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Top Chef 

Top Chef's Tom Colicchio

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Pots & Pans
Top Chef's Tom Colicchio

If there was a reality series about how most American families “cook,” then watching obese soccer moms pick-up curbside carryout from the Outback wouldn’t be must-see TV.

Thankfully, Bravo’s sizzling buffet of drama served on Top Chef is way more entertaining than any Opa! you’ve ever ordered in Greektown. From the hilarious Season One catfights between Dave and Tiffani to Marcel’s foam fetishes that drove Ilan mad in Season Two, it’s always hot in the kitchen.

The conflicts between the contestants have separated the show from the redundant bullying of Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen or The Restaurant, where celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito ran his place to the ground.

For its third season, Top Chef has relocated to Miami to spice things up, and added Queer Eye Ted Allen as a judge, joining Padma Lakshmi and Food & Wine Magazine's Gail Simmons. The pre-season began with a bang, as the top four chefs from each of the first two seasons faced off against each other in a cook off, preparing meals for Season Three's contestants. The new kids have a go starting tonight.

Real Detroit spoke with one of Top Chef’s judges, renowned restauranteur and celebrated chef Tom Colicchio.

How is having Queer Eye’s Ted Allen as a permanent judge this season?
Ted is a good guy, has a different point of view and he’s funny, so it's fun. My feeling is that I go into the judges’ table with my impression of who did the best, who did the worst and if someone can convince me otherwise, then great. I like the debate.

Does Bravo have a say at the judges’ table?
Number one, the producers have absolutely nothing to do with choosing who wins, nothing. They’re there with us when we’re deliberating so we’re adhering to the rules, ‘cause besides the rules the contestants hear and you see, there's a whole slew of legal jargon as to how the challenges are set up.

You judges do a good job of looking past the drama.
We shoot everything in one month. We don’t see what’s going on wherever they’re staying. When I said to Elia [Season Two], “I don’t care what’s going on in the kitchen,” I meant that we’re judging how well they were able to accomplish the challenge and how good the food is. If Marcel is in the kitchen being a jerk, what do I care?

Why does America love these reality cooking shows?
I think it’s a subject that people like. Everybody eats and people are just so into food these days. It’s become part of our pop-culture, chefs are kinda revered nowadays. I think half the people watch Top Chef 'cause they love food and the other half because it’s entertaining.

How about a spin off? Top Bus Boy? Top Valet?
I don’t know if that’s interesting. Maybe Top Pastry Chef.

During the show, when you check up on the chefs in the kitchen, have you ever had the urge to take control?
I can’t do that. I’m not allowed to tell them what to do. In Season One with Harold, there was a moment where he was making ice cream and didn’t realize there was an ice cream machine in the kitchen and he was trying to do it by hand. I wasn’t allowed to say, “There’s an ice cream machine, Harold, why don’t you use it?” But what I did say is “Hey, do we have an ice cream machine in the kitchen?”

How does the elimination round compare to a night of service in your kitchen?
It’s different; you can’t. I don’t ever look at what they do and say, “I would’ve done it this way.” Becoming Top Chef isn’t about becoming Tom.

I can feel your passion for food through the phone.
I’ve been doing this all my life. Back when I got involved when I was 14 or 15 years old and started cooking, there was no chef on TV or the idea of a celebrity chef. I did it ‘cause I loved cooking. It’s a little frustrating nowadays, you get a lot of these kids that come out of culinary school and want to be the next Emeril Lagasse.

Is it possible for you to have a regular dining experience?
I have normal nights out all the time. I learned a long time ago, when I was 18 years old, dating. We would go out to dinner and I would be criticizing the food and finally she goes, “This isn’t fun, I can’t enjoy my meal because all you do is criticize.” If I go to a local neighborhood restaurant and I’m paying $45 a person, I have a level of expectation and it’s not going to be the same level if I go to a four-star restaurant where I know I’m gonna get an incredible experience. If it’s a good slice of pizza, I’m happy.

OK, I give you gnocchi, saffron and veal. What will you make me?
Well, first of all, I’d rather make my own gnocchi than you giving it to me. Saffron … veal … probably just end up braising … You’re giving me veal, what are you giving me? Are you giving me chop, leg meat — is it shank? I’d rather you give me shank and I’d braise it with saffron and make a ragu and spoon it over the top of the gnocchi. The other thing you can do is make a saffron gnocchi and use it as a garnish for the chop. When you’re talking about food at a certain level, you gotta get past the ingredients and go to how would you do things.

What’s your kitchen like? Do you have a George Foreman Grill?
No, I don’t have one (laughs). My kitchen is very basic. I don’t have a fancy stove, very simple stuff. If you want to spend money on stuff in a kitchen, go buy good pots and pans. That, and knives. 

Ginsu knives?
No, no, no. Those are horrible.  | RDW

Top Chef Season Three premieres tonight, June 13, at 10 p.m. on Bravo.

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Top Chef's Tom Colicchio
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