Milford restaurateur featured on Top Chef
MILFORD – Greenleaf and Culture restaurants owner Chris Viaud is appearing on Bravo television’s popular program Top Chef, airing now on that network.
Viaud, who is from Randolph, Massachusetts, calls Milford his home and keeps busy between his two restaurants: Greenleaf, a busy farm-to-table upscale restaurant and Culture, a gourmet sandwich shop featuring homemade breads.
With his parents who migrated from Haiti, Viaud grew up in Londonderry, New Hampshire, and upon graduating from high school, he attended Johnson & Wales University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts & Food Service Management. He spent his formative years as a chef working at the famed modern French restaurant Deuxave in Boston.
VIaud said participating on Top Chef, now in its 18th season, was a lifelong dream.
“It’s definitely something that you aspire to,” he said. “I grew up watching the show and having the opportunity to be selected for the competition is a phenomenal experience that I will cherish forever.”
This season, fifteen chefs are competing in Portland, Oregon. Viaud added that being on the show was more strenuous than he ever imagined.
“There was so much mental activity and physical activity,” he said. “Just trying to be prepared for it all was a challenge. There are so many twists and turns, especially with the added ‘bonus’ of the pandemic and the fires that we were experiencing in Portland.”
With the experiences ever changing, Viaud said that having the ability to adapt was key.
“I knew some of the competition aspects,” he said. “But experiencing them myself was a much bigger deal than I anticipated.”
Before filming of the show began, Viaud, knowing that this season of Top Chef would take place in Portland, did some research on the Portland food season and what the state of Oregon had to offer.
“In terms of the coast and seafood, I was trying to guess what the show would incorporate before the season began,” he said. “Being prepared mentally for that aspect was important.”
As for being nimble, that was another strategy all together as many of the food challenges require the chefs to move quickly.
“I’m always on my toes going back and forth between Greenleaf and Culture,” Viaud explained. “I knew going on the show, it was going to be a physical strain. But it becomes more real when you’re actually going through it.”
Viaud admitted that he was definitely nervous when the cameras were rolling.
“Oh yes,” he said. “The nerves kicked in as soon as we walked in. The clock is the clock. Thirty minutes to prepare a meal is thirty minutes. You don’t have too much time to think. You have to rely on your instincts and pull from your past experiences.”
Creating dishes on a whim is what makes Top Chef exciting. Viaud also had the added challenge of mentally splitting his time between Portland and Milford. He now has a young daughter as well.
“I have my family here and my daughter was just eight months at the time,” he explained. “Plus, I had my new business, Culture, which had only been open for three weeks at the time.”
Viaud placed his faith in the hands of his staff while he was in Portland filming the show.
“Fortunately, we had a great summer at Greenleaf where people were able and willing to still come out and dine,” he shared. “That kept things afloat for sure and the staff did a tremendous job and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do the show while things were being taken care of.”
Culture has been open for seven months and the last summer was a boon. Viaud said things got quieter in the fall of ’20.
“It’s just about adjusting,” he said. “This is our first summer into fall into winter and there’s the pandemic, so we’re not sure what to expect there. As for Greenleaf, we actually closed for a little over a month as we had a positive case there. We ended up losing sales for New Year’s Eve and we had all the product.
That was a tough pill to swallow, but it was the right decision to shut down for the safety of our staff and the safety of our community.”
Viaud said he made some friends while filming, adding “those friendships will last a lifetime.”
“Just being able to build and reflect upon each other was inspiring,” he said. “To be able to bounce ideas and talk about food was incredible. You have these chefs who are the best in the nation. You just learn and grow together.”
Viaud drew from elements of working in different restaurants and put those talents to work for the show.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Having that kind of knowledge base, and I used it as just that – a base – for forming and creating dishes that I would want to use throughout the competition was vital.
And having that kind of mental ability to think about the menus that I could present or items that I could present using any of the ingredients that would be associated with the area and how I could use my past experiences and build from there also helped me immensely.”
Drawing from his experiences, including his classical French training at Deuxave in Boston, Viaud fell back on that, as well as his owning Greenleaf and using more traditional techniques in the kitchen. His Haitian roots also played a part in dish and menu creation.
“I was thinking about my heritage and what that all means to me,” he said.
Walking a fine line between confidence and self-doubt is probably something that most chefs on a show like Top Chef all experience at one point or another.
“When you go through an experience like that, there is that self-doubt,” Viaud said. “This is a journey that I wanted to go through. As a chef and an owner, sometimes it feels like I skipped a step of finding who I wanted to become. So taking a step back and being selfish, per se, on providing myself this opportunity allowed me to learn more about myself and who I wanted to become.”