By David Nelson
Photos by Kate and Michael Auda (unless otherwise noted)
Richard Blais must be the fastest double-fisted egg-cracker in the West. Both a television celebrity and a truly fine chef with experience at internationally known restaurants, he drew national attention when he won the 2014 Top Chef All-Stars competition on the Bravo network, and local headlines when he and business partner Mike Rosen opened Little Italy 's Juniper & Ivy early in the same year.
"I enjoy being a chef and being on TV," says Blais. "The jobs overlap. They both make people happy, and the gratification of making people happy is what I like."
Now, Blais has scripted a new endeavor, The Crack Shack, in a wowingly reimagined former mechanical shop adjacent to the Juniper & Ivy property. Set to debut in November and devoted to a daylong breakfast menu of primarily egg and chicken dishes, the Crack Shack never asks which came first, it just cracks a big smile by offering sometimes outrageously inventive creations.
Assisted by Juniper & Ivy executive chef Jon Sloan, the menu emphasizes free-range eggs and fried or grilled chicken sandwiches served with Crack Shack's own sauces, and french fries frizzled in a vat of boiling chicken fat - all of which promises to be lovely alongside house-baked breads, craft sodas and boozy beverages. As a kind of tasty joke, the Shack's amusing soft-serve ice cream flavors go as far as mole served with churros.
In addition to overseeing two Kettner Boulevard eateries, Blais makes regular trips to Los Angeles television studios to record shows for the Food Network and Bravo. Later this fall, he'll appear as a judge on Top Chef California. Credit for his fame and success, he says, goes to the superstar chefs for whom he's worked. It's a jawdropping list: Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in Napa Valley; Daniel Boulud, whose New York City empire is crowned by restaurant Daniel; Grant Achatz of Chicago's Alinea; and Spain's Ferran Adrià, whose El Bulli introduced molecular dining to a wealthy audience that couldn't get enough of it.
"Everybody I've worked with has been amazing," says Blais. "Thomas Keller is incredibly organized. And Daniel is so incredibly hospitable in the dining room and in the kitchen as well. I've taken a lot of personality cues from Daniel."
His celebrity-chef status gave Blais an edge in Little Italy before the first meal was served at Juniper & Ivy. But is he hooked on fame like so many eggs addicts who will get their fix at Crack Shack?
"Having the exposure and being in the media doesn't hurt, and it raises expectations to a degree... but we're a local restaurant," he says. "I'm a pretty laidback guy myself and I like cooking for San Diego."
Juniper & Ivy
2228 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy
The Crack Shack
2266 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy