Next Level Chef's Richard Blais Dishes On His Soft Spot For Fast Food - Exclusive

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Often, you'll hear someone say something like, "Oh, I can never eat A, B, or C — I had way too much of it growing up!" or, "Ugh, after working at X, Y, or Z, I could never eat that food again, I ate way too much of it during my shifts!" or some similar take on things. For chef Richard Blais, the food he might well have rejected in adulthood was that which we know as fast food.

"My first professional job was at a tiny little restaurant that I don't know if many people have heard of, but in my day they did burgers and shakes," Blais said during a recent Mashed interview. "It was McDonald's. McDonald's was my first professional job. So at 14 years old, I was the poissonier at McDonald's, which is a very prestigious position at a hamburger restaurant. Poissonier means fish cook in French. So a very important position. And the first batch of filet of fish sandwiches that I served when I was 14, I forgot to put the top buns on them. So I was being avant garde well before I knew that that was my actual calling in the kitchen, but it was pretty chaotic. I think, a good introduction to the restaurant business."

For Blais, those early days working in a fast food kitchen were compounded by the foods often served at home for dinner. " I came of age in the moment where convenience food really took off and fast food was a big thing. So looking back, those were really, really big influences. But at the same time, my mom, who was not a great cook, was cooking from cans in the microwave and the freezer... I grew up with canned food, and microwave food, and stuff from the freezer as well."

Chef Richard Blais' favorite fast food

While Richard Blais is hardly derogatory when he speaks about McDonald's today, even recalling his poissonier days with a wry fondness, McD's is not the chef's go to fast food these days, though he does indeed enjoy fast food often enough. Asked about his favorite fast foods, Blais replied at once, "I have two! So my one answer always is Chipotle. I'm a big fan of Chipotle from every which way from their [food] and business model. They're just a sound company, and we eat a lot of Chipotle in my house. [Second], and I'm in Florida currently, is Pollo Tropical. I'll give them a shout out. I don't know if you've ever had Pollo Tropical, but it's Caribbean inspired grilled chicken, and plantains, and beans and rice, and I could eat it every single day. And it's fast food, but one of my favorite concepts."

Another reason Blais loves Chipotle and Pollo Tropical is that the cuisine the chains offer both differs from the elevated Americana-style foods for which he is known professionally as well as from the foods he most commonly makes for his family at home. Asked about home cooking, Blais said, "[We love] simple pasta dishes at home. We love carbs in my house. It's easy to prepare, you can open up the fridge, as long as you have some pasta, and make a pretty authentic pasta dish with whatever you have on hand."

You can even find some great pasta dishes in the cookbooks of this "Top Chef All-Stars" winner, such as a classic spaghetti and meatballs recipe from his book "So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours."

Richard Blais and co-hosts Gordon Ramsay and Nyesha Arrington appear on "Next Level Chef" on FOX, which airs new episodes Wednesdays.