Tom Colicchio Biography

Chef(1962–)
Tom Colicchio is a restaurateur and author who stars in the award-winning reality TV show Top Chef.

Synopsis

Tom Colicchio was born on August 15, 1962, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He learned to cook from his mother and grandmother and started working as a teen chef in a hometown seafood restaurant. He established the popular eatery Gramercy Tavern in 1994 and would later open the Craft line of restaurants. He’s starred in the hit reality TV show Top Chef, which won an Emmy in 2010.

Early Career

Chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio was born on August 15, 1962, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Tom Colicchio grew up cooking with his mother and grandmother in the kitchen of their Italian-American home. As a teenager, he taught himself the culinary fundamentals from the classic books La Technique and La Methode by French chef Jacques Pépin. His father suggested that Colicchio pursue food as a career. He got his first job at the age of 17 in the kitchen of Evelyn's Seafood Restaurant in Elizabeth.

The self-trained Colicchio was eager to test out his knife skills in the big city. He began working in a string of New York City restaurants: The Quilted Giraffe (where he was promoted to sous chef after just four months on the job), Gotham Bar & Grill and Rakel and Mondrian, where he was named one of the Top 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine.

In 1993, Colicchio and his then-girlfriend welcomed a son named Dante, born eight weeks early and weighing less than 2.5 pounds. Unable to ride in the ambulance with the baby, Colicchio ran in the rain in his delivery-room scrubs to the neonatal intensive care unit. Though doctors warned that the boy could suffer defects, Dante grew to be a healthy child.

Gramercy Tavern and Craft

Shortly after, Colicchio teamed up with Danny Meyer, a celebrated New York restaurateur. In July 1994, the pair opened Gramercy Tavern, an ambitious experiment intended to reinvent the American concept of four-star dining. Their restaurant soon became one of the hottest eateries in town, earning rave reviews from critics and diners alike. In 2000, Colicchio was awarded the James Beard Foundation's prestigious Best Chef-New York award.

In March 2001, Colicchio left full-time operations at Gramercy Tavern (he sold his shares in 2006) to open his own restaurant, Craft, just one block away. The restaurant focused on simple, exquisitely prepared meat and vegetable dishes. "I wanted to showcase the craftsmanship of cooking, not the artistry," he said. "And the way to do that is to have the highest-quality ingredients and do as little to them as possible and serve them as simply as possible." In 2002, the James Beard Foundation named Craft the Best New Restaurant of the year.

September 2001 Wedding

After splitting from Dante's mother, Colicchio began dating Lori Silverbush, a filmmaker who waited tables at Gramercy Tavern. The couple became engaged and planned a wedding for September 15, 2001. On September 11, the day after they arrived in Martha's Vineyard to prepare for the ceremony, terrorists struck New York and Washington. The couple considered canceling, especially after Colicchio received news that several former Gramercy Tavern employees were missing from the Windows on the World restaurant. "We felt we didn't have the right to experience joy," Colicchio said. "But people called and said, 'You've got to carry on.'" The wedding went ahead as scheduled, though the couple canceled their honeymoon so that Colicchio could volunteer as a cook for rescue workers downtown.

Further Success

Throughout the 2000s, Colicchio expanded the Craft family of restaurants across the United States. His restaurants came to include Craftsteak, an upscale steakhouse; Craftbar, a more-casual food and drink establishment; and 'wichcraft, a sandwich shop. He also became well known outside his dedicated foodie fanbase as the host of Top Chef, a popular Bravo reality show that pits chefs against one another in a cooking competition.

Colicchio also grabbed headlines in 2009 for a different kind of achievement in the kitchen: he saved the life of cookbook author Joan Nathan. By performing the Heimlich maneuver on Nathan, Colicchio saved the writer from choking on a piece of chicken at a food event.

In 2010, Colicchio was named the nation's top chef by the James Beard Foundation, one of the most prestigious prizes in the culinary world. Despite his massive food empire, Colicchio still values simplicity. His favorite seasonings are salt and pepper, and his favorite kitchen tool remains the basic 10-inch chef knife. And his number one rule for a successful kitchen? "Clean up after yourself!"

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