Masterchef S01 ep7: Tom Colicchio, Craft Grammercy Tavern Restaurant, [New York]
Interview with Tom Colicchio
It about staying power it is not about being a flash in the pan. You constantly have to reinvent what you are doing. You can't rest on your laurels. It is also a matter of staying fresh because there are obviously younger chefs who may also want to take more risks. And so you have to keep up with them and take as many risks. Food has become more grounded and it is not this soaring sculpture that we are looking for anymore. It is not about 8 ingredients on a plate anymore. I think that is the worst thing that America sort of dumped on cuisine is that adding all these thing when you see mango, salsa, chutney, relish yada yada yada.
This restaurant [Craft] is dedicated to the craftsmanship of cooking and not so
much to the artistry of cooking. We are sourcing the best products that we can
find and doing very little to them. We are cooking them the best that we can
and not embellishing them at all. So if you order a piece of braised fish here, or
braised halibut, you get braised halibut and that is it.
I started cooking when I was very young. It was just amazing how you can
take something that I caught - at the age of 8 I was out fishing with my
grandfather, bring it home and make this great dish out of it. Everybody just
enjoyed it and took pleasure in eating. I guess it is a lot about making people
happy and that is one way of doing it.
Contemporary cooking is a fresh approach to handling food, not trying to mask
ingredients but to try to enhance ingredients. Also sourcing for the best
possible ingredients you can find.
Between Pennsylvania New York State, New Jersey and Long Island there is a
tremendous amount of produce being grown. And starting about 15 years ago
the farmers starting working hand in hand, with the chefs, to produce the kind
of ingredients we were looking for.
I worked for Michel Bras about 12 years ago and I remember seeing all
these wonderful things he would find and forage for and then coming back to
the States and finding it here in our Green markets. The stuff is here.
I was a swimmer when I was young, I was very good at it but I did not practice
and I did not work hard and by the time I was a senior in high school all the
kids I grew up with they were beating me. And I made a promise to myself that
if I ever found something that I was very good at that I would really push it. I
found that cooking came very easy to me. I would read everything I could get
my hands on. I mean I was able to recite from "Repertoire De la Cuisine"
KM – Yes
And just know all these classical dishes. I can't do that anymore. I remember
them but I would also practice. I would go home and buy celery and just
practice my knife skills. Throw the celery in the garbage but just practice my
knife skills to make sure I was quick and fast.
KM – So you were looking at it almost like an Olympic sport?
I looked at it…. you know it was interesting. I taught myself to cook from
Jacques Pepin book, "Method & Technique" and in the introduction it says
don't treat this as a book, treat this as an apprenticeship - I said o.k. it makes
sense to me.
KM – When you realise of course that you were that fanatical, didn't you go on
the French gastronomical hippie trail - to seek enlightenment from the guru
I did and didn't. There is also a practical side of doing that. I did not have
enough money socked away where I could go off to France for a year at a time
I think I was 24 years old and I was working at the Quilted Giraffe here in
Manhattan. He [Barry Wine] was expanding and he figured eventually he would
have to work with what you call "career cooks". So he hired me as an
experiment, and it backfired on him, because within 4 months I was a Sous
Chef at the Quilted Giraffe.
At that point I was still tinkering with the idea of going to cooking school or
going to a college just to get an education and continue to cook. And then I
thought- here I am, a 24 years old Sous Chef at one of the best restaurants in
New York City, probably best restaurant in the world…well I am not going
anywhere, I am staying right here.
KM – Well what was so good about the Quilted Giraffe?
It was a mentality. There was a real sort of cerebral approach to cooking there
KM – Yes
And I think it showed because there wasn't a lot of soul on the plate. That was
what was missing.
However the execution day in day out, you knew that if someone was eating
you could pretty much set your watch by where they were in their meal. They
were given 2 and 1/2 hours to eat and it happened all the time. When the order
came in 10 minutes later it was on the table. And it always was, it was a well-
run restaurant, it was…. It was wildly creative and it was fun, whimsical. I think
it was everything that 80's dining needed to be.
My cooking over the last 10 years from when I was at Mondrian to now, a lot of
the dishes are the same.
Instead of trying to add to that dish, I am constantly trying to refine those
dishes that I have done even ten years ago. It is more about refining by
eliminating pieces of it.
Food has become more grounded and it is not this soaring sculpture that we
are looking for anymore. It is not about 8 ingredients on a plate anymore. I
think that is the worst thing that America sort of dumped on cuisine is that
adding all these thing when you see mango, salsa, chutney, relish yada yada
KM – Oh they don't do that anymore? I was so looking forward to that.
No it is done, but it is done where it is only one thing now or two things, not 8
things anymore. I think we all sort of realised that it was too much.
KM – You are also running both the Grammercy Tavern and here.
The opportunity came up with a space around the corner that was available. I
looked at my food over the last fifteen years and noticed that overtime it had
become more simple. It had become a little more stripped down a little more
focussed. I looked to the future and I said what would I do. It has become
more, and more about the ingredients more about focusing on just the single
ingredients and not creating a dish and so that is what I did.
KM – How do you construct a dish?
I put together ingredients. If I want lamb, eggplant and I would like this flavour.
I first think of how do you put that into the dish? You will find balance through
the process of cooking. For instance, what cut a lamb are we going to use?
Are we going to use a rack, or a loin, are we going to use a shoulder or a leg?
Are we going to roast it or are we going to braise it, are we going to grill it?
How are we going to you know. If we are going to introduce some eggplant to
the dish, how are we going to do it? You have an eggplant; there are so many
different ways to skin that eggplant. How do we want to best introduce that
ingredient to the dish?
I like contrast, I like juxtaposition, I like something that is a little startling on a
palate but not too startling. Something that is not going to…
KM – What differentiates a normal cook, in your opinion, from really a Grand
Being able to just time, and time again over time produce something. It about
staying power it is not about being a flash in the pan. In doing that you
constantly have to reinvent what you are doing. You can't rest on your laurels.
It is also a matter of staying fresh because there are obviously younger chefs
who may also want to take more risks. And so you have to keep up with them
and take as many risks.
So we are constantly looking at our dishes and reinventing them, redoing
them, reworking them. You also have to keep in mind that you are cooking for
people and not cooking for chefs.
KM – Tell me why aren’t you talking with a French accent?
I don't have one.
KM – Why aren't you aloof? Why aren’t you a little bit edgy? Why?
Because I am from Elizabeth New Jersey, it is a blue collar working city and
that is where I grew up and you know…
KM – It's so tough to make you good look on television if you don't help
You know, I guess there are people that do that.
But why are you interviewing me then?
OFFICIAL WEBSITE:Tom Colicchio, Craft Grammercy Tavern Restaurant, [New York]