Tom Colicchio

Top Chef's head judge talks about the experience of competing in New York.

on Nov 12, 2008

Welcome back to Top Chef! Thank you for tuning in for Season Five. I'm excited about the chefs who have assembled to compete this season. And welcome, too, to my hometown, New York City. To say that I'm glad we're here this season is an understatement. Aside from the obvious - staying put, being in my own home with my wife and son, not living out of suitcases - I'm also pleased to have this season of Top Chef happen in the city that is arguably the restaurant capital not only of the country but of the world.

Growing up a half-hour outside of New York, the city always had a pull for me, because I knew that that's where the food world was. But I saw that the city had one of two effects on those who grew up in its shadow: either you'd never go because you were too intimidated, or you felt the pull that I did, in which case the question was simply (and not so simply, as it turns out) "when." I faced this important question twice. I had been working in restaurants for almost nine years before I came to New York to work for the first time. My first job in the big city was at the Quilted Giraffe, where, after a scant four months, they gave me a sous-chef position. What a great intro to New York! I was working in what was widely considered one of the three top restaurants in the New York and, perhaps, the country. Coming off of that experience, my next move, logically, would have been to take a chef's position. But I chose to do so not in New York City, but back in New Jersey - I knew a chef should have a decidedly unique style and I wanted to develop and hone mine out of the spotlight. I worked in New Jersey for a year, then worked with Alfred Portale, and then traveled and did a stage in France. It was only all of these that I came back to New York and worked as a chef at Mondrian. This city has been my home ever since, and after all these years it still inspires both awe and love.