Tom Colicchio on How the Entire Restaurant Industry Has Changed Since Top Chef

Tom Colicchio on How the Entire Restaurant Industry Has Changed Since Top Chef

Bravo's Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio opened up on former judge Hugh Acheson's new podcast.

By Alesandra Dubin
Top Chef Judge Tom Colicchio

Chef and former Bravo's Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson is out with a new podcast about food: “Hugh Acheson Stirs The Pot." And wouldn't you know who came to the table as the first episode's guest? Well that would be Tom Colicchio — so you can bet the subject of the show was much discussed.

As part of the conversation, Acheson asked Colicchio for his impressions of the way the restaurant industry has changed since Top Chef came on the scene. First of all, Colicchio wanted to make a point of clarification:

"The word chef... simply means boss. If doesn't mean you've all of a sudden gained mystical powers in the kitchen and now you have this position. All it means is you're running a kitchen. I'll go so far as to say that people like Julia Child was not a chef. She was a teacher, she was a great home cook and teacher and educator, but she wasn't running a kitchen... I think there's a lot of confusion over what that word means."

And it's perhaps shows like Top Chef that have so elevated the reputation of the profession that many people can mistake what it actually means to work in the business. "[People say] 'cook' as if it's an insult. I'm happy to be called a cook, that's fine with me — it's what I do."

He continued, "I think what's really changed — and I think this is may be to the detriment of the industry — is it used to be you opened a restaurant as a chef/restaurateur and that was it. That's what you did. Now, we're opening multiple restaurants. I think we're responsible for the boom, the growth of restaurants — we're a victim of our own success. And so it's changed. You have to be more of a business man."

That is to say, it's not all about the cooking. "The big thing is you gotta be not only a really tremendous cook, someone who can really organize a kitchen, someone who is going to hire the right team, someone who can set the right tone — and that's changing quickly it has changed over the last 10 to 15 years, but with the #MeToo movement in restaurants — it's changed dramatically."

And beyond that, Colicchio says, chefs' success has much more to do with marketing these days. "You have to be constantly out there with social media, deal with Instagram — so there's a lot more. 30 years ago, there was no social media, there was no Instagram. So that was one part of my day I didn't have to worry about."

Watch new episodes of Top Chef Season 16 Thursday nights at 8/7c.

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