Chefs to watch 2011 

Five Atlanta culinary talents to keep an eye on

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When have we not been watching Richard Blais? The dude has become a pop culture spectacle. His two runs on Bravo's "Top Chef" and his soap opera-style relationship with Atlanta's restaurant scene have made him our most famous and talked about chef. But beyond Flip, his over-the-top burger "boutiques," it's been a while since we've actually tasted any of Blais' cooking. What a tease: We've watched his special brand of weird genius play out on television over and over, and yet we haven't had a chance to eat it in years.

It looks as though that's about to change. Of course, there's the hot dog spot, named in such a way as to suggest Blais is just trying to annoy his (large and vocal) set of detractors: Haute Doggery. The location, which used to house San Francisco Coffee on North Highland Avenue, has been rebuilt with a towering wooden protrusion and now somewhat resembles the Death Star ("A Death Star full of wieners," as my editor so helpfully put it). Haute Doggery, or HD, is set to open some time this fall.

But wieners aside, the real excitement is the Spence, which looks to be the first real Blais restaurant we've seen since Element. Sure, there was Home, the Tom Catherall collaboration that came on the heels of Blais' first "Top Chef" run, but I still like to believe that too much concept was foisted on the chef for that particular venture to accurately display his talent. The Spence, in the old Globe spot in Technology Square, is a collaboration between Blais and Concentrics, but Blais has assured me that the restaurant group is not overprescribing what the chef does with the menu or concept.

"This will be my restaurant. There won't be a theme," he says. What does that mean? "Family offerings for larger parties focusing on larger cuts of meat or whole animals. Think steamship round or barbecued lamb," says Blais. "The design will be warm and organic, and I'm intentionally not buying any white, glossy plates. I'm not at all focused on fanciful presentation for the Spence."

Blais also has a book deal in the works, which he says will "feature 100 to 125 recipes and be woven with personal short stories and insider industry takes and tips." Sounds like we won't be done watching Blais any time soon.

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