Craft Restaurant in NYC has become the prime location for food lovers, and its top chef and owner, Tom Colicchio, is the hottest thing to happen to a kitchen since Jack Tripper closed up shop in the 70s. And Colicchio is not only top chef in the world of great food, he's Bravo's top chef on TOP CHEF!
YOU ARE BOTH THE HEAD CHEF IN THE KITCHEN CHECKING IN ON THE CONTESTANTS AND A JUDGE.... WHICH MEANS YOU CAN'T AND DON'T GIVE DIRECT MENTOR-Y ADVICE TO THE CHEFS. WAS IT CHALLENGING FOR YOU TO JUST BE AN OBSERVER IN THE KITCHEN?
Yes, because my first instinct would be to help the chefs – that's what I do in my kitchen. It's my job to mentor and work on technique. It's so frustrating to walk away. It's like Harold and the ice cream machine – I wasn't allowed to point that out. It's hard not to want to help them.
TWO OF THE CHEFS SEEM TO HAVE EVERYONE TALKING, TIFFANY AND STEPHEN. TIFFANY WAS CALLED OUT BY YOU FOR HER ATTITUDE A COUPLE WEEKS AGO. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HER SO FAR?
She's a strong competitor. I think her attitude adjustment worked a bit. The following week her attitude changed and softened up. She wants to win and has the skills to do it. It's a question of how far she can go. Respect the challenge, that's what it was about. There's a spirit to the game here and just like I ask my cooks to come to work every day ready to work, this is what she signed on for. She should approach each challenge that way.
AND STEPHEN IS ISOLATING PEOPLE LEFT AND RIGHT. WHAT ABOUT HIM?
He's kind of hated right now! I'm not sure if he realizes how arrogant he comes off. I do a recap of TOP CHEF on Tyler Florence's radio show on Thursday mornings and we take phone calls and everyone is asking about Stephen. When I was there in San Francisco, I didn't realize how he was coming off. Several of the crew commented that people thought he was a little jerky. I don't think it was the editing. He is more guilty of what he got on Candice about, being young. Emotionally he's much younger than she is. He's intelligent but his emotional quotient is a little stunted. People don't come to coddle the chef, the chef is there to coddle the customer. But he can cook, he's smart – I guess we've all gone through it. I was a chef at a restaurant called Mondrian in NYC when I was in my 20s. We had Nantucket Bay scallops flown in every morning and one day a woman came in and said, "There is no way these are from Nantucket." I sent the waiter back to her table with the FedEx slip from Nantucket, and she walked out and never came back. I thought I had to educate her, but I should not have challenged her. To see him constantly talk about educating customers, I thought that was my role but the truth is that people know a lot but they're adults and know what they want to eat. It's not your position to tell people how to eat or enjoy themselves and you see young chefs doing that all the time. When you have a collection of ingredients that are so out there or foreign, people stop coming. It's isolating. I don't care who it is. There are items on every menu that have broad appeal and people understand. You don't have to challenge people every time they have dinner. He'll realize it.
IS IT COMMON FOR A SOMMELIER TO HAVE SUCH AN ACTIVE ROLE IN THE KITCHEN OR ALSO BE A CHEF?
No, but he actually cooked first. He went to culinary school. I have a guy in my organization named Andy and he started at 15 years old, loved food, came into the kitchen and worked weekends and became a pretty good cook. He jumped back into the kitchen every summer. He came to me and wanted to work front of house and now he's my Sommelier at Craft. And my sommelier at Gramercy Tavern used to be a chef, so sometimes people go from the kitchen to front of house.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL CHEFS? AREN'T YOU GUYS ALL EGOTISTICAL AND COCKY?
Most successful people have some sort of ego. Part of being successful is knowing when to check your ego. You can't feel like nobody can do what you can do, or you'll be there alone every night. Chefs are varied as everyone – some are varied and don't do TV or can't, some of them do. There are tons of really talented chefs out there working that you don't know who are too shy. Jonathan Benno, who works at NYC restaurant Per Se now and once worked for me, used to shrink from press. Now that he's running Thomas Keller's kitchen he knows he has to get in front of the camera. I don't know that there's a singular personality in chefs that I see.
WHAT'S THE BEST DISH YOU'VE TASTED SO FAR ON THE SHOW?
I would say Harold's sea bass in Episode 1. In tonight's episode there's a dish that I loved.
YOU'VE BEEN A LEADER IN YOUR FIELD FOR YEARS. WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED SIGNING ON TO TOP CHEF?
Being away from my business for that length of time was a challenge. There's uncertainty about what can happen in the edit room. When I got the signoff from the production team that they didn't want to make me look foolish, then I felt good about it. I had personal reasons why I wanted to do this. This is easy to do because I am not coming up with the challenges. Because of the production and the way the set was run it was pretty easy. You can't take it back, so that was scary. You never know how it can come out, so it's there forever.
HAD YOU EVER WATCHED ANY REALITY TV?
I did see a few episodes of RUNWAY before meeting (producers) the Magical Elves. I used to watch REAL WORLD years and years ago and had seen THE APPRENTICE. I don't have time to watch TV. I don't look at this as reality TV, by the way. This is a competition that's spread out over ten weeks. I don't know where the reality part comes in. REAL WORLD is more reality based than what we're doing.
WHAT WAS FUN ABOUT DOING THIS SHOW?
We really enjoyed the judges table portion. We would have fun running jokes and banter. It's always fun working in a creative process with a bunch of people. I loved the crew. There were a lot of funny things that went on behind the scenes. I had a blast doing it. There were parts I didn't like, when you had an early call and you're sitting around waiting to shoot something. What I do in my career, my time is my time. I don't punch a clock and I'm in control of my time. All of a sudden, someone is scheduling you and you're there for two or three hours and not doing anything, it's irritating. I loved watching the challenges, seeing what the chefs were making, helping the crew solve food problems – it was a great creative process.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SNACK AT HOME THAT YOU CAN WHIP UP IN A MINUTE?
My favorite junk food or munch food is licorice. In terms of whipping something up, my favorite is linguine with clam sauce. It's so easy to make – two pots, minimal prep. You take shallots and garlic, a little olive oil, bring it up to heat and let it simmer. Add clams and white wine, cook it until clams steam open, put a lid on the pot, cook some linguine and toss it all together with a handful of parsley.