Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio explains what he expects from a potential Top Chef.

on Nov 7, 2012

Every chef is different, and every chef has different criteria for hiring new cooks.  I think all the challenges our contestants faced in this first episode were good ones. But for me, I didn’t want to ask the chefs to create a particular dish like soup, a salad, or an omelet -- not only will we be doing that throughout the competition, but also I think you can easily find a good home cook who could make a great omelet, soup, or salad, but that person wouldn’t fare well in the competition. I was looking for someone who showed that s/he knows the ins and outs of and could handle the rigors of a top-flight professional kitchen. And so I put my five contestants through the same tasks I would have them perform were I looking to hire them to work in one of my restaurants.

When I’m assessing potential cooks, I look at their resumes to see their pedigrees, which matter to me. For those people with resumes I like, I invite them into the kitchen to observe. I then have them prep food; I want to see, for example, that they have the dexterity to roll out some pasta. I look to see how they wields a knife; I want to see that they can butcher deftly and correctly. Then, as you saw me do in the show tonight, I ask my staff what they thought of the people. My staff’s answers are particularly important to me. 

Some applicants are nervous at first, as Jorel was. But I didn’t dismiss him for that -- he might yet have earned a jacket had he not oversalted the beurre fondue. It was unusable. In fact, even though he oversalted it, I might even have given him a pass had he said, “Oh, I overseasoned it. Let me get another pound of butter and see if I can fix it.” But instead, when I asked him what he thought of it, he said, “I think it’s fine.” I’m not altogether sure that he didn’t realize it -- it’s entirely likely that he himself could tell that it was oversalted but just tried to fake his way through the challenge without fixing what he’d done.