Tom Colicchio knows there’s more to a restaurant than its executive chef. The “Top Chef” head judge and owner of seven restaurants from NYC to Los Angeles is getting out of the kitchen to show what makes a truly great spot in Bravo’s new reality series, “Best New Restaurant,” premiering Jan. 21 at 10 p.m.
“This show is very different from ‘Top Chef,’ and I think just the nature of the show is a little more playful and fun at times,” he says. The show will go inside 16 restaurants around the country competing for the eponymous title.
“It’s not just about food, it’s about the entire restaurant experience: food, service and hospitality,” Colicchio says. “You really see how restaurants work, as opposed to maybe seeing on ‘Top Chef’ how a chef thinks about food.”
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We asked Colicchio about whether the foodie landscape is changing — Austin, Texas, is better represented on the show than New York City — and what you should definitely not do (and what he doesn’t mind) when dining out.
Is New York losing its foodie edge?
No, not at all. In fact it seems like New York just gets stronger and stronger. There are so many restaurants now. You have the outer boroughs — not just Brooklyn — you have Queens, and you have good restaurants everywhere. Young chefs who don’t necessarily have the means of opening restaurants in Manhattan are doing great things in small places, like The Pines out in Gowanus.
What’s going on in Austin?
You have a lot of creative young people [in Austin], the spaces are still reasonable, and if you can open a restaurant in Nashville, Austin or Charleston, why come and spend $150 a foot in NYC when you can do something for $30 a foot? There are still young people who want to do their own thing. They’re finding creative ways to do it — that’s why you have pop-up restaurants, that’s why you have food trucks, because people are trying to figure out a way to get their creative stuff out there.You can literally pull up in a food truck somewhere and get food as good as you can in a restaurant — it’s just coming out of a truck and you’re sitting on a park bench.
Have customers become more demanding?
In larger cities, obviously you have more people who don’t cook. They’re working all day, they come home, the last thing they want to do is start cooking. They don’t have kitchens to cook; it’s not like the suburbs. What’s happened because of food TV — shows like “Top Chef” — is the population is expecting more.
What do you think about ordering off the menu?
Personally, I don’t like saying “No” within reason. If someone says to me, “I really want the striped bass but I want the garnish that’s on the halibut”? Fine. I don’t care. I’m not going to say what a chef should do. I can just speak for myself. If you ask at my restaurant, I would hope the answer is “Yes.”
What is the single worst thing a customer can do?
My biggest pet peeve really is [when a customer comes in] not expecting a good time. Whatever it is, leave your lousy day behind, whatever happened in the office, leave it behind and come in and let the restaurant do its thing. I really think that the best experience you can have is when you engage with your server and enjoy yourself.
What about taking pictures of food?
What do I care? [But] don’t spend 20 minutes taking pictures of food and then complain it’s cold!