Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio describes judging with his culinary idols.

on Feb 15, 20090

I said that last week’s challenge, to cook in the kitchen of chef Eric Ripert’s four-star Le Bernardin and recreate his subtly perfect seafood, would scare the chef-pants off of any chef.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to face this week’s table, at which luminaries of the cooking and restaurant world had gathered to eat food that held emotional content for them: the food each would have chosen as his or her last meal. No, no pressure there. The cheftestants were, indeed, nervous, their jitters outweighed, I was glad to see, by their excitement to be cooking for these culinary giants.

I will say, though, that awe-inspiring as they are, the individuals in this particular group of greats are also among the nicest folks in the field. Lidia Bastianich is the closest thing we have among us to a Mother Chef. She has a really motherly quality, always warm and inviting. Her work on PBS showcases her generosity of spirit — she lets the world into her home and shows how she works, with the intention of truly sharing her craft and helping the viewer. Lidia is a great cook, and both her work and her son Joseph’s have been a huge influence on our restaurant community. 
Marcus Samuelsson is impressive on many levels. He has modernized Swedish food, transforming that cuisine into something that is right at home here in NYC. Also impressive is the fact that he is a UNICEF ambassador. His formidable accomplishments aside, he is just a great guy; he always has a smile on his face. He’s one of the nicest guys in the business.

Wylie Dufresne is another. Nice, articulate, smart, and talented. He spent years with Jean Georges as a sous-chef, first at Jean Georges and then at Prime, and opened 71 Clinton Fresh Food, before becoming influenced by Ferran Adrià and doing more avant-garde food. When looking at the earlier work of a “modern artist,” people commonly say, “hey, s/he can actually paint!” Similarly, here, Dufresne was already a very good, very accomplished traditional cook. My advice to anyone interested in going in the direction of molecular gastronomy or the like is to make sure you have a strong foundation in the basics first. You can see where Wylie’s heart lies, when his choice for a final meal is something as simple as eggs Benedict.

While not a chef herself, Susan Ungaro has brought great decision-making and her own dose of creativity to the James Beard Foundation, implementing great programming and stabilizing that fine organization. She was a pleasure to dine with.
 

8 comments
Tatiana from Hawaii
Tatiana from Hawaii

I like the way you judge, straight to the point. I've noticed this season Padma Lakshmi is more outspoken about her opinions, but somewhat sounds sassy.

Angela
Angela

I was happy for hosea and he worked very hard on the show in order to win.

I would like to see the show do one thing...as a child I learned about cooking from the Justin Wilson show...he was fun, entertaining and made me interested in cooking...it would be interesting to see the next group work with the Justin Wilson recipes to see if they can cook them in a way that honors Justin Wilson..

lynette
lynette

i agree with your post with the exception of acknowledging another great judge - Marcus Samuelsson. i'm sure if he didn't have the credentials, he wouldn't have been sitting at the table among other great chefs.

Robyn
Robyn

So--if Fabio HAD opted to go to the hospital, would you have THEN taken his broken finger in to consideration?

Viewer
Viewer

I must agree with "Confused".I too,am mystified, as to why Stefan didnt go when his fish was so badly overcooked.......and I dont remember anyone saying Leah's egg was underdone, but all of the judges agreed about the fish. Also , everyone, please stop mentioning Stefan's attitude! He is not cheating, and he even helped Carla win because he helped chuck her oysters. It isnt a popularity contest. Many cocky and arrogant people are top notch chefs (remember the look on Eric Ripert's face when Jamie said she didnt care for his dish during judge's table?).Hung was a pain too but he still won.

Jean
Jean

Thank goodness Leah finally got the boot. I'm sure she'll improve with age and experience, but her making it so far was almost entirely luck. Kind of like Spike making it so far last year. At least Leah didn't wear a bunch of ridiculous hats.

helen
helen

thank you for inviting jacques pepin. there is a purity about him and his life and cooking that shines. and i think this reflects the philosophy of top chef and tom colicchio as well. what is the difference between cook and chef to you?

Kimberla Jane
Kimberla Jane

I am so proud of Carla. Slow and steady wins the race. I think it takes real talent to make a vegetable special. I'm from the South and Southerners can make vegetables taste really special. I hope to see a more vegetable inspired quick fire challenges.