Now that Gordon Ramsay has chosen his Las Vegas chef on Hell’s Kitchen, Ramsay, Nyesha Arrington, and Richard Blais are preparing to launch Next Level Chef’s third season, and they’ve got some surprises in store.
During the first two seasons, viewers were catapulted right into the competition without much understanding of the contestants or how the teams were picked.
With Next Level Chef Season 3, there will be three elimination episodes, one for home chefs, one for social media chefs, and one for professional chefs. As you can imagine, the mentors learn a lot from that stage, and now we will, too.
We spoke with mentor and chef Richard Blais about the new season to get a feel for how things will unfold with the new format.
We also wanted to catch up with him about his latest cookbook, Plant Forward, and his journey to health and wellness through vegetarian options. Our full conversation follows.
Thank you very much for chatting with me today. I appreciate it.
Awesome, thank you.
Since the last time we talked, you’ve published a new book.
Yes. Yeah. Plant Forward came out right after Halloween.
How did that come about?
I changed my lifestyle dramatically a number of years ago, and my wife was a big part of it, so we thought we would tell that story of me losing weight how we did it, and the type of food that we cook at home. So we decided we would co-author and pen a book together.
So this is really the true Richard and what do you enjoy?
Wow, that’s a nice journey.
Yes. It tells the story of my weight loss and health and wellness journey for sure.
Do you still indulge in different things as well, or do you just pretty much focus mainly on healthy options?
No, I do indulge. Plant Forward is mostly about vegetables, but I do have a steakhouse. I do love a good, greasy cheeseburger.
And no, I eat everything including the California burrito that I just had moments before I signed on today. But it is about getting people that first step in how to eat more vegetables.
I have to ask: did you happen to watch You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experience that’s on Netflix right now?
I don’t think I’ve seen that, no.
It’s very vegetable-heavy, and it’s showing the difference the plant-based diet can make with two people who are genetically similar whenever they do entirely different things. You might enjoy it.
Oh, fantastic. I’ll check it out for sure.
It’s no secret how much I love Next Level Chef, and I’m really intrigued about the decision to add the audition process. How did that come about?
Again, I don’t know exactly why it came about, but I’m glad that it did because I think there are so many people we’ve had; well, I actually can probably tell you why.
We’ve had thousands and thousands of people apply to be on the show, and just like any sort of casting moment, there’s a lot of good people and only a certain number of spots.
So, sort of opening up and taking the viewer into the audition process that might happen behind the scenes, but having it play out on all three levels has worked out splendidly.
I mean, it’s going to be exciting right from the get-go, and you’re going to see more amazing personalities and skill levels. So I think it’s a great addition.
As a viewer of any show that does that sort of process, I love those early episodes where you get to see people compete to be on the show.
Will the auditions also be on the three levels, and how does that impact the audition process?
Yes, the auditions will be on each level.
Without spoiling too much into the show, the chefs will get a chance to compete, basically work their way up to the top and see if they can make it all the way to the top and then hopefully enter the draft so that Gordon, Nyesha and myself can pick them to be on our teams.
And you’ve been a basement magician. Is that someplace that you want to kind of continue honing your particular skills on this show?
Yeah. We have nicknamed it the Blais-ment, so I have no problem being down there. It’s sort of a running little joke.
I think at a certain point in the show, you’re down there because of how your team performs, so it’s not a place that I want to be too frequently, but I do love being down there for a number of reasons.
One, the lighting is really good in the basement. People don’t appreciate the lighting of the basement.
But the reason I really love it down there is for me as someone who’s an over-thinker, and I think probably a lot of our contestants are; you just don’t have to think as much.
You get what you get, and you don’t get upset, and you just have to sort of push on and carry on.
And quite honestly, most of our chefs, all of our chefs, have probably had more experience cooking in a basement-like situation than they have maybe at the top level with Michelin Star equipment, et cetera.
How does being a mentor change now that you get to pick your team as opposed to being assigned a team?
This is a great part of the audition process because we are getting to see them cook, not just maybe getting some facts about them or knowing about them from their social media page.
We’re going to get to see how they react during duress and stress and what their personality is like. Even though it’s going to be very quick, I think it’s a great way for us to sort of draft the teams that we really want because we get to see those people firsthand.
Can you tease anything that you learned along that audition process this first time out?
I think you very quickly get to see how quick on the feet people are. Right? How can they think really, really quickly? Again, because you’re not just seeing the standard, “Here’s my audition tape. I took seven takes to make this lasagna for you.”
You get to see them on the field and in the actual moments that they’re about to be if they’re lucky enough to get into the draft. So I think it’s really beneficial for us as mentors to see them cook in the auditions.
And how does it change the dynamics between the three mentors?
Well, I think there’s a little bit more strategy because now we all see what’s happening. Even the chef who’s not on the floor, is watching from the lounge. So maybe there’s a little bit like, “Oh, you shouldn’t pick that person, Gordon. You definitely don’t want them because I want them.”
I think sometimes you’re negotiating, as we head into the draft, what you might want to do. Would you want to trade someone? Did you see something special from someone? So yeah, I think it definitely makes it more strategic.
Well, the football metaphor is good. Since you’re getting an incredible berth to premiere the first season right after a big playoff game, what does it feel like to continue to have that kind of faith in the show?
I mean, it’s a blessing, and we’re just so lucky that we have all of that support.
And like you said, to premiere after the Super Bowl last year and the NFC championship game this year, it shows that there are a lot of people that believe in us and for good reason.
It’s a really great show. I love it. It is my life and my career, and I’m so proud of the work we do. So I’m glad that there are a lot of people behind us that support us.
And my last question for you is, let’s just talk gameplay for a minute. You’re no stranger to being a part of this process, obviously. You had your own process on Top Chef. If you were participating in this audition process, what would your tactic be?
I mean, the tactic early on is always to do something that you know as much as you can because, obviously, there’s the platform. And, I don’t want to say play it safe because that’s never smart, but do what you know and don’t risk too much early on.
Whether it’s the audition or early in any competition, I’ll continue with the football metaphors: it’s okay to punt every once in a while for field position, knowing that you’re going to get the ball back.
The key is to get the ball back to keep going in the competition. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. So, I think it helps everyone to have a marathoner’s mentality.
Next Level Chef premieres right after the playoff game on FOX on Sunday, January 28, and in its seasonal time slot on Thursday, February 2 at 8/7 on FOX.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.