Interview: Chef Tom Colicchio

Season 16 of Top Chef premiered on December 6 on BRAVO and this season contestants made their way down south to Kentucky to compete for the coveted title of Top Chef. The season kicked off at Churchill Downs, the iconic home of the Kentucky Derby. It is no secret among my friends that I love Top Chef and live within an hour of many of the filming locations for this show in the bluegrass state so I am extra excited to see how this season unfolds. Earlier this Fall I was able to catch up with Tom Colicchio on a trip to Kentucky and talk Top Chef, his love of bourbon, and travel.

Tom Colicchio is known for being the head judge for the cooking show Top Chef while being a multi-award winning top chef himself. He’s also an Emmy award-winning producer, cookbook writer and involved in hunger relief foundations City Harvest and Food Bank for New York. He went from the East Coast to down South for this year’s food, drink and music festival Bourbon and Beyond which took place on September 22-23 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Check out The Travel Addict’s exclusive interview with chef Tom Colicchio:

You have won five James Spirit Awards, judge Bravo’s Top Chef, opened numerous restaurants, written cookbooks, is there anything left on your culinary bucket list?

I think I have been in the game for a long time now and the challenge right now is to stay relevant. There is so much young talent and it is great to see up and coming chefs, while still figuring out how to stay relevant and continue to make great food and open new restaurants. That is it. I never set out to win awards or do TV when I started cooking. All of it is fine, and validation, I hope that I can give something back and that is all great, but like most chefs, I want to continue to work and cook.

I heard (and we all now know) Top Chef was filmed in Kentucky for Season 16.

We were, we shot here. I can’t give up too much. It is a lot of Kentucky, we shot in Louisville, shot in Lexington. We had a great time here, the competition, it is a special season. The chefs are all very surprising. When we first start shooting, we usually have a good idea of where it would end up, but not this season, couldn’t do it. It was a really great season.

You often talk about stories about your family and how food brings your family together. What is your fondest food memory?

In the summer, my grandfather used to take me fishing when I was a kid. We used to go crabbing, clamming, and occasionally we would catch fish. We would come home. I had two jobs, one, make sure I kept him awake on the way home. It was about an hour and a half drive from the Jersey Shore. I also had to clean all the fish. At a young age, my grandfather taught me to clean fish and crabs. It was a great meal. We used to take the crabs and marinara sauce and make a crab gravy, serve it with linguini. If we caught clams, some of them were steamed. Some were stuffed or steamed with pasta.

Whatever fish we caught we’d have as well. That was one of my first food memories. Most of the year, we had to be at the dinner table every night, but in the summer that lagged a bit because we would be out swimming. But this was the one meal, everyone came home. Uncles were there. We usually cooked at my grandmother’s house. It was one of those meals that never ended because I used to pick through every crab. This year I caught some crabs and had a great time with family. I sat around the table and picked some crab this season. That was my first food memory.

More and more music festivals are starting to host celebrity chefs and have curated food options. If you could do a cooking and music duet, who would you choose?

There’s a lot of good choices here. One of my favorite guitar players is David Bromberg and he is a big guy so he seems like he is into food as well. That could be funny and really interesting. I respect him as a guitar player.

Is there anybody you are interested in seeing music-wise at Bourbon & Beyond today?

Keb Mo, I like his Blues. That could be a lot of fun. I don’t know if I can see him though because I am doing a demo at the same time. I want to see Robert Plant but I am not staying tomorrow. My first concert ever was in 1977 was Led Zeppelin in the Garden. I saw the reunion in London and that was great. I really wanted to see him but unfortunately, I have to get home tomorrow morning.

Are there any foods you refuse to eat?

I am not a fan of okra. Great Mountain yams for the same reason, that slimy texture.

What’s your favorite travel destination based on location or food?

I will tell you where I have never been that I would like to go, my dream vacation, Thailand. I have never been to Southeast Asia. I have been to Japan, been to Hong Kong, but I have never been to Southeast Asia. I haven’t been traveling as much in the last ten years, for pleasure anyway.

What’s your favorite bourbon?

I am a fan of a bunch. I got a bottle of Kentucky Owl when I was here, so I cracked that a couple nights ago. That’s really good. Weller, I like a lot. I drink a lot of bourbon, especially in the winter.

Do you have a favorite bourbon food pairing?

I’m not a big fan of pairing any booze and eating. I do, but when I think of bourbon I think of desserts as a good pairing. I think the obvious choices are things like smoked fish and smoked meats. Earthy dishes like mushrooms or beets also work really well because they stand up really well with the bourbon. Anything with brown sugar works really well. I have a sweet tooth but I don’t cook a lot of sweets.

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