Tom Colicchio

The Rao's challenge and the Italian dishes the chefs created struck a personal cord for Tom Colicchio.

on Feb 2, 20110

In New York, where Chinatown abuts Little Italy, it stands to reason that where there was a Chinese food challenge, one featuring Italian-American fare could not be too far behind.

And what better place for it than Raos? As anyone in New York will tell you, Rao's is the quintessential Italian-American restaurant. But from most of them, it'll be hearsay. That's because its famously nearly impossible to get a reservation at Rao's. Rao's has been in the same location since it first opened in 1896, it has only 10 tables in the entire place, the restaurant does one seating per table per night, and for many decades now, the tables have been spoken for every night of the week.

Now, those with standing reservations know that if they're not using the table on their night, they'd best get friends and family to stand in for them those seats must be filled. And they do. So when you call the reservation line, you will likely get a recording telling you that the restaurant has no reservations available for the coming year call back again next year. I ate at Rao's once prior to this Elimination Challenge, when a table for six was auctioned off at a fund raiser and the winning bidder invited me to join the party.

It was good Southern-Italian fare (i.e., as made by Italian-Americans, as I'll discuss shortly), reminiscent of that of my childhood, both at restaurants such as Spirito's and DiMartino's in Elizabeth, NJ (and even Chestnut Tavern in Union, NJ, the second restaurant in which I ever worked), and at home.

Our presence at the dinner table was required every night when I was growing up, and most especially on Sundays, when family around the table expanded to include aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Sunday dinner was served between three and four in the afternoon and always included three courses. We started with a salad of some sort, an antipasto. We'd next have gravy and macaroni (we never called it sauce and pasta), and we'd then have the meat that had been cooked in the gravy as our third course. We wouldn't deviate from that, be it spring, summer, fall or winter.

112 comments
DrDave
DrDave

If you look at the ratio of liquid to rice in 19th century cookbooks you will see that the so-called traditional, soupy risotto is a modern phenomenon, and that the older recipes were less soupy. No one likes dry risotto, but soupy is in no way authentic.

dylan111
dylan111

I wholeheartedly agree; I love Carla and also hope she wins. She made me very nervous last week when she kept looking for linens at Target to make her presentation nice. I kept thinking, Just go and cook! It's the food that's important not the tablecloth! Carla, if you read this, you have a big fan in Connecticut.

StilettoJones
StilettoJones

I loved this episode, especially because it was hilarious! I cracked up when one of the judges joked about the poor bastard in witness protection eating the subpar dish (I believe it was Dale's)!

My boyfriend and I adore Southern Italian cuisine (he's half Italian) and long for the day we get to sit down and eat at Rao's. In the meantime, this episode has inspired me to throw on an apron and cook some of the delicious recipes from Rao's website.

Marlo L
Marlo L

Tom -- my mom grew up in Elizabeth too and I LOVE LOVE Spiritos! My favorite is starting off with their plain pizza and moving on to their amazing and simple ravioli. I'll be at Colicchio & Sons this Friday celebrating a friend's bday, I'm excited to try it.

David Downie
David Downie

Tom

I love the show, and you do an excellent job. I was perplexed by your comments, both here in during the episode, in which you say that if risotto is not runny then it is not risotto. That is not how I cook risotto, and it is not how I find most risotto when I eat out. But, not being Italian, I asked Marcella Hazan what she thought (she is my facebook friend), as it is her risotto I cook. Her reply was as follows:

"Ciao David, American chefs who go to Italy suffer from a Moses complex, they are always coming down from the mount with a tablet of rules for the unlearned. What he should have said is, "If you go to Venice ...". Yes, our Venetian risotto, while not quite soupy unless it's made with peas, is indeed runny, and of course we love it. But in Bologna and in Piedmont, risotto is firmly clingy and it is not less delicious. As for the chef who adds cream, well, follow my example, pay no attention to chefs. Ciao, ciao. Marcella"

So unless this is another Italian-American mussel rule that I don't quite follow, I think I'm going to defer to Marcella Hazan on this point.

Keep making this fabulous show please.

All the best David Downie Brisbane, Australia.

Simpleandeasyfood
Simpleandeasyfood

That is an inconsistent. Of course they were asked to do an Italian dish! It's easy to change the rules if u r the judge. Come on... Watch the episode again and they clearly explained it. Parma said it. Fabio was robbed. Period!

Trudat
Trudat

This was a confusing blog, and i went back and watched the episode and I'm still confused by Tom's remarks and what the chefs were asked to do. I'll leave it to poor editing in that instructions for the challenge are shortened and we at home often miss out on dialogue for action scenes...finger cuting, running through the kitchen etc.

jasparkatt
jasparkatt

I loved this episode...It totally reminded of Sunday dinners and my sicilian mother's cooking...Great memories of great food, simply done and delicious!

teddyboo
teddyboo

NOOOOOOO.. Not Fabio......I know you guys have to pick the worst food but can't we just get Fabio back because I ADORE HIM...what a beautiful man..he is funny and charming. Huge crush on Fabio.. If there is a fan favorite for this season then I hope it is him again.

patsy from colorado
patsy from colorado

hello: i am a loyal fan of top chef but im concerned about this season. i remember the richard blaise season and everyone said "its his season to lose". well i think he heard that and it went to his head. he makes faces that are not convincing at all. his dishes are not "stand out". please dont LET him win this season. there are many other chefs that have cooked more consistand dishes. his unique style of cooking isnt enough to make him a top chef when compared to some of the others. i like him and love the show but it seems "fishy" to me.

Viewer75
Viewer75

I understand there are different cooking methods, according to regional variation, for risotto. In and around Venice, the risotto is more runny, but stiffer in other areas of Italy. Is this not true? I am very curious to know what Tre got right the first time around. If, as you mention, he just never knew how to cook it correctly in the first place, why did he win with a similar dish a few years ago on season 3?

Kinopio
Kinopio

How are they purists and authentic? Tom went out of his way to say that Italian American food is not authentic.

I don't understand why Italian American food tends to get more respect than anything else. Very overatred.

MiataNY
MiataNY

I am hoping, and wishing that Carla wins!!! Since the season when she allowed Casey to influence her cooking style, and ruin everything, she has learned her lesson!!! Carla, deserves to take it all the way!!!

tc observer
tc observer

I think it was amusing that the Rao's group could not "love" any of the dishes. They are such purists. Funny describing Carla's winning soup as from Wisconsin. They were probably the toughest judges you've ever had because they were looking for authenticity. Clearly they love their food best. It was a fun show because they were such genuine "characters".

Rosa from Toronto
Rosa from Toronto

Wow...Matthew Snyder, with name like that, you can't be Italian! But maybe you are? Regardless...that's amazing technical info! Kudos to you!

Erma
Erma

You're right Viewer12. We definitely need to know the risotto 'story'...Tre must have been tossing and turning that night since he won with it the first time.

Bianca Maria
Bianca Maria

I have to agree with csfm...Polenta was never in my home either and we're from the south. Actually we knew it was from the north.

auechi
auechi

And, Antonia's Italian America dish won, but Tre's Risotto wasn't traditional enough. Risotto must be this, it must be that, blah, blah, blah, blah...and Fabio missed the point because he was too Italian! How could he think to win being traditional?

I'd be frustrated too.

Carla H
Carla H

LOL! When I saw the blog about missing Jamie's italian scallops I almost choaked on my dinner...TOOOO FUNNY...

BTW...Casey got ROBBED. So would love to see her battling it out with Fabio, Richard, Carla and Antonia.

Young Cook
Young Cook

How is one supposed to get risotto runny? I've made it many times and I don't think it's every been runny...

FrogDaddy
FrogDaddy

Earlynne...Please pack your sour grapes and go.

topchef1mil
topchef1mil

I have got the perfect challenge for your chefs Tom!!!!

I think they should wear plastic gloves at least one size to big for their hands. In the 8 seasons, I have been watching, I haven't seen any of them wear gloves. I have seen a few of them getting cut and bleeding none stop.

I DO love the show! I've never been to New York but if I get there I would defintely make your restaurant my second stop after paying my respects to ground zero.

Tysons VA
Tysons VA

Angelo, which rock did you crawl out from under? Did you actually tell Isaac Mizrahi to his face that Roberto Cavalli is one of your favorite fashion designers, and then not mention Isaac's designs during the conversation? I'd be very curious to know if Padma's peach satin dress that she wore during the quickfire with Isaac is one of his designs.

Carla's reactions during the interviews are so funny, and I hope she or Richard wins.

Italgal
Italgal

Every time someone goes home, you know you’ll be getting a lot of flack. Is that how you justify it? Could it not be that the judging is flawed? Personally I don’t have a favourite yet, and perhaps I never will since I’m losing faith in this show. I’ve been an avid Top Chef watcher and this challenge was also very close to my heart since I too have Italian roots. Now that I have something that I could relate to, I am questioning the fairness in all challenges, from all episodes.

This is like a fairytale gone bad...Goldidress and the three Italian Bears seems fitting.

Goldidress (Padma, of course) Fabio Bear – Too Italian Tre Bear – Too American Antonia Bear – American/Italian, just right

Although ratings may be high right now, I suggest you make it clear for us that make a difference that we understand the rules and they don’t change according to what is going on behind the scenes. Like someone was avoiding a dead horse in their bed.

Isaac Mizrahi might as well have judged the elimination challenge...and it would have made more sense...Fabio would have won and Tre wouldn’t have been sent home packing.

p_piotti
p_piotti

"Fabios comment that mussels are French missed an important point and was, therefore, off the mark. The chefs were not asked to make Italian food, but, rather, to be inspired by what generations of Raos and Pellegrinos have done at Rao's, which is homey Italian-American food."

Hmm, then why was here so much emphasis on the "traditional" Italian meal of the antipasti, primi, secundi..? Italian -American v.s. Italian-French food.. imo, the second version won it

Rosa from Toronto
Rosa from Toronto

We no speak Americano up here in Canada, so it seems the rules for cooking Italian are lost in the translation. As well, I'm appalled to hear that our sacred "sauce" is called "gravy"! Gravy is brown goes on meat and sometimes fries. Come on Tom, you didn't like sausages being called "Italian sausages" but you'll join the masses and call our precious sauce "gravy"? Che peccato.

bitesize
bitesize

So I was wrong after all -- in this case/episode, authenticity was not the kiss of death but the kiss of life. And only Italian chefs could have made it -- that being said, Mike I. should have gone. On the pasta course of all things.

Marnie Payne
Marnie Payne

I haven't watched the episode yet but agree with much of what you've said. I make risotto all the time--and was taught how by someone of Italian descent....and mine doesn't "run down the plate"....mine is creamy and somewhat solid--not at all soupy. I agree with you--must be what area of Italy you are from!

Viewer12
Viewer12

Someone does need to address the disconnect between Tre's previous risotto and this one. I'm surprised you ignored that elephant in the room.

MatthewSnyder
MatthewSnyder

Thank you for this comment, SirGym. I also was put off by how adamant the judges were that risotto *must* be this way or that. Risotto cookery differs greatly from region to region; Risotto in Campagna is not the same as risotto in Friulli. I understand dinging Tre for the overabundance of garnish (my own personal Achilles heel in cooking risotti), or for not cooking the rice sufficiently, or for making it taste flavorless. But the dictate that a finished risotto has to be a certain way or it's junk is, in my opinion, a complete bollocks.

Shoot, technically speaking 'risotto' isn't a dish so much as it is a way of describing the three stages of cooking the rice (rossolare, cuocere, manticare).

ViewerB
ViewerB

Very interesting about the mussels and Fabio's comment. I grew up in northern NJ - I'm not Italian, but everyone I know basically is - EVERYONE ate mussels. I always thought of them as Italian, now I realize they are north Jersey Italian-American!

house54
house54

Yikes! That was harsh.

Mike Z.
Mike Z.

Thanks for the comments, Tom. I better appreciate why Tre caught the ax but I still don't understand. In the Chinese challenge, there were many chefs dinged because their tastes defied traditional convention, but you sent home the person whose food was uniformly deemed inedible.

Here, though, the looks and description of Dale's pasta registered "inedible' but you sent home the person whose tastes broke convention. This isn't the first time consistency in judging parameters has been called into question. Was taste more important this time because Italian is closer to home?

Nevertheless, thanks for the blogging! On the winner side, you completely helped us understand why Antonia was the winner.

Cindy Wylie
Cindy Wylie

I was very upset at the reaction that was shown when Antonia won the challenge. I thought that Richard, Angelo, Mike, and the rest had more class than that. Richard was one of my favorites in his original season. Now, he acts like a spoil sport if he doesn't end up in the top three.

After reading Tom's blog, I understand why Tre was sent home. At first I was upset because I felt that it should've been Mike. If you're Italian and can't cook pasta, there's something very wrong.

stillsmiling
stillsmiling

My room mate and I watched this episode together and thought the SAME THING! It was clear that THIS was the food for the judges and guests. Everyone was stuffing themselves and really enjoying it rather than taking the small tasting bites ala critics.

They all looked so happy and made my roommate and I want to go prepare a huge family feast!

ralpha
ralpha

We all missed Jamie's Italian scallops.

unbiasedViewer
unbiasedViewer

Agree on every point here. That quickfire did nothing but further prove that Isaac Mizrahi is a pompous ass.

deeb
deeb

I've been a fan of the show from the beginning, and if I've ever missed anything have gone back to it as soon as possible. I've cajoled and encouraged friends and family into watching it. That said, the QF was a total shame. It's one kind of lame that you have a "one pan challenge sponsored by dish soap" but hey, that's how the show makes its money. It's a entirely different beast (a lot was said by you not being there, or commenting on it at all in your blog) that you bend over to cross promote hosts of other shows on your network and create a challenge not having anything to do with taste, or cooking really, at all. And then follow it with a challenge of a meal served family-style where plating and presentation are all but thrown out the window, and rightfully so as it was ALL ABOUT TASTE. You won them an Emmy, plant your feet and say NO.

mia gee
mia gee

I forgot to tell ya that..I LOVE LORRAINE BRACCO..good judge and she makes me laugh.

mia gee
mia gee

hey Tom sorry tre had to go but its becoming harder and harder for the judges since most are the the BEST of The BEST. I did not taste the food but the simplicity of Anotonias dish I no would win. It looked good and I saw the way one of the guy sopped it up with the bread(good job ANTONIA)Even though in the back of my mind I no they would choose an ITALlIAN ..WITH THAT SAID I AM STILL ROUTING FOR CARLA. btw TOM I LOVED THE TENNIS CHALLEGE CHEF AGAINST CHEF.

Lyn H.
Lyn H.

Just wondering why nobody made a meatloaf, after taking extensive notes and seeing the glistening of Frankie's eyes when he said how much he LOVED it! I think listening and ego are two main issues for the chefs. I know you love meatloaf and have taken considerable time to perfect it because I have memorized your recipe. Had that been served, at least TWO people would have been pleased.

Erma
Erma

I'm an Italian/Canadian both parents 'right off the boat' and am having a hard time understanding the challenge. Tom you say, 'The chefs were not asked to make Italian food, but, rather, to be inspired...(by) homey Italian-American food.' What does that mean? Why was it based on how to make Italian food properly? Or that it should have been American inspired? Italian-American food could be considered Chef-Boyardee based on your intrepretation. As well, we here in Canada also did not have the luxury of imported Italian ingredients but my mom made Italian food not 'Canadian inspired' whatever that would be. The rules of this challenge are all over the place. As well, the Quickfire challenge was truly an insult to the chefs.

felix2006
felix2006

I completely agree with you. Tre and Fabio were robbed last night. Dale should have gone home not Tre. I'm so upset.

Did anyone else remember Tre saying early on (and they showed the clip) that Tre won his first challenge in his season with risotto and Tony Bourdain announced he had won. Can you say hypocrite??

MrsKoller
MrsKoller

Actually as a Black American woman, I could look at that risotto and knew it wasn't going to work. Risotto is my "go-to" dish and I find stirring and stirring and stirring really theraputic. I liked all three who were on the bottom and as many before me have said - now it will become very difficult to watch chefs go home. It is what it is - a competition. Tre is most gracious and I would love to see him again. We need more Black Americans with their own cooking shows and I think he would be fantastic - talented, great screen face. Wait! That was my personal dream. Well having Parkinsons Stage 3 - that ain't gonna happen, but I would love to live through someone else - hint hint!

PS - the quickfire challenge was totally stupid - never, ever, ever do that again.

Carla H
Carla H

Tre was as delicious to watch as the food presented...for that reason I hated to see him go. I've watched the eppy a few times and is still think it was rude the way the cheftestants reacted to Antonia's win. When the judges and guests were eating the meal for some reason that we can't taste through the tv...all the people eating loved her dish most. Rooting for Fabio too and poor thing it just seems he has been a hair off for some reason to the judges...but the editors seem to LOVE him! Really made me understand why Tre went home a bit better after reading the blogs. I was like a lot of you I really figured it was Mike or Dale's turn to go. All in all a good eppy...except for the "you have got to be kidding me" rediculous quickfire challenge. What a joke!

csfm
csfm

Tom, you made a mistake in the show when you said that polenta was a typical Southern Italian dish. I lived in Sicily for many years, and trust me, I never ate polenta there, never saw it on a menu, never ate it at anyone's house. It's more of a Northern Italian dish, which explains why Fabio made it, since he is from Florence, I think. A real southern Italian meal would have been: caponata for the antipasto, pasta alla norma for the primo, and grilled horsemeat for the secondo.

ViewerNYGal
ViewerNYGal

Thank you! This episode remined me of my grandmother's kitchen on a Sunday. She wanted to come to this country where anything was possible. She learned about the different cultures around her by the food. We got to try her versions - one different dish - on Sunday. She would have been happy about the mussels especially if everything was Fresh!The garden, the fish, the poultry, the spices we learned them from the G-parents. Maybe it's a generational or an East Coast thing but they wanted us to be Americans where people of different cultures lived together and could become whatever they dreamed of with hard work and a little luck. The smells make the memories!

ralpha
ralpha

We all missed Jamie's Italian scallops.