Tom Colicchio is pulling double foodie duty.
“Best New Restaurant” is Bravo’s latest addition to television’s culinary competition game — a genre in which the cabler has found much success with “Top Chef” — and Colicchio is hosting, all while judging “Chef’s” 12th season, which is currently heating up in Boston.
“It’s going to be very different,” Colicchio tells Variety of the series (premieres tonight, 10/9c), which breaks into the restaurant biz. “‘Top Chef’ is a food competition, and as a judge on that show, that’s all we focus on. With ‘Best New Restaurant,’ it’s about the entire restaurant experience — obviously food, but also service and hospitality and design and how well they execute their plan.”
Though the show is an expansion of the cabler’s food palate, it’s actually a take on Gordon Ramsay’s U.K. series, titled “Ramsay’s Best Restaurant.”
Ramsay serves as an exec producer on Bravo’s adaptation, but he and Colicchio have never actually met. (Colicchio also admits he’ll take a different hosting approach. “I don’t yell,” he says with a laugh.)
Colicchio tells Variety more about his new series.
Was “Best New Restaurant” influenced by “Top Chef’s” popular segment, Restaurant Wars?
I don’t know because I don’t know if when Gordon [Ramsay] did the original show, he was influenced by Restaurant Wars — I’ve never had that conversation with him. But clearly, there are shades of Restaurant Wars. It is a fan favorite. The comparisons are going to be there because there are challenges similar to Restaurant Wars, and you’ll see how professionals with their team, how difficult it is for them. I think it gives you even a greater appreciation for ‘Top Chef.’
Everyone has been a diner, but not everyone is a chef. Will viewers relate to “BNR” even more than “Top Chef?”
I think there are plenty of people out there who go to restaurants, obviously, but want to understand how restaurants work, but a lot of people also think that it would be great to be a restaurateur — it’s like a party every night! No, it’s not. So I think the viewer will get a pretty good idea of what really happens behind the scenes in restaurants. It’s like the next level.
You said it’s the “next level.” Do you think other networks will mirror the restaurant game in their next food competition series?
Well, probably. There are other programs — like on CNBC [“Restaurant Startup”] but that’s more about funding the concept. Although this was a show in the UK and that’s why [Ramsay] is the EP on this, I suspect that there will be some other copycats.
How is it different being a host, after being a judge for so long?
It’s a very different show. Even though it’s clearly a competition, I was kind of standing back and observing ‘Top Chef,’ since we’re not aloud to interact with the chefs at all, unless we’re on camera, whereas with this, I was with the restaurant chefs a lot. We built up a rapport because these are real restaurants. I’m still myself, I’m not an actor, I only know how to be myself, but there’s a bit of a different relationship because I am spending more time with them and because I’ve opened up enough restaurants to know what they’re going through. I sort of empathize. It’s less standoffish. I’m more on their side, as opposed to stepping back and judging.
What is the judging criteria on the show?
We’re judging these restaurants on what they’re doing — not what I would have done. People bring all different ideas to how they want to run a restaurant. Obviously, there are financial reasons why people do certain things. You can see sometimes when a restaurant is understaffed, but maybe they can’t afford a large staff. There are the economics of keeping a business. You can’t look at everything and say there’s a cookie cutter way to do things.
What have you found to be the most important part of a restaurant from the customer’s perspective?
Hospitality without a doubt. A restaurant that seems to really care about you and they want to make you happy. On the wall of my office, it’s a white wall with red lettering, it says ‘make people happy.’ Food can make people happy. Everything has to work — food, service, hospitality — and service and hospitality are different. You have restaurants where the service is correct, the food gets there on time and they’re doing all the right things. They’re pouring wine right, but it’s stuffy and no one’s smiling and no one seems happy. To me, that’s it. How are you feeling when you’re walking out the door? It’s like when you see a movie.