In 1994 Blais graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the nation’s top cooking school, and went on to learn new molecular gastronomy techniques under Ferran Adria, Daniel Boloud and Thomas Keller before developing his own culinary reputation at the Atlanta restaurants Fishbone and One Midtown Place. He also operated his own restaurant in Atlanta, called Blais, which only lasted six months. Sadly, there are no fine dining restaurants that currently showcase the type of inventive food that Chef Blais is capable of producing.
He is owner and executive chef of three different locations of FLIP Burger Boutique. One location is at the Summit off Highway 280, near the I-459 interchange, which I recently visited to share dinner with a coworker. While we enjoyed our meal, we found ourselves wondering why we were not across the parking lot at Johnny Rocket’s enjoying the same basic menu concept at much more affordable price. A good burger, fries, and milkshake aren’t really that difficult to find. I have half a dozen favorite spots around town that all do as well if not better than FLIP. Don’t get me wrong. FLIP does a great job, but with a concept that is far too limited to showcase the ideas of a talented man like Richard Blais.
I attempted to try something out of the ordinary, since Blais is known for being a chef who innovates. I ordered the most exotic thing I could find on the menu that evening, a Tartare burger, which the server warned me was “a true tartare.” I looked at her somewhat puzzled and said, “By that, I take it that you mean it is not cooked?” She nodded yes, leaving me to ponder what type of patron orders a tartare and is shocked when it arrives raw? Only in Alabama.
Kudos to Chef Richard for being brave enough to serve a dish that contains not only raw beef, but also undercooked eggs. Most folks ignorantly assume there is a far greater health risk than the exceedingly minuscule one that actually exists in consuming such a meal. It was a rare treat (every bit of the pun intended). My dining companion liked her fresh-cut french fries more than her lamb burger. I tried the tasty fries and suspect they were cooked in the proper twicefried manner that is taught at CIA. It’s the only way to achieve the contrast between an interior that is almost baked-potato fluffy, and an outer layer that is crisp to the teeth. My friend’s honest opinion was that FLIP’s lamb burger would come up second place to just about any gyro wrap served in town.
We closed our meal with two milk shakes, which Chef Blais is famous for freezing using liquid nitrogen. It is an interesting way to bring a dish down to freezing temperatures. But it doesn’t affect the taste or consistency in any way that is discernably different from a traditional milk shake.
If your taste in beverages tends towards the more adult, FLIP does have a full bar with a moderate selection of beer and wine as well as a dozen or so house martinis and mixed cocktails. The bar, the distinctly modernist interior and especially the techno soundtrack tend to make FLIP more of a see and be seen scene than other high-end burger restaurants in town. It draws a younger crowd, and will probably continue to do so for years to come. I have to warn you that parking is a real monster in that section of the Summit. The very popular Chuy’s Tex-mex restaurant has opened just around the corner from FLIP. The lot is simply not large enough to handle patrons from both restaurants during peak hours. Chef Blais has proven he can achieve the relatively easy task of drawing hundreds of happy patrons with a sandwich joint. I eagerly await his next venture into fine dining. My eyes have seen how great he is on television, but my mouth still needs a bit of convincing before I’m ready to count him among my personal list of top chefs.
Dee Marcus writes food centric commentary for Birmingham. Please send your comments to email@example.com