep adoration. Throughout our conversation, Blais was affable, energetic, and, most of all, extremely thoughtful about his role as a father and the ways in which he aspires to do better.
What is your name?
This is a tough one for me. I think it’s important to say chef. But I have my hands in so many different projects right now so I think I’d like to say entrepreneur. I’m also a restaurateur and dude with a weird haircut.
How old are your children?
Nine and six.
What are their names?
Riley is the 9-year-old. And Embrey is 6 years old.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
In Riley’s case, we wanted a name that was powerful and could be a boy’s name or a girl’s name. As for Embrey, my wife woke up one morning and said “Embrey, what do you think of that?” and I said, “Sounds great.” People think it’s a family name or something but it’s just not.
Do you have any nicknames for your kids?
Because I’m a chef, I like to call Riley “Bread” as in “Rye Bread”. Sometimes I’ll call her “Rye” and sometimes I’ll call her “Bread”. I tried that with Embrey and cheese, because brie is a cheese, but that didn’t really work. So it’s Em and Rye.
What do they call you?
Dad. I’m pretty much just dad.
How often do you see them?
Every day. I travel a ton but thank god for technology and Facetime and Skype and all of these things. I Facetimed with them on the way to school this morning and I try to do that at least every day when I’m away.
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Anxious. Neurotic. Overprotective.
Here’s the thing: My wife Jazmine is amazing and should get credit for everything that I’ve done well. She’s a yoga instructor and very into mindfulness and is basically trying to train me all of the time. I’m so anxious in my regular world where everything has to move so fast and with great intensity and I take that into my house sometimes. I’m quick to pull the trigger at home for something that’s not important, like if we’re delayed because one of my girls was having trouble putting on her socks. Like, who cares if we’re a little late.? So I’m building an awareness of it and am trying to apply it so I can always be doing a better job
Describe your father in three words.
Not around. That’s not three words but it’s okay.
What’s your greatest strength as a dad?
I’m a fun dad. Or at least I would like to think that.
What’s your greatest weakness?
Not being around as much. That’s the challenge – not being present physically as much as I would like to. The toughest part of my world is trying to be a good husband and dad and trying to balance everything.
What is your favorite activity to do with your children?
Sports. Both Rye and Em play at different levels right now. We don’t push them and if they wake up and don’t want to do it, they don’t do it. But we’re always kicking a soccer ball around or shooting the basketball.
And, as a chef, I should say cooking, too. We cook a lot at home and it’s something that they’re getting into and enjoy.
What has been the moment you were proudest as a parent?
That’s a tough one. For me, it’s when I see my kids with other kids and see them express these acts of kindness. To me, during a soccer game, it’s not the goal that my kid scored, it’s the fact that when her teammate fell down that she helped her get up. Or that she cares about other people. You know, those little things in life that make you say to yourself, ‘My kid’s a good kid’. Like, that kid was getting bullied and my kid stepped in and said something. Moments like those are when I’m most proud as a parent.
What’s the dad-special for dinner?
Most people would think that my kids would love my food but that is not often the case. [Laughs] They love simple pasta dishes. I’m a native New Yorker. I’m not Italian, but I always kind of wish I was, and so we cook a lot of spaghetti and meatballs and like traditional sort of New York-y Italian dishes and they love it. Sunday sauce. Pasta and bread. That’s what they love.
Are you religious and are you raising your children as such?
Despite having gone through a little bit of Catholic school in my youth, I’m really not religious. However, I studied religion in college and it’ll be interesting to see where we go with that. My thoughts are this: all religions are in the same place — do nice things for people; be nicer to each other; give back. Be good. So that’s our religion.
What’s a mistake that you made that you don’t want your children to repeat?
I want to make sure my kids are prepared for their post-education world. I was a junior in high school thinking I was going to be a professional baseball player. I was a horrible baseball player on a horrible team. I also thought I was going to go to Notre Dame. But I was a horrible student. No one at any point said, Hey you’re not that athletic, your grades aren’t that great. But you should guide yourself here. So, I’d like for them to have that self-awareness.
How do you make sure your kids know that you love them?
I tell them. All the time. I might tell them too much, actually. I have one of those jokes where I always get them in the room and say “I don’t know if I told you this recently…” and they roll their eyes and go “…we know, that you love being our dad.”