Monday, December 20, 2010

Tom Colicchio: "Pizza is Like Sex" at Feast Talks

Tom Colicchio dropped by the new Lacoste store at the Gansevoort Park Hotel Saturday afternoon for a "Feast Talks" Q&A with The Feast editor Ben Leventhal.

"Pizza is like sex," Colicchio told Leventhal and a handful of guests in the audience. "There's good and better, but none of it's bad."

Read more of our favorite excerpts from Colicchio's Q&A, below, including his rave about Amy Sedaris, what makes the top chef angry, and why he'd never wait 45 minutes for a burger.

BL: What do you crave?
TC: Sleep, right now. In the worst way.

BL: Do you know your limits?
TC: Sure, I do. In fact, we had a meeting yesterday with my managing team and decided that with the exception of one project that's in the works, that we're not working on new restaurants for this year. No more new restaurants, we're going to focus on what we have. In fact, we're actually closing our first restaurant in Atlanta.

BL: What won't you share?
TC: My wife. 

BL: What makes you angry?
TC: You know when you're walking down the street, especially in New York on a busy street and someone just decides to stop in front of you. If you're going to stop or slow down, get off to the side. It's like the exit lane... You guys gotta move. That, and the guy in the left-hand lane who has to drive 55 miles an hour and gives you this look that's like, 'That's the speed limit! Sorry!' That's a passing lane! That is not a driving lane. The driving lane is the center lane or the right lane. If you're not passing a car, get out of that lane. If I'm gonna drive 90 miles an hour because I have this radar detector, let me do it. Just get out of the way.

BL: If you were to win an award tomorrow, what would it be for?
TC: Dad of the year. 

BL: What great idea should have been yours?
TC: Facebook. I would have been on the cover of Time as Man of the Year. Cool. [Laughs]. I just wish I created Top Chef. Would have been a lot more lucrative. 

BL: What do you want to get for the holidays?
TC: Well, they passed the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, I've been lobbying pretty hard for that one. It adds additional money to school lunch programs, also creates after-school programs, summer feeding programs, breakfast programs... The fact that we have 49 million Americans in this country that are food insecure, meaning that in the course of the month they will not be able to put food on the table for themselves and for their children, should not happen in this country. They should not be hungry. It's a step in the right direction.   

BL: I think this is by far the best season of Top Chef, probably because we know all the characters, and they're the craziest and most talented. You do have to wonder though, how do you top this?
TC: I'm going to announce the winner right now... You ready? [Laughs]. Actually we don't have a winner yet. We haven't done a finale. But I don't know. It's a good question... We have to come up with something that's different, shake it up. We have to get great contestants, but it's going to be tough to follow this season. I think because the contestants are familiar with us, they're giving us a lot of shit, which is fine. I actually like it. I like that they're sticking up for themselves, I like that they're telling us we're wrong. 

BL: You were talking with Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens after Top Chef the other night, and you said that Anthony Bourdain is perhaps a little harder on the contestants that he should be.
TC: I didn't mean harder. I think [Anthony's] statements are just over the top. I think he does it for effect. I don't think he's any harder, but he is clearly a lot less measured than I would be when it comes to critiquing. But he's great to have around. You never know what's going to come out of his mouth. Half the time I have to be careful I'm not drinking because it's going to come out of my nose. 

BL: Is there a lot of discussion that goes on behind the scenes with the judges?
TC: You know, what's interesting is, we don't discuss the challenge or the food unless we're on camera. Because we're not actors and we can't recreate it and it sort of sounds staged. So we only discuss food when the cameras are rolling. And, contrary to popular belief, the producers have absolutely no say at all on who stays and who goes on the show. In fact, they're not allowed to eat the food... They let us do what we want to do. Personalities never come into play because we don't see the personalities. We're not allowed to interact with the contestants while we're shooting.

BL: Judges table... if you could have anyone, living or dead, who would you have up there?
TC: Jim Harrison. Great writer and also major major foodie. The only major chef that we haven't had on is Mario Batali, and he watches the show! He just won't come on. And he's also good friends with Jim [Harrison], so I think that'd be a lot of fun... After working with Amy Sedaris the other night, I think she is a riot. She could be on any show she wants to be. She is so fast and so quick and witty, and physical, too. I was completely blown away. 

BL: Why won't Mario come on the show?
TC: I don't know. Cause it's not the Mario show I guess. [Laughs]. But I've tried. We'll eventually snag him. 

BL: Your newest three-star restaurant is Colicchio & Sons... and it's popping.
TC: It's popping. It's doing well. We're doing all right. That was the toughest opening I've ever been through, and I think part of it was because prior to that, I did a lot of restaurant openings, but it was all prior to Top Chef. Where I get to sometimes partially judge other chefs. So I had a feeling a lot of people were coming in lokoing for a lot of payback. That was a tough opening. We got slammed, with the exception of two major reviewers.

BL: You have said the way diners use restaurants has changed. What do you mean?
TC: The idea that, with cell phones, you sit down at a table and all the phones come out. You have a very spare attention span. A dish comes out, you gotta check your phone. Buzzer goes off, you gotta check your email. Just the idea of sitting around a table and having a conversation that can sustain itself for more than five minutes before you have to check your next email, it doesn't happen. Restaurants kind of came of age in the late 80s when everyone would be going out to Studio 54, doing whatever they were doing there, and when they finally came down from that buzz and they realized that they couldnt keep doing that, it was like, 'Wow, what can we do now for entertainment? We can't go dancing all night, and we actually now have an appetite.' So restaurants became the fashionable place to go and entertain. And it seems to be going back in the direction where its a party, eating is just a small part of it. 

BL: As some people may know, chef is becoming more and more active on Twitter. is that a reaction to the fact people are staring at screens all day and you feel its important to get information their way?
TC: When Colicchio & Sons opened up I gave an interview to a newspaper and it got totally twisted around. And I said, I gotta control this message thing better. I can't believe this stuff. Having someone interview me and taking out what they like. So, it was about controlling the message. But I have fun with it. I don't do a whole lot of food stuff on Twitter. For me, it's more music and politics and social commentary, and occasionally there's food in there. but its a great way to interact with fans and people who are like-minded. Breaking news comes through faster than anything on Twitter. So it's a great way to control the message and get the message out there.

From audience: Do you think Chicago is overtaking New York as a food city?
It's a great question. I think New York is still number one, but Chicago is without a doubt number two... One thing that Chicago has done better... the diners have embraced the avant-garde movement... I think they're more accepting of that. My favorite chef in the country is probably Paul Kahan... and he's doing some great stuff there with Blackbird, Publican... and now he has Big Star, a great taco place. There's so much going on in Chicago. Although, I'd hate to spend a winter there. 

From audience: What trend do you see going away in 2011 and what do you predict will be big?
I hope this burger/pizza thing dies down, and it just becomes what they are: burgers and pizza. What I mean is, I love a great burger, I love making a great burger, but it's not the end of the world! Pizza too. You know the saying, 'pizza is like sex. There's good and better, but none of it's bad.' Seriously, why would anybody wait 45 minutes in line for a burger? I don't get it... I don't understand it. In the cold? In the heat? You got an hour lunch break but you wait 45 minutes. Okay. I guess it's that good. On positive side, Cambodia, Vietnam... I think we're going to start seeing chefs that are going to travel to other places in Asia and bring that food back. If you look at Asian food, it's one cuisine that most dishes get all four flavor senses. They get that sweet, salty, acid, bitter. And that's why when you eat it, it does something to your mouth. It wakes you up. Whereas European food that we've all grown up on, or maybe in the restaurant business grown up on, it hits maybe two. From judging enough food, I can say, when something is spicy and has acid, you remember it.

From audience: What's your favorite under-the-radar restaurant?

I gotta say, I'm the worst person in the world to ask what's going on out there in restaurants. I don't get out much. I really don't. My favorite stand-by is Barbuto cause it's two blocks from my house. Between work, I have a 15-month old, I have a 17-year-old, I have another one on the way in March, so much of my time gets taken up making sure I get that right.

[Photo by LACOSTE]

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