New York — Chef Tom Colicchio has been the head judge of Bravo’s Top Chef for the show’s entire run, currently clocking in at 12 seasons. Beginning on Wednesday, Jan. 21 he will lead his second cooking competition on the net, Best New Restaurant, which Colicchio also executive produces.
On Tuesday night (Jan. 13), the chef had a panel discussion with New York magazine restaurant critic Adam Platt at Colicchio’s restaurant Riverpark, where the Restaurant finale will take place, to talk about New York eateries, the practice of critiquing and the new series.
“I think in the way that Top Chef gives the viewer a glimpse into how a chef creates and how they think about food, Best New Restaurant gives them an idea of what restaurants go through to produce food,” said Colicchio in an interview following the panel. “[They can see] how they try to create their own niche and carve out a little space out for themselves."
The competition will feature the Top Chef judge along with culinary experts Maggie Nemser, the CEO of BlackboardEats.com, and Jeffrey Zurofsky, Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft restaurant cofounder and partner, traveling around the country to judge 16 restaurants. The semifinals will have the contestants open up a pop-up restaurant.
“What’s really excited me is getting to meet some people I probably wouldn’t have met,” said Colicchio on the national food journey. “It reminds me that no matter where you’re cooking, no matter whether you’re in a fast-casual restaurant, or a mom-and-pop place or a fancy restaurant it’s all the same problems, the same issues and the same passions.”
Because the competition judges more than just the chefs in the kitchen, much more will go into what can make—or break—a restaurant.
“It’s very different from Top Chef because it’s not only about food. And it’s not about one chef against another chef,” said Colicchio. “It’s the entire restaurant against the other restaurant. So it’s waiters and managers and sommeliers, and owners. It’s about the whole team, it’s a whole team competition."
The other major different between Restaurant and Colicchio’s original competition series is how he deals with contestants. “On Top Chef we’re not allowed to interact with the chefs at all,” he said. “We’re not allowed to talk to them. Whereas with this you can actually build a rapport with them [on Restaurant] and get to know them and get to understand them.”
Other highlights from the panel included:
—Due to the traditional separation of chef and critic, the only other time Colicchio and Platt had met, besides the event at Riverpark, was during jury duty.
“Do you remember when we were being interviewed?” said Colicchio. “They said ‘What do you do?’ I said, ‘I’m a chef and I own a restaurant, Gramercy Tavern,’ and they came to Adam and they said ‘What do you do?’ and he said ‘I write about this guy.’”
—Platt thinks that the cooking show boom may have inflated viewers’ sense of themselves as chefs. “I think TV has had a huge effect on the participatory cooking culture and the whole idea of cooking,” he said. “I think they’ve effected how people look at cooking and how they aspire to be chefs. I think it’s probably effected them detrimentally about how they think they can become chefs, but I don’t know that it’s effected restaurants.”