‘Young chefs working more with global cuisine now’

American celebrity chef Tom Colicchio will be seen in season 15 of reality TV competition series ‘Top Chef’

Tom Colicchio is the recipient of five James Beard Foundation Awards for cooking accomplishments.

Tom Colicchio learnt the basics of cooking from his grandfather. As a child he was taken fishing, crabbing and clamming, which developed his interest in food and everything to do with it.

The celebrity chef has been the head judge on every season of Bravo’s reality TV shows ‘Top Chef’ and ‘Best New Restaurant’. He has just entered ‘Top Chef season 15’, which airs on AXN.

In an interview with Metrolife, Tom talks about his favourite Indian dishes, fondest memories and more. 

How does it feel to be a part of another season of Top Chef?

It’s really exciting. The idea of being on a show that’s gone on for 15 seasons and has a huge impact in my profession, is great.

Is it challenging for you to stay relevant on the show?

Yes. I’ve talked about this extensively, as someone who has been cooking for almost 40 years. The idea of staying relevant is really hard, especially since there are so many young and upcoming chefs. It’s just constantly trying to improve your restaurants; not trying to follow every trend, but still trying to stay true to yourself. Every day we walk into our restaurant and say “How can we make it better?” and not “How can we keep it the same?”

One thing that stands out in young chefs today?

I think everything young chefs do now has more emphasis on global cuisine. They can take bits and pieces of various cuisines to work it into their own. There’s a better understanding of different regions and different kinds of cuisines across the world. When I was coming up, we were cooking mostly French and Italian food; we didn’t have many influences. But nowadays, because of the Internet and because chefs are traveling more, they’re exposed to many more different cuisines that gives them a lot more options when they’re cooking.

Do you choose a travel destination based on its food or the reviews?

I don’t base it on either of these but there’s great food everywhere in the world. I pick a location, then I start researching and I reach out to other chefs who travel a lot and get a recommendation from them.

What kind of music do you listen to? Does that inspire your cooking?

I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I actually play the guitar as well. When I’m cooking at home, I usually have music playing, but it doesn’t inspire my cooking at all; I just have it playing in the background.

What kind of books do you read? Any favourite authors?

Jim Harrison is my favourite. He’s an American author who passed away a couple of years ago. I do read quite a bit but I’m reading more non-fiction lately. I’m in the middle of Rachel Maddow’s new book and I also just picked up a book by Jill Biden. I usually read several books at a time. The other book that I’m about to finish is called ‘Delicious Foods’ – ironically, it has nothing to do with food. 

Is there food that you refuse to eat?

I’m not a big fan of okra and grated mountain yam. I will eat them, but I just don’t choose to.

Have you tried cooking Indian dishes? Do you have any favourites?

There’s an eggplant chutney that I make, that you can say is inspired by Indian flavours. But because I’m not a trained Indian chef I don’t try to make authentic Indian food. If I want to work with curries or spices that you associate with India, I can work that into my food.

Any favourite food memories?

One food memory that I have is maybe the reason I became a chef. When I was a kid, I would go fishing, crabbing and clamming with my grandfather. I was about six years old when I started, and I had two jobs. One, I had to stay awake on the long ride home. Second, when I got home, I had to clean the fish and the crabs and take care of the clams. Then, we would take the crabs and cook them in marinara sauce, and serve it over linguine.

This took place in the summer and turned into a big meal with extended family and friends. Since picking crabs takes a while, people sat at the table and would talk about anything from family gossip to politics and sports. So, at a very young age, I saw the power that food had to gather people around a table and create the kind of environment where people could spend time together. I think that left a lasting impression on me and I think that’s part of why I became a chef.

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