"At some point, you have to learn your own way. You can't emulate, you can't copy," says chef, restaurateur, and Top Chef host Tom Colicchio on this week's episode of Special Sauce. Colicchio is so much more than a celebrity chef: He is a truly original thinker. You can see it in his cooking, his restaurants, his writing, his food policy activism, and his real-world, no-nonsense approach to judging on Top Chef. We touched on all these topics and more in our far-reaching interview.
In this first of two episodes, Colicchio and I discussed his early passion for food—no matter how simple. It all began in his childhood, with homey dishes like pancakes made from a mix and slow-simmered Sunday gravy. This early inspiration drove him to put in his time; he spent years refining his skills at restaurants highbrow and low- in his native New Jersey and New York before blazing his own path. When he opened his first restaurant, Colicchio wanted to make clear that he has a deep appreciation for a cook's hard-won development: "I named my restaurant Craft for this reason," he told me. "Cooking is a craft. You have to learn your craft, you have to spend a lot of time behind the stove. There are no shortcuts, it's all repetition—it's all almost muscle memory."
This week, Colicchio discusses three key things he's learned over the course of his career—the things he thinks every aspiring chef should keep in mind. You'll learn about how a prison library book pushed Colicchio into the kitchen, and how the judges on Top Chef really determine a winner. Next week, you'll learn even more about his work to improve food policy, so stay tuned for part two.