Chit Chat Gal Spends Some Time With Tom And Padma From Top Chef Chicago
Chit Chat Gal: When choosing who wins a challenge or overall the Top Chef, do things besides the cooking come into consideration at all because they are obviously going to be leading cooks in their kitchens?
Tom Colicchio: No, nothing but the food comes into play. Season One there were a lot of, you know, personality traits that we attributed to Harold as sort of being a leader, but that -well that just sort of was coincidental. He happened to have those characteristics, but we are strictly judging on food. And in fact, all of the reality stuff that sort of happens behind the scenes, we don’t see that. We’re not privy to it. We don’t really know what’s going on. And so we try to stay as objective as possible and say we don’t have a horse in the race. We don’t really care.
We also are not allowed to spend time with the contestants at all. We see them when I’m doing the walkthrough. Padma sees them when she’s delivering the challenge. And we eat their food and we see them at the judge’s table. During all the time, we’re not allowed to even see them – you know, or have a conversation with them.
Padma Lakshmi: And actually, I really don’t want to.
Tom Colicchio: Right.
Padma Lakshmi: You know, I don’t care about their personal lives. I don’t care where they’re from. If they want to tell me anything, they should tell me whatever they want about themselves through their food.
And, you know, it’s – yeah, I think sometimes their personalities come to play in whether they can rally their teammates, you know, with them or if they’ve been able to over the course of the season garner the respect of their peers because of their, you know, behavior in the kitchen.
But again, that only works if they’re able to utilize that to get their goal accomplished, which is getting the best plate out there, that challenge or that Quickfire.
Chit Chat Gal: In all the seasons so far, could you guys tell me what your favorite and least favorite dishes were, and who they were done by?
Padma Lakshmi: So far on my time at Top Chef, the worst thing I ate was the chocolate gnocchi with a morsel of liver in it. And ironically, probably one of the best dishes I ate was from the same chef who won — Ilan Hall — and it was the Fideos with Chorizo and Clams in the last, in that same episode – same episode, same chef… …worst and best.
What the criteria was for the cheftestants in selecting them for your show?
Tom Colicchio: We don’t select them. There are casting agents that select them. They – obviously they need to be, you know, chefs and – but I couldn’t really speak to the actual criteria.
Padma Lakshmi: I think our producers go out and look at resumes, look at videotapes, meet them, interview them in many cases, and make their decision from there. I think by the time that Tom and I get on set, we pretty much look at who they’ve already selected.
I mean, sometimes they may ask for input on a couple of chefs if Tom knows them or I know them because we know the people they work for. But generally we don’t get involved in the casting process at all.
Tom Colicchio: When they’re down to about 20, I get resumes. The names are blanked off just to vet them through my sort of normal process of hiring, you know, cooks and chefs in my restaurant. if I’m looking at someone that’s worked, you know, at a great restaurant but they’ve only be there for a month…
Padma Lakshmi: And that tells you a lot.
Tom Colicchio: It tells you a lot. And so if they’re trying to make a decision between two different contestants, they may – I may weigh in on one or the other. But I get them without names on them.
I saw the first episode, really enjoyed it. My question, Tom is, you know, with the first challenge were you surprised at how many of the contestants really didn’t know how to make a classic dish?
Tom Colicchio: That always surprises me. It really does. But I think that’s indicative of culinary school these days and of young, you know, young cooks and young chefs or what their focus is sort of coming up. It used to be – back when I came up 25 years ago, you learn the classics because that’s what you were cooking in kitchens. But nowadays, I think there’s so much interest elsewhere.
I think they’re sewing – you know, casting a broad net and that often they don’t have to go through those dishes and learn them. And I’m – we’re always surprised, yeah.
Are these contestants a lot better than what we saw in that first episode?
Tom said that the chefs this season will bring a diverse wealth of talent and skills not seen before. What’s the major difference this season compared to the others?
Tom Colicchio: I think what happens is as the seasons go on, we’re getting better chefs applying. This season you’re not going to find a first year culinary student. You’re not going to find a housewife who can cook. You’re going to find professionals. In most cases, they are running kitchens at a sous chef level, chef level, chef cuisine level. Some own their own businesses.
And so I think that it’s become accepted in our industry that this is, you know, something that’s worth while and that I think, you know, better chefs are coming out every year.
Also I think a great credit to, you know, Tom and the producers as well is that, you know, it really is about the food. You’ll never find us attacking anybody personally or getting involved in their little spats, you know, whether we know about them or not or learn about them after the fact.
I think we’ve done – in the four seasons of Top Chef that have been on or about to go on the fourth season, I think what the great thing is, is that I have people all the time who come up to me on the street and say well,"I made this yesterday for my husband."
So I feel kind of tickled at the thought that we’re actually educating the TV viewer across the nation about these culinary terms and what it means to do a chiffonade versus a julienne or whatever.
What’s the biggest mistake you always see with new chefs, Tom?
Tom Colicchio: I think they try to do too much.
Padma Lakshmi: I was going to say the same thing.
Tom Colicchio: We find that most of the dishes – and I see this aside from the show with a lot of young chefs – they need to edit or if they removed a few of the ingredients from the dish, the dish is actually a stronger dish.
And I think that only comes through – I know I did it in my career. It just comes through experience and confidence. And I think the older you get and the more confident you are, you don’t need to rely on the bells and whistles.
Padma Lakshmi: I agree. And also, the better the chef the less ingredients they actually use because they know what flavors they want. They know how to achieve that and the flavors are strong and clear, and come through, and aren’t muddled.
Top Chef Chicago Kicks Off The Season Wednesday, March 12th at 10/9c