Chris Viaud is the Chef and Owner of Greenleaf and Culture, both located in Milford. He grew up in Massachusetts, then attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University. He has been instrumental in starting four restaurants in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and, on April 1, he will appear on Bravo's Top Chef, a show where chefs compete against each other and have their work judged by established industry professionals.
Viaud spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello on The Exchange.
Peter Biello: What an exciting opportunity to be on Top Chef! What was the audition process like?
Chris Viaud: It was truly an experience, for sure, and I'm grateful for the opportunity. It was definitely a long process. And leading up to that, one of my old chefs who I worked for in Boston, Adrian, who was on season 16, she was the one that kind of threw my hat in the ring and kind of gave me the opportunity and said, 'Chris, you should really go for this. You have a great personality, and your talent is second to none. And I believe that you would be able to kind of show that you rank among the best in the country.' So I took her up on that. And a few months back, she sent in my name to casting, and casting reached out to me. And from there it was pretty much just going through the entire interview process and getting to know the casting directors, sending in interviews and just really letting the team know about me, who I am, what I stand for, what kind of chef I am, and let them decide from there.
Peter Biello: And as part of the interview process or audition process for this, did they make you cook something on the spot? Did you have to submit a recipe and show them how you did it? What was that like? Was that a part of it?
Chris Viaud: There are many things leading into the audition process and just really having myself express to them the talent that I do possess and want to make sure that the contestants that they are choosing are ranked amongst the best in the nation. And just going through all the background information and seeing where our talents do lie and knowing that we will be the correct choices for the show.
Peter Biello: So how did you feel at the beginning of the competition?
Chris Viaud: It was a nerve-wracking experience, definitely. Leading up to the whole thing, the nerves and the anxiety were building. Just knowing for so many years I've been watching Top Chef, and to finally have the opportunity to be competing on the show is just an unreal experience for sure. I can't even put into words the emotions that were running through. I knew from hearing from past contestants how stressful everything was leading into it, and I wanted to try to just make sure that I was going in clear minded and put my best foot forward.
Peter Biello: So as someone who had watched the show before actually being on it, what surprised you? What did you experience participating in the show that you said,' wow, watching this, that never would have occurred to me'?
Chris Viaud: You can definitely feel the angst from the competitors as they're going through, running around the kitchen, and I definitely felt that tenfold. The clock is a real clock It's not staged. That time is the time. If you have 30 minutes, it's a real 30 minutes. And you have to create an elegant dish that will hopefully advance you in the competition.
Peter Biello: Wow. And have you competed in cooking competitions before?
Chris Viaud: Yes, I have. I've actually competed in the Jeunes Chefs competition, which is a young chef competition that travels that young chefs under the age of 21 compete around the U.S. for the title of the best young chef. And that was many years ago. I competed twice in that one. I had competed in the NH Food Bank Steel Chef Competition. So cooking competitions aren't anything new to me. But being on such a large platform, this was definitely a change.
Peter Biello: And I know you can't talk about the outcome of your appearance on the show, but what did you hope you could bring to the competition?
Chris Viaud: I was really just going through all my emotions and learning, kind of leaning back onto my training, my education, and really wanted to just express my culinary talents and learn a little bit more about my food itself. I know I have Culture and Greenleaf, which are both doing really well, and those two establishments have their own identity. But the journey for me going on Top Chef was to define my culinary taste and who I am as a chef.
Peter Biello: And this is, of course, happening during the coronavirus pandemic. So what kind of safety protocols were in place to make sure that you and the other competitors and the judges and everybody there were safe?
Chris Viaud: The crew did a tremendous job in ensuring that we were all taking the right measures to ensure safety. We were going through and doing testing periodically throughout the course of filming, required to wear masks when we weren't filming, socially distanced. The kitchen was arranged in a much different way than it was in previous seasons. It was a much larger area, and the tables were spaced accordingly. There was less interaction with the judges face-to-face. It was just a couple of those things that we kind of had to take into play for this round of filming, just knowing that we are in the midst of a pandemic.
Peter Biello: I'm sure there are people out there who are excited to see you on the show. When can people see you on Top Chef?
Chris Viaud: You can see me on Top Chef on April 1st. That's the premiere date.
Peter Biello: Mark your calendars!