Colicchio parlays his celebrity into a brand
New men make to-die-for braised short ribs and People Magazine’s list of sexiest men alive; chef Tom Colicchio has accomplished both.Following in the footsteps of fellow Gotham uberchefs Mario Batali and Bobby Flay, with their multiple eateries and brash personalities, Colicchio has become a household name with a keenly defined public profile and a burgeoning foodie empire. But one need not have stepped foot in any of Colicchio’s establishments to get a sense of what drives the top judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” where his withering, no-nonsense criticism is leavened by a kind of tutorial warmth tempered by many years in the kitchen trenches. But if Colicchio has seemingly become ubiquitous, with dozens of variations on his flagship Craft restaurant now spread across the country, it also begs the question: How many Tom Colicchios are there? One, he’ll assure you. His secret to juggling multiple top-tier restaurants? Solid training and good communication. “When we open a restaurant, we have our top chefs training each food station,” Colicchio says. “We stay for two, sometimes three months and get it right.” They did it in Vegas, Dallas and Los Angeles, and will do it in Connecticut and Atlanta this year. His executive chef, Damon Wise, remains in constant communication with each of his chefs. Colicchio will pop in for unannounced spot checks; like any chef worth his salt, he walks the kitchen line tasting dishes. Colicchio worked his way up the NYC food chain in the ’90s, honing his style of high-end dining with an emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients with bold but simple flavors. In 2001, the New Jersey native — riding a wave of stellar reviews as the co-founder of Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern and newly minted as New York’s best chef by the James Beard Foundation — opened Craft, and its smaller, less formal sister, Craftbar. He’s since added Craftsteak and five more restaurants in other cities — including Los Angeles’ Century City corridor, catty-corner to CAA. Despite his award-winning cuisine and newfound celebrity, he is surprised by the range of foodies he attracts. “Eight-year-old kids all the way up to grown men come up to me,” Colicchio says. “It’s weird.” He works mainly in the Big Apple, spending time in L.A. about one week a month. He admits to a “constant pull” dictating where he has to be and when. Still, he finds time to play guitar daily, fish on weekends and hang out with his son Dante and wife, filmmaker Lori Silverbush. Colicchio says one mistake was when he opened Craftsteak in Gotham and didn’t supervise the team closely enough. The resulting poor reviews and dissatisfied customers forced him to recognize he needed to be on the ball with the right team at every location. With tinkering, reviews improved drastically. “I put a structure around the chefs,” Colicchio says, explaining how he lets his chefs create but not stray from Craft’s focus. “So I know I’m not gonna walk in and find a Thai dish on the menu.”
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