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Tom Colicchio Explains Why His Glamorous New Restaurant Won't Be Anything Like Top Chef

"That's not what this cuisine is," says Tom.

By Staff

Tom Colicchio's ultra-glam new restaurant Fowler & Wells launches this week at The Beekman, New York City's most anticipated hotel opening of the year, and the dining room is as jaw-dropping as the restored 19th-century building that houses it. But the restaurant will hold plenty of surprises for fans of the Top Chef host, restaurateur and food activist. For one thing, Colicchio's menu is in many ways the opposite of the food that Top Chef fans are used to seeing on the show.

“I know, from tasting a lot of food on Top Chef, that salty, sweet, spicy, acid, umami wins every time—and that’s not what this cuisine is,” Colicchio told Bloomberg Pursuits. “When you combine those elements, your taste buds respond. That’s my challenge now: I can’t just add Calabrian chiles or ’nudja to a dish. I can’t add everything in my arsenal."

So what will he be offering at Fowler & Wells? The menu, which Colicchio created with the restaurant's executive chef Bryan Hunt, will mostly forgo the globally inspired flavors and influences found at ambitious modern-day restaurants in the U.S—and on Top Chef—in favor of a more traditional, classically French-inspired menu—but one that will be a little lighter and full of deliciously subtle Colicchio-style flourishes. Some specials and tasting menus, for instance, will be a throwback to the posh French creations that recall the New York City restaurant scene of the '70s, when Tom was working his way up in the Manhattan's top kitchens: dishes like Lobster Thermidor, Tournedos Rossini and Duck a l'Orange.

Photo courtesy of Instagram/@BloombergPursuits/Kate Krader

“They’re the dishes I grew up reading about in the ’70s,” Colicchio told Bloomberg Pursuits. “This was the kind of food people took seriously—really the only kind of food that got reviewed back then, circa 1975 to ’90, when I was coming up at Mondrian.” As he told The New York Times, “I think of this as old New York modernized."

On his regular, eight-entree menu, you can expect a slightly more contemporary feel than what's offered on the tasting menus and specials; but the roster will still have a classic feel, with dishes like Foie Gras with Persimmons, Pink Peppercorns and Bitter Greens; Scallops with Black Truffle Vinaigrette, and Rabbit Schnitzel with Pistachios and Lemon.

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All of that old-world chic makes perfect sense at the Beekman: The hotel is in a building that dates back to the 1890s, and in its latest incarnation, the vibe manages to balance an intricately detailed, retro-ornate style (check out the elaborate ironwork and stained glass) with a 21st-century flair.

As for the restaurant's name? Fowler & Wells were a team of phrenologists (19th century human-skull-measurers) who practiced their long-since-discredited science in the building. The restaurant's bar menu pays tribute to the pair with its cocktail list, labeled The Phrenological Cabinet and featuring plenty of bitters (of course) and curiosity-provoking ingredient and booze combos that will go right to your head.

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