An evening with Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio will take the Paramount stage Sunday, March 18, followed by dinner at Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar. (Publicity photo)

The top chef

When Tom Colicchio comes to the Paramount on Sunday*, call him the winner of multiple James Beard awards or the no-nonsense judge of Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Just don’t call him a celebrity chef. “I hate that term,” he said in our recent phone interview. But with nine seasons of the Emmy Award-winning show under his toque, he’s one well-known chef. While I attribute a lot of the show’s popularity to host Padma Lakshmi and him (I doubt I’m the only gal with a crush), Colicchio thinks it’s because the show appeals to both foodies and reality junkies.
The 49-year-old’s resume (he earned three stars from The New York Times at age 26, opened Gramercy Tavern with Danny Meyer at 32, owns 12 restaurants nationwide, and has written three cookbooks) is enough to make the culinary hopefuls that proffer their beurre blancs tremble, but Colicchio’s passionate about mentoring. “The more people that work under you and then move on to have successful restaurants, the more of a legacy you’ve created,” he said.

As a cook who’s worked in restaurants since age 14 learning on the job, Colicchio thinks that culinary schools do students a disservice by sending them off $30,000 in debt believing that they’re chefs. “Being a chef is a lot more than knowing recipes and knowing how to cook. The real art behind it is learning how to run a kitchen, and that takes a lot of time,” he said.
After 35 years in the business, Colicchio’s seen trends come and go—like foam, that darling of molecular gastronomy. “I don’t have a problem with foams. I used them 20 years ago. They’re just a way to lighten a sauce, but now they’re overused.” A trend he expects to see rise is produce becoming more front and center, with proteins shrinking in both size and focus. “High quality protein is getting ridiculously expensive,” he said.

So what can we expect from Sunday’s one-man-show? “It’s very low key—no overhead projectors or fireworks. It’ll just be a conversation about food and my career, “Top Chef,” issues like domestic hunger, and a lot of Q&A.”

This isn’t Colicchio’s first time to Virginia. He lived in Virginia Beach for a year between jobs to help his friend (who now owns Coastal Grill) open a restaurant. I can’t help but think he’ll leave impressed by Charlottesville’s own top chefs.—Megan Headley

The VIP chef
As if it’s not enough pressure to follow Tom Colicchio, Commonwealth’s Executive Chef, Alex George, has to cook for him, too. But the chef of 14 years is thrilled for the opportunity to showcase what the restaurant does best for Colicchio and the 150 people attending the VIP after-party and book signing on Sunday night.

The swank new restaurant and skybar will serve bite-sized versions of its appetizers, like lobster and salt cod cakes with coconut and red pepper aïoli, and will mix up a couple of special tequila cocktails—Tom’s favorite. And what would George cook for his finale? Tea-smoked ostrich with sweet potato gratin, braised baby romaine, and wineberry jus. Sounds like a season of “Top Chef Charlottesville” might be in order.—M.H.

Our top chefs
Our town may be small, but we’re packing some mean talent behind the lines. Here’s what a half dozen of our top chefs would whip up for the judges (whether it’s Colicchio or mom) in the finale.

Mark Gresge, Owner/Executive Chef at l’etoile
“Roast chicken, kale salad, and chocolate cake.”

Jeanette Peabody, Chef de Cuisine at Hamiltons’ at First & Main
“Some local pork, vegetables, and sherry.”

Tucker Yoder, Executive Chef at The Clifton Inn
“For my wife, cheese agnolotti with kale and sausage. For my mom, foie gras terrine with brioche.”

Brice Cunningham, Executive Chef at Tempo
“Butter poached lobster with seared foie gras, celery root purée, white truffles and quail jus.”

Harrison Keevil, Owner/Executive Chef at Brookville Restaurant
“Crispy pork belly with applesauce and succotash.”

Dean Maupin, Executive Chef at Keswick Hall
“Some dish from a current Colicchio and Sons menu!”

*Due to scheduling issues, this event has been cancelled. 

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