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‘Top Chef’ Head Judge Tom Colicchio Named MSNBC’s First Food Correspondent

‘Top Chef’ Head Judge Tom Colicchio Named MSNBC’s First Food Correspondent

It’s time to have “a more in-depth discussion about food,” Colicchio says

Colicchio’s segments will highlight issues of food policy that deserve a wider audience, like food insecurity, GMO transparency, and the effects of our agricultural industry on the environment.

Tom Colicchio, the chef, restaurateur, and noted food activist, has been named the first food correspondent to join MSNBC, the network has announced.

In his new role, Colicchio, whose face is already familiar from his long tenure on Top Chef, will cover issues of food policy and host his own weekly show called Stirring the Pot on Shift, the network’s new online channel.

Colicchio is one of the country’s most outspoken voices on food and public health issues, including the proper identification of GMOs, the ongoing problem of food insecurity, and the expansion of a free school lunch program. Not to mention, Colicchio is a co-founder of Food Policy Action, a group that keeps track of how each member of Congress votes on food-related issues.

At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, February 18, Colicchio will host a live Twitter chat about his new role. Submit questions and follow the conversation with #msnbcchat.

In his first promotional video for the network, Colicchio says he hopes to enhance people’s awareness of how food is related to every other part of our lives, and even invites Congress to break bread with him.

If you missed it, check out our exit interview with Mei Lin, the newest winner of Top Chef Boston.

Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio Talks Sunday Gravy, Yelp Reviews, And Food Trends At The Speed of Internet

Tom Colicchio has been a head judge on Top Chef for 11 years now, delivering some of our favorite, most devastatingly bitchy food disses along the way. Choice words like “did Snooki serve this?” and “I love chamomile, but I couldn’t taste it.”

Of course, the reason the show works, and the reason we’re still watching, is that while some of the disses may be bitchy, they’re rarely unfair. You can tell Colicchio isn’t there solely to stir up drama, or even to try to make himself into a big TV star. His criticisms are about the food, and the guy knows his stuff. Having worked in restaurants since he was a teenager, he’s a five-time James Beard Award winner, a veteran of New York’s acclaimed Gramercy Tavern, and current honcho of his Craft Restaurant group. Perhaps more important than all that (to a viewer, anyway) is that in a food show landscape littered with shticky screamers like Gordon Ramsay and Robert Irvine (or God forbid, Jon Taffer), Colicchio proves that louder isn’t better. And in fact he does more with a well placed smirk or eye roll than Ramsay does with a hundred plates smashed against walls.

Having hosted Best New Restaurant for Bravo and been named a food correspondent for MSNBC (a role which never panned out), he’ll be back for at least a few more seasons of Top Chef. One aspect of Colicchio’s career that receives less attention, however, is his advocacy work, which the New York Times called “arguably unmatched in both stridency and scope.”

He’s been working with food banks for years, as well as lobbying congress over school lunches and helping to promote a legislative scorecard tracking how congresspeople vote on food-related issues. We got the chance to speak with Colicchio over the phone recently as he was promoting America’s Better Sandwich Contest, for which Oroweat, will donate a loaf of bread for every submission. We tried to cover as much ground as we could in 15 minutes, and Colicchio obliged by being, as ever, pithy and succinct.

[Note: this interview took place a few days before Colicchio’s “racially-tinged restaurant name” controversy hit the news, which is why we never asked about it]

So, tell me about the sandwich contest.

So, I teamed up with Arnold, Oroweat and Brownberry and the contest is America’s Better Sandwich Contest. The really cool thing about this is, the contest is you submit your favorite sandwich recipe, and if you win you can win $25,000, but more importantly is Oroweat, Arnold and Brownberry, for every submission, they’re donating a loaf of bread to Feeding America. Feeding America is America’s leading anti-hunger organization. They support food pantries across the country and so, not only, if you win, can you put some bread in your pocket but you could really help to put some bread on to families’ tables that are really struggling.

Very cool. Going to general questions, do you have a first food memory?

Oh, God. A first food memory. Man, that’s a tough one. There are so many. A first one? I used to go fishing at a very young age with my grandfather and every morning, before we’d go fishing, early in the morning, he’d wake up and he would make eggs and peppers. He would fry peppers and onions and then, almost like a frittata, crack eggs in it. That smell, waking up in the morning is one of the first things I remember. I mean, I started going out with him when I was three or four years and I remember that smell. And to this day, if I go out fishing in the morning, I try to make eggs and peppers. In fact, I went out just yesterday. It was my birthday and we went out and I made that dish. But that was one of the first food memories that I can remember, yeah.

Where did you guys fish?

Speaking of Jersey, I know you’re an Italian-American from Jersey and I’ve heard you bash people on Top Chef for making “Jersey red sauce,” and I think last season you asked someone, “Did Snooki serve this?” Can you tell me about your relationship with New Jersey Italian food?

No, I love it, I think I bashed it because it wasn’t a very good version of it. That’s something I know really well. But everyone has their own family recipe and so, for me, I grew up by my mom’s gravy, as we call it, and it holds a special place and so, I think that was the point that I was giving someone a hard time for giving me red sauce and the fact that I’m from New Jersey. So, I wasn’t bashing New Jersey red sauce. I grew up on it, it’s in my veins.

When you make gravy, [tomato] paste or no paste?

I don’t use it, I don’t use paste. My mother did, I don’t use it, no.

I know you never went to culinary school, do you have strong feelings one way or another about the value of culinary school?

I think education’s important, no matter what school you go to. If you want a career in the culinary arts, I think you need to sort of understand where you want to go. If you want to go to small restaurants, I think the best thing to do is work in restaurants for a couple of years before you go to school. It’s expensive to go to school, you’re paying back student loans, and I think it’s a decision the individual needs to make. I hire kids who have gone to culinary school, kids who didn’t go to culinary school. I don’t really have a preference to either one but I really think you should work in a few restaurants before you make that choice.

Yeah. I mean, sometimes people find out, they work in restaurants after culinary school and they don’t like working in restaurants. I mean, the great thing is that there’s a lot of different career choices you can make if you want to be in food, especially nowadays. There’s a lot of different ways to go. So, I think you should just make sure you like working in restaurants first.

How has the world changed now that you can see what people in Spain or Japan or something are cooking online, without physically being there?

Yeah, you know, that’s a great question. And I’ve talked about this in the past. It used to be, if you wanted to see someone’s food, you’d have to get on a plane. So, I used to go to France every year or Italy every year, I’ve taken trips to Japan, just to really sort of understand what people are doing. Nowadays, with the click of a mouse, you can see someone’s dishes. And so, I think what that does is trends move around the world very quickly. All of a sudden you’ll see a different way of plating food and you’ll see it somewhere and within a week you’ll see it in 10, 20, 30, 40 restaurants.

And so, I think what it does, in a way, is … You know, chefs, you’re not seeing this personal style from chefs. You’re seeing a lot of … And people aren’t taking dishes whole cost from a chef, but there’s just a lot of borrowing that’s going on right now and I think the better chefs really distinguish themselves because they do their own thing, they don’t try to imitate or try to copy and so, again, it’s okay to get out there and see what’s going on, but ultimately, I think if you’re going to be a great chef you’ve got to find your own way and make your own statement.

Right. And speaking on those trends, you as a restaurateur, how much at the mercy of other trends do you feel like you are? Like, what’s the balance between expanding peoples’ palates and having to meet their expectations?

I don’t feel any pressure to follow trends. In fact, I try to really stay away from them, but I think you’re picking on something that is really is important. You should always be attuned to what your customers’ wants and needs are, I think that’s really important. Now, if they’re following trends, then that’s fine, but I think that if you’re going to be a successful restaurateur, successful chef, you need customers. And so, my feeling is that your goal, or at least the goal we have in our restaurants are, is making people happy. And so, if we can do that by providing them something that they want that’s different, new and exciting, great, but yet, if they want something that is basic and approachable, we should be able to that as well.

Is there anything you felt like you had to put on a menu that you were really reluctant to, now or in the past?

Yeah, I’m laughing now, because Craft, we just opened for lunch about a year ago and everyone insists that you have to have a burger on a lunch menu. And I really didn’t want to do it, but I caved in and I did it. I don’t have anything against burgers, but I don’t think you should … As a customer, I don’t think you should expect that every restaurant that you go to there should be a burger.

I mean Le Bernardin is a great seafood restaurant here in New York. I don’t think you’d go there expecting a burger.

Right. So, Top Chef, along with a few other things that I watch, feels like it’s sort of on the cutting edge of making food culture mainstream, and usually that’s a good thing. But have you ever had any customer or fan interactions where you think “Oh, God, we’ve created a monster.”

Oh. All the time. You know, it usually happens if I’m out to dinner and you’re sitting next to a table and you overhear a conversation and I hear them parroting the stuff that I say on the show. It’s like like, oh God, when they’re like “Oh, the amuse-bouche just isn’t really up to speed.” It’s like, really? Come on.

But you know what? It is great. Food has become part of popular culture, in this country and I think around the world. On one hand, it’s kind of funny to see what we’ve created but on the other hand it is really great. And I think what’s really great about it is young kids, now, are really in to food. And that’s good, because part and parcel of being into food is being into nutrition. And if you can get kids into nutritious food at a young age, you get them interested in food at a young age, that will carry through the rest of their life. And so that’s what I’m most proud of on the show, is the amount of young kids we have managed to bring into food culture.

In fact, Top Chef, we just shot a Top Chef Junior. I wasn’t involved in the production, but that’s really neat. So, yeah, you’re right, it has become part of popular culture for good or bad.

Was that something that you’d pushed back on in the past?

Oh, no. Actually, I wanted to do it a long time ago because I kept running in to kids who just love the show and there’s certain complications when you’re working with children, there’s certain rules and regulations. They have to have tutors on the set, they can only work six hours at a time. And so, looking at our production, we’re working 16 hour days. And so, it definitely limits how quickly you can get a show up and running. I think the other shows that were on network, where they spent a little more money in the production, they were able to bring kids in a little easier, but we finally managed to figure it out.

Right. So, on Top Chef, you guys, there’s a … You get the chefs that are winning awards and being honored for certain things, and I always wondered, like, I got 15 restaurants on my street and I haven’t been to half of them. When they’re doing those awards, how do they get a realistic cross-section, I guess?

We have great casting agents and what we do is we cast in probably 8 to 10 different cities and a lot of it is interview process. We’re looking to cast for diversity, for both racial diversity, we’re looking for equal amounts of men and women but you also have to have some serious chops. So, for the most part, we only bring in executive chefs or chef de cuisines, maybe a senior sous chef level. So, obviously, that’s important. But we know, we try to be inclusive and I think that’s also part of our success. The show is interesting. The show is fun, but there’s also serious food as well. So, I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.

As a restaurateur, how do you feel about Yelp reviews?

I think they’re fine. When you look at Yelp, or if you look at any of the other crowd-sourced review sites, you’re not looking at individual reviews. If you respond to individual reviews, you’ll make yourself nuts. You have to look at trends and you have to look at trend lines. And so, if I’m noticing over the course of a week, I’m getting a lot of complaints about salty food, for instance, then I know I have a problem. But then in the course of an evening service, there’s four to six cooks working around a stove, right?

So, now I’ve got to figure out where’s the problem? If someone’s complaining about fish being salty, then I need to go to that fish cook. And so, again, you’re looking at trend lines and not just individual reviews. So, I think, there it’s helpful. But you know, I’ve read reviews on Yelp of restaurants that aren’t even open yet, so. You kind of have to look at the big picture.

What are some of your favorite and least favorite restaurant trends, right now?

Hard to say. I don’t get out that often. I’m actually going out tonight, for dinner, but I don’t get out that often. I think … I’ll say what I like, instead of what I don’t like. I like, right now, that you’re seeing restaurants that are much more focused. You’re seeing menus that are shrinking down, you’re seeing six appetizers, six entrees, and that’s it. And so I think the chefs are realizing that, number one, there’s better economics doing fewer things, I think that you can be specialists and you can be known for doing a certain thing. You don’t have to be known for doing everything. Not everything needs to be what I call the Gap of foods. You don’t have to have something for everyone. I think you need to find your niche and really stick to that. I think right now the marketplace, as you mentioned, 15 restaurants on your block, there’s this over-saturation of restaurants and I think you need to stand out and a way to stand out is to be specialized and not to try to be a generalist.

On that note, are there things that you don’t order when you eat out because you think you can, you know, you’re like “I can cook this better at home.”

No, I probably can’t cook it better at home. No, no, I’m looking at the ingredients that sound different. Every now and then you’ll find a combination of things that you’ve never thought of. Even just this past season, we just shot our 15th season of Top Chef in the spring and someone put together a dish with sour cherries and lovage. Lovage is an herb that kind of tastes like celery and I thought that combination was amazing, I’d never had it before. And so, for me, on the menu, I’m looking for different combinations of things that are different and unique.

Or, quite frankly, what I’m really in the mood to eat. That’s what it comes down to. I’m looking at a menu and it’s like “Am I in the mood for something really challenging or do I want something very simple tonight?” Do I want … I always will come out, for some reason, I always like game birds, so I’m looking at that. Not the season for game birds right now, I think it’s a good season for fish right now, especially local fish. So, it all depends.

What I don’t want to see right now, I certainly don’t want to walk in to a restaurant right now and find butternut squash. I’m looking for something that’s seasonal.

Are there things that you love that you’d want to put on a menu but don’t because it’s too hard to get right or because the economics of it just work out?

No, I don’t think so. We have upscale restaurants and so you can charge what you need to charge for food. There are some things that are challenging in terms of putting food out during a busy service. And for instance, doing something like a fish stew, where you have shellfish and maybe shrimp and lobster and thin fish, all those little things that have to be cooked differently, at different times, so they cook properly, that’s hard to pull off. So, I always keep that in mind, how busy the service is going to be. We may do that just during the week and, on weekends, maybe take it off the menu.

Right, and when you’re judging Top Chef, do you sort of judge by degree of difficulty like that, in addition to just how good it tastes?

No, we’re just looking at how the food tastes. We’re looking at how food tastes, how it’s seasoned, if it’s cooked properly, what the intention of the chef is, and then, does it adhere to the actual challenge, and that’s really it.


Colicchio is a “self-trained chef,” reality TV show host and restaurant entrepreneur.[1]


Colicchio has no formal training or education beyond high school. At age 17, Tom made his kitchen debut in his native town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, at Evelyn’s Seafood Restaurant and worked and trained at various restaurants in New York such as The Quilted Giraffe, Gotham Bar & Grill, Rakel, and Mondrian.[2]


In July 1994, Colicchio and his business partner Danny Meyer opened Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park neighborhood. In 2001, Colicchio opened Craft one block south of Gramercy Tavern. He has since opened Craftsteak at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (2002), Craft and Craftbar in Los Angeles (2007 2009) and Craftsteak at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods (2008). Colicchio opened his first ‘wichcraft – a sandwich shop rooted in the same food and hospitality philosophies as Craft – in New York City in 2003.

Today ‘wichcraft has 15 New York City locations, as well as locations at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the Westfield Center in San Francisco. In 2010 Colicchio opened Colicchio & Sons in New York. In 2012 he opened the restaurant at Topping Rose House, a new inn he is operating in Bridgehampton, New York. Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak at The Mirage in Las Vegas opened in August 2013.

He claims, “We use only high quality, fresh, healthy ingredients from small family farms and other specialized venues to make every dish burst with flavor. 90% of ingredients at our restaurants are organic. When you work with food every day, you look for the best out there. Organic food is produced without the use of potentially hazardous synthetic chemicals like artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, genetically modified seeds (GMOs) or pesticides.”[3]

Top Chef TV Show

Since 2006 Collichio has appeared as the head judge on Bravo’s hit reality cooking series “Top Chef.” The Emmy-winning show is currently in its 11th season. He also appears in and served as executive producer on A Place at the Table, Participant Media’s documentary about food insecurity in America, produced and directed by Kristi Jacobson and Colicchio’s wife, Lori Silverbush.


Colicchio is a promoted “partner” of the Environmental Working Group advocating against GMOs and conventional agriculture (including pesticide use) while promoting organic alternatives. EWG claims, “We couldn’t be more proud to have a partner like him in our fight for access to healthier, toxin-free food for our families.”[4] He considers himself a “food activist” who demands labeling of GMOs.[5]

Colicchio has also criticized the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture promoting a the Food Policy Action scorecard.[6]

In interviews he has recommended people stop eating fast food and anything with corn to avoid GMOs.[7] He claims his restaurants are 90% organic and about his support he says, “If you think about the organic movement, it actually started back in the 60s by activists who opposed the use of pesticides. People started to realize that chemicals like DDT, Agent Orange etc are dangerous for the environment, capable of inflicting horrible damage to the body, and the movement took off from there. Nowadays, we have entirely organic stores and more and more farmers are growing healthy produce. We need the farmers that are doing this. There’s a certain connection they have and a certain passion they have for it and we absolutely share that passion. Our restaurants buy a lot of food from the local farmers and this is how we support them.”[8]

Colicchio was one of 700 chefs who signed a petition to Congress to label GMO foods in December 2014. The petition supports legislation sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

“As a chef and father, I want to know what I’m serving my customers and kids, and the majority of Americans want honest information about the food on their tables,” said Chef Colicchio, owner of Craft Restaurants and co-founder of Food Policy Action. “Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for.”

Tom Colicchio Out at MSNBC Neko Atsume Cookies

Happy day-before-Friday, humans, food lovers, Eater readers. It took less than 24 hours for Donald Trump to take credit for Budweiser's new 'America' beer. The famous teetotaler heads to Washington today. Perhaps he'll make time to stop by for a chat with DC-based chef José Andrés? Then again, perhaps not. In other news: Tom Brady's cookbook sold out, somehow? MSNBC sort of fired its first ever food correspondent Burger King's new Whopper Dogs are like a bizarre incestual mash-up only a fast food restaurant would think up and more.

— Remember that complicated cookbook NFL star Tom Brady was selling on his website for a whopping $200? It has sold out, according to ESPN. Of note, though it contains recipes, "Tom does not want it to be called a cookbook. It is a 'nutrition manual.'" Ok, Tom, whatever you say Tom.

— Speaking of Toms: Just over a year after he was named MSNBC's first ever food correspondent, Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio is out, AdAge reports. The network apparently filmed an interview segment titled "Everyone Eats," and a video series called "Stirring the Pot" with Colicchio. Neither aired.

Top Chef Washington D.C. Details: Eric Ripert on as Judge + Contestants Revealed

Bravo announced the details of Top Chef Washington DC, and hooray: Joining Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons as a regular guest judge is chef Eric Ripert. Is the much-maligned Toby Young out as judge. His name appears nowhere in the press release or on the recently-updated Top Chef bios page.

Season seven will also include appearances by Apollo Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, White House chef Sam Kass, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, and CIA Director Leon Panetta. Top Chef Washington D.C. premieres Wednesday, June 16th.

Top Chef Washington DC Contestants

Alex Reznik
AGE: 33
HOMETOWN: Brooklyn, NY – currently resides in Hollywood, CA
PROFESSION: Executive Chef, Ivan Kane’s Café Was
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas, NV
FAVORITE RECIPE: Avocado panna cotta with pickled ramps and tomato
Growing up in Brooklyn, the son of a first-generation European family, food was an integral part of Alex's early life. Watching his Russian mother and grandmother cooking in preparation for the daily ritual of good food and conversation set Alex on a path towards creative cooking. After travelling extensively throughout Europe, Alex found himself working in Las Vegas at the legendary, five-star restaurant, Lutecé. During his tenure as chef at multiple Bally's/Paris resort restaurants, Alex met famed nightlife entrepreneur, Ivan Kane. The two discovered a shared philosophy for great food and impeccable service. Thus was born Hollywood's Cafe Was. Alex's philosophy is to marry local, seasonal ingredients with classic French techniques to create honest, Californian bistro cuisine. Today, in the kitchen or dining room, Alex's passion for his craft is lauded by loyal customers and critics alike.

Amanda Baumgarten
AGE: 27
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, CA – currently resides in Los Angeles
PROFESSION: Sous Chef, Ford’s Filling Station
CULINARY EDUCATION: Le Cordon Bleu in London
FAVORITE RECIPE: Roasted baby lamb with pomme cocotte persillade
A Los Angeles native, Amanda attended Le Cordon Bleu in London and went on to work at four different Michelin-starred restaurants including La Tante Claire and Le Gavroche in London and Melisse and Patina in LA. From there, she went onto become Executive Sous Chef of Paperfish before joining Ford’s Filling Station as Executive Chef. A gifted butcher with a distinct sense of flavor and style, Amanda loves to make any meat on the bone, but her favorite dish to prepare is Foie Gras Torohon.

Andrea Curto-Randazzo
AGE: 39
HOMETOWN: Vero Beach, FL – currently resides in Miami, FL
PROFESSION: Chef/Owner, Talula Restaurant and Creative Tastes Catering
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, Culinary Institute of America
FAVORITE RECIPE: Fresh berries with zabaglione
Andrea has been a rising star in the culinary world ever since she graduated from the CIA with honors. After working in the kitchens at Tribeca Grill and Aja in NYC, she returned to Miami where she worked at The Heights and Wish. In 2000, during her tenure at Wish, she was named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s “Best New Chefs.” In 2003, she and her husband, Frank, opened their own restaurant, Talula, which was named “The Place To Be Now” by The New York Times. A mother of three, she counts chocolate pudding, ice cream and popcorn with Raisinettes as some of her favorite indulgences.

Angelo Sosa
AGE: 35
HOMETOWN: Durham, CT – currently resides in New York, NY
PROFESSION: Chef/Owner, Xie Xie
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, Culinary Institute of America
FAVORITE RECIPE: Steamed madai snapper with lily bulbs
Angelo, who opened his Asian-influenced sandwich restaurant Xie Xie (“thank you” in Mandarin) in July 2009, has worked with some of the best chefs and restaurateurs in the world. Early in his career, he met Jean-Georges Vongerichten who became his mentor, and went on to work for him at Jean Georges, Dune and Spice Market, where he served as Executive Sous Chef. Shortly thereafter, he was invited by Alain Ducasse to create a special seasonal menu at his Paris restaurant
Spoon Food & Wine, the first American to receive such an honor. Angelo, who also created the menu for Buddakan, the Stephen Starr hotspot restaurant in NYC, always has salt, Japanese fish sauce, cinnamon, green cardamom and lily bulbs handy in the kitchen.

Arnold Myint
AGE: 32
HOMETOWN: Nashville, TN
PROFESSION: Chef/Owner, Cha Chah
CULINARY EDUCATION: Culinary Arts Diploma, Institute of Culinary Education
FAVORITE RECIPE: Anything with peas
Inspired by his mother who has run a successful restaurant for over 30 years, Arnold is the Executive Chef
and owner of three popular restaurants in Nashville: Cha Chah, which was voted Best New Restaurant by Nashville Scene (2009), Suzy Wong's House of Yum and PM. Once a competitive professional figure skater, Arnold is also an expert mixologist, savvy event planner and has been known to appear as Suzy Wong herself to promote his latest concept. Arnold's culinary approach is mirrored by his colorful life.

Ed Cotton
AGE: 32
HOMETOWN: Boston, MA – currently resides in New York City
PROFESSION: Executive Chef, Plein Sud at the Smyth Hotel
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, Culinary Institute of America
FAVORITE RECIPE: Fresh Farm Egg Ravioli with a silky English pea puree, spring onion fondue and crispy pancetta
In high school, Ed got an early start on his culinary career working for acclaimed chef Todd English at Olives where he began to hone his knife and pastry skills before helping open Figs in Wellesley, MA. After culinary school, he rejoined English working at Olives in Boston and Las Vegas. After spending a year out west, he returned to Boston to become the Executive Sous Chef at the award-winning No.9 Park in Beacon Hill where he worked alongside Barbara Lynch. From there, he set his sights on the Big Apple where he landed a job working with Daniel Boulud at db Bistro Moderne and Daniel. For more than five years, he worked with Boulud, helping him open eateries across the country. Before joining Plein Sud earlier this year where he has been cooking up a storm, Ed was the Chef de Cuisine at BLT Market and loves to make any dish with rabbit.

Jacqueline Lombard
AGE: 33
HOMETOWN: Grew up in Boston, MA – currently resides in Brooklyn, NY
PROFESSION: Chef/Owner, Jacqueline Lombard Events
CULINARY EDUCATION: French Culinary Institute, WSET, The Sommelier Society of America
FAVORITE RECIPE: Summer Corn Risotto with Butter-Poached Lobster, Black Truffles and Green Onions
Jacqueline is a private chef, sommelier and event producer whose company, Jacqueline Lombard Events, caters to both private and corporate clients nationwide, including Balenciaga, Glamour, Jil Sander, Miele USA, Osklen, Bergdorf Goodman, Barterhouse Imports, Stella McCartney, Wines of Argentina, ViniPortugal, and Wine Enthusiast Magazine, among many others. Her chic, seasonal and sustainable approach to her work has garnered her praise for both the quality of her food, wine education and business practices. Recently Jacqueline revived the venerable Florent restaurant as Executive Chef of Gansevoort 69. Currently she is working on an exciting new concept, serving as Executive Chef of Leña in New York City. Jacqueline is also the Dining & Wine Editor of the

John Somerville
AGE: 42
HOMETOWN: Ohio -- Currently resides in West Bloomfield, MI
PROFESSION: Chef de Cuisine, The Lark
CULINARY EDUCATION: BS In Engineering, University of Michigan
FAVORITE RECIPE: Spiced Spring cucumbers with dill
Growing up in rural Ohio, John developed an appreciation for farm fresh ingredients at a young age. He attended the University of Michigan and earned a degree in Engineering before deciding to pursue his culinary dream. In 1994, he joined The Lark as a Garde Manger, working his way up the ladder to his current position as Chef de Cuisine. He has received two James Beard Nominations for Best Chef: Great Lakes (2008 and 2009) and is recognized as one of the best chefs in the greater Detroit area. His philosophy is “spreading the infectious spirit of cooking!”

Kelly Liken
AGE: 33
HOMETOWN: Pittsburgh, PA – currently resides in Vail, CO
PROFESSION: Chef/Owner, Kelly Liken in Vail and Rick & Kelly’s American Bistro in Edwards, CO
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, Culinary Institute of America
FAVORITE RECIPE: Parmesan-mascarpone tortellini with spring vegetables and crispy artichokes
Graduating first in her class at the Culinary Institute of America, Kelly is one of the country’s most promising female chefs. In 2008, she was featured in Bon Appetit’s “Women Chefs: The Next Generation” and was a 2009 and 2010 James Beard Semi-Finalist for Best Chef Southwest. A small town girl at heart, she has passed up on offers from heavyweight chefs including Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud to stay in Colorado where she feels grounded. Kelly cooks seasonal American cuisine with a strong commitment to locally sourced organic ingredients. She loves to make soup, lamb and anything grilled.

Kenny Gilbert
AGE: 36
HOMETOWN: Euclid, OH – currently resides in Telluride, CO
PROFESSION: President/Owner, Passionate Culinary Enterprises LLC Chef/Partner, G’s Restaurant Group
CULINARY EDUCATION: Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts
FAVORITE RECIPE: A tomato and mozzarella salad with an onion marmalade
Kenny is the President/Owner of Passionate Culinary Enterprises and Chef/Partner for G's Restaurant Group. His cuisine ranges from American Regional, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Native American, Moroccan and African. After graduating from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Kenny went on to become a Chef de Cuisine at the young age of 23 at The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, FL, a AAA Five Diamond Restaurant, and the youngest African-American chef ever to run a Ritz-Carlton Hotel restaurant. An intense and no-nonsense chef, Kenny once split his pants open while cooking a 10-course meal and didn’t even blink an eye. If he could have his last meal with anyone, it would be President Obama, and he would prepare a modern American Southern meal.

Kevin Sbraga
AGE: 31
HOMETOWN: Willingboro, NJ – currently resides in Willingboro, NJ
PROFESSION: Executive Chef, Rat’s Restaurant at the Grounds for Sculpture
CULINARY EDUCATION: BS, Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales in Miami, FL
A self-proclaimed “beast in the kitchen” with unrivaled knife skills, Kevin is currently the Executive Chef at Rat’s at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ, which is managed by Stephen Starr. After earning his BS of Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales in Miami, Kevin went on to become the Chef de Cuisine at The Grill at Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel and was included in the 2007 list of “Top 10 Chefs” by Philadelphia Style magazine. In 2008, Kevin served as the Culinary Director of Garces Restaurant Group and was named winner of Best Meat Presentation at Bocuse d’Or USA. This African American, Italian chef declares he’s the “Barack Obama of the cooking game” and wants to prove that “he can.”

Lynne Gigliotti
AGE: 51
HOMETOWN: Philadelphia, PA– currently resides in Hyde Park, NY
PROFESSION: Assistant Professor, Culinary Institute of America
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, Culinary Institute of America
FAVORITE RECIPE: Anything with peas and asparagus
A Chef for over 30 years, Lynne is looking to break the glass ceiling for female chefs by becoming only the second woman to become a Certified Master Chef. Currently an Assistant Professor at the CIA, where she said she would never step foot after graduation, Lynne previously was the Chef/Owner of Grappa, which was featured in Atlanta Magazine’s “Best of 1999” and named an Outstanding Restaurant in the 2001 Zagat Guide Atlanta. Ice cream is her favorite dish to make and also her favorite junk food.

Stephen Hopcraft
AGE: 40
HOMETOWN: Cleveland, OH – currently resides in Las Vegas, NV
PROFESSION: Executive Chef, Seablue at the MGM Grand
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, California Culinary Academy in San Francisco
FAVORITE RECIPE: Agholitti, a small pasta filled with goat cheese tossed in olive oil and tomato water.
Over-the-top and without a filter, Stephen has spent more than 12 years establishing new restaurants nationwide for award-winning chef and restaurateur Michael Mina. Currently the Executive Chef at Mina’s Seablue, the AAA Four Diamond restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, he has also worked alongside other high-profile chefs including Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter. A proud father of 14-month-old twins, Stephen’s style is all about putting a playful twist on classic dishes to create cutting-edge food.

Tamesha Warren
AGE: 24
HOMETOWN: Christ Church, Barbados – currently resides in Washington, DC
PROFESSION: Sous Chef, The Oval Room
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, The Art Institute of New York City
FAVORITE RECIPE: White asparagus soup
Born and raised in Barbados, Tamesha graduated from The Art Institute of New York City where she was on the President’s List. She went on to work at the world famous Jean Georges restaurant in NYC and was honored with gold and silver medals from the American Culinary Federation. Tamesha is currently the Sous Chef at The Oval Room, one of “Washington’s Power Restaurants,” located next to the White House and owned by Ashok Bajaj, one of the Capital’s biggest restaurateurs. Interested in playing with molecular elements, Tamesha cooks modern American food with French and Asian influences and is sure to bring a youthful, modern edge to the competition.

Tiffany Derry
AGE: 26
HOMETOWN: Beaumont, TX – currently resides in Dallas
PROFESSION: Executive Chef, Go Fish Ocean Club
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, The Art Institute of Houston
FAVORITE RECIPE: Spring risotto
Tiffany, a native Texan, definitely flaunts the “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude. She began working in the kitchen when she was 15 at IHOP where she learned speed, and by 17, her leadership skills in the business were evident as she became the youngest person to ever be in management there. She competed in ACF competitions to help pay for culinary school where she finished in the top of her class. In addition, she received her seafood
training from Houston’s Pesce Restaurant while still in school. Shortly after graduation, she went on to become the Executive Sous Chef of Grotto Cucina. Next, she returned to the Art Institute of Houston to do her other passion, teach culinary. In 2008, she was named Executive Chef of the Dallas hotspot Go Fish Ocean Club, which has received many accolades. Dijon, Creole mustard, champagne vinegar, kosher salt and Creole seasoning are the five ingredients she always has on hand.

Timothy Dean
AGE: 39
HOMETOWN: Washington D.C. – currently resides in Baltimore, MD
PROFESSION: Chef/Owner, Prime Steak House
FAVORITE RECIPE: Soft Shell Crab Tempura with Virginia Ramps, Morel Mushroom and Garlic Confit Emulsion
Timothy spent 12 years working on and off with the late, great chef, Jean-Louis Palladin, first at Jean-Louis in the famed Watergate Hotel, and later as Chef de Cuisine at Palladin in New York City. Currently the Chef and owner of Prime Steak House in Baltimore and Prime Steak House by Timothy Dean, which is slated to open this summer in Washington, DC, his first job in a kitchen was a dishwasher. He has worked alongside other notable chefs including Alain Ducasse, Roberto Donna, Guenter Seeger and Patrick Clark. A graduate of Howard University, he was named the university’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. His favorite dishes are Maine lobster with mac & cheese and shaved black truffles and pan seared Hudson Valley foie gras with rhubarb and 20-year-old Port wine sauce.

Tracey Bloom
AGE: 33
HOMETOWN: Shortsville, NY – currently resides in Atlanta, GA
PROFESSION: Executive Chef, Table 1280
CULINARY EDUCATION: AOS, Culinary Institute of America
FAVORITE RECIPE: English pea salad
Named one of 2008’s “Top 25 Chefs in Atlanta” by The Sunday Paper, Tracey is well known in the Atlanta culinary scene and is currently the Executive Chef at Table 1280, where she shows off her expertise in both the sweet and savory side of culinary arts. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, she decided to go down South to launch her culinary career as the opening Pastry Chef at the award winning Sia’s Restaurant in Duluth, GA. Tracey then joined the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group spending most of her time at 103 West under Chef Gary Donlick, before moving on to work as Sous Chef at Asher Restaurant in Roswell, GA, Oscar’s Restaurant in College Park, GA, and Luma in Winter Park, FL. She would have her last meal with Stevie Nicks and she would prepare Turkey salad sandwiches and homemade lemonade.

Press Release:


17 New Chefs Stir The Pot Along With Host Padma Lakshmi, Judges Tom Collichio and Gail Simmons, and New Judge Eric Ripert

NEW YORK – May 13, 2010 – Taste the culinary power on the seventh season of the No. 1 food show on cable, Bravo's Emmy and James Beard Award-winning series "Top Chef: Washington D.C.," premiering Wednesday, June 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. The 17 new chef'testants come face to face in the nation's capitol for the ultimate power play that will determine just who has the chops to become Top Chef.

This season captures the varied tastes of Washington D.C. and features appearances by some of the town's top names including Apollo Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, White House chef Sam Kass, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, CIA Director Leon Panetta and NBC White House Correspondent Savannah Guthrie. The challenges featured will be some of the most creative and inventive yet: the chefs take over the concession stands at the Nationals stadium, go inside the CIA's closely guarded headquarters and literally receive out of this world direction on one challenge from a NASA astronaut orbiting Earth .

Once again returning to the kitchen, cookbook author, actress and host Padma Lakshmi presides over the judge's table alongside head judge Tom Colicchio, recent James Beard Award-winner and chef/owner Craft Restaurants, and judge Gail Simmons of Food & Wine magazine. Joining the series as a regular guest judge is Eric Ripert, award-winning chef and owner of the acclaimed Le Bernardin restaurant in New York City, the 15th ranked best restaurant in the world.

The Emmy-nominated Magical Elves return to produce "Top Chef: Washington D.C." Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz ("Top Chef Masters," "Dance Your Ass Off"), Liz Cook and Casey Kriley serve as executive producers. Chaz Gray serves as co-executive producer.

The 17 "Top Chef: Washington D.C." chef'testants will be whittled down week by week as they compete to outshine their competition. The winning chef will receive $125,000 furnished by Dial Nutriskin, a feature in Food & Wine magazine, a showcase at the Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and will earn the title of "Top Chef." The Washington Hilton served as the production location for "Top Chef: Washington D.C."

To meet the cast of season seven, see photo galleries and video, visit Photography and bios are available at Following are the 17 new "Top Chef: Washington D.C." chef'testants:

- Alex Reznik, 33 – Hometown: Brooklyn, NY Resides in Hollywood, CA

- Amanda Baumgarten, 27 – Hometown/Resides in: Los Angeles, CA

- Andrea Curto-Randazzo, 39 – Hometown: Vero Beach, FL/Resides in: Miami Beach, FL.

- Angelo Sosa, 34 – Hometown: Connecticut Resides in New York, NY.

- Arnold Myint, 32 – Hometown/Resides in: Nashville, TN.

- Ed Cotton, 32 – Hometown: Boston, MA Resides in New York, NY.

- Jacqueline Lombard, 33 – Hometown: Boston, MA/Resides in Brooklyn, NY.

- John Somerville, 42 – Hometown/Resides in: West Bloomfield, MI.

- Kelly Liken, 33 – Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA/Resides in: Vail, CO.

- Kenny Gilbert, 36 – Hometown: Cleveland, OH/Resides in: Telluride, CO

- Kevin Sbraga, 30 – Hometown/Resides in: Willingboro, NJ.

- Lynne Gigliotti, 51 – Hometown: Philadelphia, PA/Resides in Hyde Park, NY.

- Stephen Hopcraft, 40 – Hometown: Cleveland, OH. Resides in Las Vegas, NV

- Tamesha Warren, 24 – Hometown: Barbados Resides in Washington D.C.

- Tiffany Derry, 26 – Hometown: Beaumont, TX/Resides in: Dallas, TX

- Timothy Dean, 39 – Hometown: Washington D.C./Resides in Baltimore, MD

- Tracey Bloom, 33 – Hometown: Rochester, NY/Resides in Atlanta, GA

Bravo's "Top Chef" offers a fascinating window into the competitive, pressure-filled environment of world-class cookery and the restaurant business at the highest level. The series features seventeen aspiring chefs who compete for their shot at culinary stardom and the chance to earn the prestigious title of "Top Chef." Each episode holds two challenges for the chefs. The first is a quickfire test of their basic abilities and the second is a more involved elimination challenge designed to test the versatility and inventiveness of the chefs as they take on unique culinary trials such as working with unusual and exotic foods or catering for a range of demanding clients. The challenges not only test their skills in the kitchen, but also uncover if they have the customer service, management and teamwork abilities required of a Top Chef. The competing chefs live and breathe the high-pressure lifestyle that comes with being a master chef and each week someone is asked to "pack up their knives" and go home.

In conjunction with season seven, is launching a roster of culinary-themed games and the all-new Rate The Plate, which lets viewers assess dishes from the season. The site will also feature weekly, un-aired video footage from the Judges’ Table and weekly blogs posted by the judges and cheftestants. Fans can use the B-Hive Party Planner to invite friends to a private Top Chef viewing party at home, complete with invitations, game ideas, and menus supplied by Fans can also learn how to serve up each week's winning dish with the weekly Top Recipe video hosted by season six winner Michael Voltaggio. The site will also feature a Talk Bubble viewing party during the season seven finale, where fans can post their instant reactions to the episode on Facebook and Twitter.

Chef" fans can also visit from their web-enabled phone for on-the-go access to content including blogs, photo galleries, photo diaries and videos. Fans who text CHEF to 27286 can join the Top Chef mobile fan club and receive behind-the-scenes dish and exclusive interactive content from the chef'testants, hosts and judges. A new season of the mobile video series "Slice & Dice Showdown" has the chefs grouped into two teams as they compete in foodie challenges and earn points culminating in the ultimate dessert bake-off. On iTunes fans that purchase the Season Pass will get a series of exclusive videos that takes them through the making of Top Chef from how challenges are brainstormed, tested and executed to an exclusive tour of the Top Chef kitchen.

"Top Chef" has delivered strong audiences season-to-season, debuting in March 2006 to critical acclaim and ratings success, returning with season two in October 2006 which averaged over two million total viewers, then season three which premiered on June 2007 finished out the season averaging over 2.5 million viewers. Season four which premiered in March 2008, averaged over three million viewers and seasons five and six were the series' highest rated season ever, with season five averaging almost three million adults 18-49 and almost four million total viewers and season six continuing strong with 3.7 million total viewers and 2.6 million Adults 18-49. Top Chef is the #1 food show on cable among Adults 18-49.

Nilou Motamed

Nilou Motamed is a globally recognized food, travel, and lifestyle authority, and has been named one of AdWeek’s 30 Most Influential People in Food. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine magazine, and is a recurring judge on Season 16 of Bravo’s Emmy Award–winning Top Chef.

Prior to Food & Wine, Nilou served as Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast’s Epicurious during her tenure the digital food brand saw unprecedented growth and record-setting site traffic. As the first-ever Director of Inspiration for Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Nilou reimagined the guest experience and concierge programs for 24 luxury properties around the globe. For 14 years Nilou was the Features Director & Senior Correspondent for Travel + Leisure magazine, overseeing the brand’s James Beard Award–winning restaurants coverage and its annual Food & Travel Issue.

In addition to her role on Top Chef, Nilou is a frequent guest on NBC’s Today, CBS This Morning, and CNN. She hosted the Travel Channel series Travel Spies and the restaurant review show Reservations Required. She is a regularly featured speaker at international travel and food conferences, and a longtime panelist for the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards.

In 2017 Nilou co-founded Story Collective, a brand consultancy specializing in voice, strategy, and storytelling for the world’s top luxury hotels, restaurants, and destinations. Born in Iran, raised in Paris and New York, Nilou attended Binghamton University and the Sorbonne and is fluent in four languages. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, writer Peter Jon Lindberg.

Padma Lakshmi

Padma Lakshmi

Padma Lakshmi is an Emmy-nominated food expert, television host, producer and The New York Times best-selling author.

She is the creator, host, and executive producer of the critically acclaimed Hulu series Taste the Nation, which received a 2021 Gotham Award for Breakthrough Series. The series has just been greenlit for a second season.

Lakshmi also serves as host and executive producer of Bravo’s two-time Emmy-winning series Top Chef, which has been nominated for 32 Emmys, including her two-time nomination for Outstanding Host for A Reality-Competition Program. Its new season will be premiering in spring 2021.

Lakshmi is co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA) and an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Artist Ambassador for immigrants' rights and women's rights. Lakshmi was also appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Born in India, she grew up in the United States, graduating from Clark University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Arts and American Literature. Known as India’s first supermodel, she began her career as a fashion model and actress working in Europe and the United States.

Laskhmi established herself as a food expert early in her career hosting Padma’s Passport, where she cooked diverse cuisine from around the world and Planet Food, a documentary series, both on the Food Network domestically and worldwide on the Discovery Channel. She also co-hosted Rai Television's Domenica In, Italy’s highest-rated variety show.

She’s a prolific author, writing the best-selling Easy Exotic, which won the “Best First Book” award at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Lakshmi followed this with the publication of her second cookbook, Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet and her memoir The New York Times best-selling Love, Loss and What We Ate. She later published The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs. In August of 2021 she will publish her first children’s book Tomatoes for Neela.

In addition to her food writing, Lakshmi has also contributed to Vogue, Gourmet, both British and American Harper's Bazaar, as well as penning a syndicated column on fashion and food for The New York Times.

Lakshmi created a fine jewerly line The Padma Collection, which sold at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. She also designed a home décor line under the same name featuring tabletop dishware, stemware and hand-blown glass décor pieces, was sold nationwide in Bloomingdale’s. In addition, Lakshmi created Padma’s Easy Exotic, a collection of culinary products ranging from frozen organic foods, fine teas, natural spice blends and home goods. In 2018, Lakshmi collaborated with MAC Cosmetics for a worldwide capsule collection called MAC Padma which quickly sold out in both India and the United States.

After unknowingly suffering from endometrisis for decades, in 2009 she co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA) alongside Advanced Gynecological Surgeon Tamer Seckin, MD. The EFA launched the first interdisciplinary research facility in the country for Gynepathology, as a joint project between Harvard Medical School and MIT and Lakshmi gave the keynote address at the Center’s opening in December 2009.

Her efforts were recognized on the floor of the New York State Senate, where she succeeded in passing a bill related to teen health initiatives. The organization’s ENPOWR program has currently educated over 32,000 students about endometriosis in high schools across the state of New York.

Lakshmi is a visiting scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has received the 2018 Karma Award from Variety, as well as the 2016 NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Meet the Chefs Who Are Bringing Quality Food to the Masses

Bradford Kent spent seven years working on his dough. The Culinary Institute of America grad read every book available on pizza-making, testing hundreds of combinations of flour, yeast, water, salt and olive oil before finding the perfect crust, one that requires an alchemical blend of three separate doughs and a night in the fridge. When Kent finally saved up enough money to open his wood-fired pizza shop in Los Angeles, Zagat ranked Olio Pizzeria & Café as one of the top 10 destination pizzerias in the U.S.

For most chefs, creating one of America's best pizzas would be a crowning achievement, and there's no doubt Kent is proud of his pie house. At the same time, he, like many young chefs, isn't satisfied with serving an artisanal pizza or five-course meal only to the privileged few who can afford a table.

Fired up: Bradford Kent of Blaze Pizza Photo courtesy of Blaze Pizza

Foodie culture has raised the culinary IQ in the U.S. over the past decade. Now, instead of hiding away their talents in fine-dining restaurants, elite chefs are looking to share their ingredients and ideas with a wider audience. That thinking is why Kent joined with the team behind Wetzel's Pretzels to launch Blaze Pizz a, a fast-casual franchise that serves up customized pies in about six minutes, for less than $8. With five locations open and 170-plus in the pipeline, Blaze is one of dozens of chef-driven fast-casual concepts to make an impact recently.

"Every chef wants to make a difference and wants people to eat well," Kent says. "There's nothing cooler for a chef than seeing tens of thousands of people eating their food and blogging about it. It's way more exciting than making 30 plates per night. This is more important, and most chefs want to be a part of something like that."

In recent years, fast casual--a restaurant format in which diners typically order at a counter and have the option to customize their choices--has become the playground for celebrated chefs. Southwestern food guru Rick Bayless runs Xoco, which sells updated Mexican street food. Bobby Flay's Burger Palace chain offers 10 regional burgers in 15 locations across the Northeast. Tom Colicchio, the restaurateur behind Craft and head judge on Top Chef, has a fast-casual sandwich shop called 'wichcraft with 15 locations in New York, one in San Francisco and another in Las Vegas. Shake Shack, the 31-unit burger stand launched by New York luminary Danny Meyer, is slowly expanding across the country.

"The reason chefs are going into fast casual is very simple," says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food-industry research and consulting firm Technomic. "Opening full-service restaurants is too risky. Fast casual allows chefs the latitude to create better-quality food in an environment convenient to customers and less risky and costly than an upscale restaurant."

But while more chefs are making the leap into fast casual, only a few are dipping their toes into franchising. "I think the reason many of them don't franchise is because they have the finances to grow their businesses independently," Tristano says. "They want to keep control over the quality and service. Those are very important to chefs."

Secret sauce: A Good Stuff Eatery creation. Photo © Bryan Blanken

Still, a few high-caliber names, such as Olio's Kent, are willing to take a chance and leverage their concepts--and reputations--through franchising. Spike Mendelsohn, a popular contestant on Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars, has dominated the Washington, D.C., culinary scene over the past half-decade, opening spots like Bearnaise and We, The Pizza. But Mendelsohn has also put his name and recipes behind Good Stuff Eatery, a joint venture with his family that opened in 2008 and will begin franchising in 2014. The upscale burgers-and-fries fast-casual spot has attracted the first lady and other Capitol Hill notables, but the Mendelsohn clan hopes Good Stuff will eventually serve high-quality ingredients to citizens across the country.

Good Stuff will walk that fine line faced by many franchisors: expanding while attempting to keep a strong focus on quality. Each unit will be required to have a culinary-school-trained chef on staff to oversee operations, an investment the Mendelsohns hope will keep their standards high and aid in keeping unit costs under control. "The young people who go to culinary school these days learn everything," says Catherine Mendelsohn, director of operations (and Spike's mother). "They know about employee management, food costs, negotiating leases. They are not glorified cooks they're restaurateurs, and they are far ahead of what a chef used to be."

Kent doesn't believe a trained chef needs to be present at each Blaze Pizza location, but that's because he puts in most of the work beforehand. "We have really good training and systems," he says. "We can train people to make our dough in about 30 minutes. They don't have to measure, because one bag of flour and one bag of goodies--yeast, salt, etc.--goes into one batch of dough. It's an almost foolproof system. I would gamble and win that one of the least likely things to mess up in our system is our dough."

Pie line: A Blaze Pizza location in Pasadena, Calif. Photo courtesy of Blaze Pizza

But just because he has simplified the crust-making process doesn't mean Kent has cut corners. In fact, his commitment to quality is one of the reasons the process is so simple. "I am a bulldog when it comes to ingredients," he says. "I don't give up. When we first started, I was told we couldn't afford to use extra-virgin olive oil in our dough. But I argued that because of its flavor we wouldn't have to use as much. I had to educate people on the business side about these culinary nuances, and they trusted me."

Kent got his extra-virgin olive oil and, because of Blaze Pizza's volume orders, was able to get it cheaply. He even helped the vendor learn how to pack and ship the product more efficiently.

Another popular chef, Mark Miller of iconic Santa Fe, N.M., eatery Coyote Cafe, has opened 13 restaurants in the past 29 years and done flavor consulting for 68 companies, including fast-casual and fast-food concepts. Earlier this year, he took a seat on the board of directors and a spot as culinary consultant for Boneheads, an Atlanta-based seafood and chicken fast-casual restaurant. Miller, who has opened restaurants in Australia and Japan, says fast casual isn't really new--it's just America catching up to the rest of the world.

"Most places have good fast casual, and it's something we've never had," he says. "In Italy, you can buy this great pizza on the street, or you can get a perfect bowl of ramen at a Japanese train station. Many countries have really good fast food, and Americans are realizing we can have that, too. People on the go who need a bite to eat don't have to settle for junk food. Good food is not more expensive than fast food. Having a dish with all-natural beef or pork costs $7.50, which is about the same as a Big Mac, soda and fries."

At the same time, Miller says, many fast-casual players misunderstand why the segment has become so popular. "Fast casual is not growing because it's cheap it's growing because these places reflect where the values are for consumers," he says. "It's about social value and aspirational value. Natural pork, grass-fed beef, high-quality ingredients. Someone who produces an 18-ounce burrito in 20 seconds isn't going to compete with Chipotle. I think fast casual should be renamed ‘casual lifestyle' or something like that. Fast is not the real emphasis."

At Boneheads, which has six locations across the South, Miller hopes to strengthen the brand's identity and add splashes of flavor with his signature salsas. More important, he wants to help the franchise find its demographic and focus on what Gen X and Millennials look for in a restaurant experience: sociability, a value system and quality ingredients.

Dennis Friedman, another D.C.-area chef, recently opened his take on fast casual: Newton's Noodles, a spinoff of his popular restaurant Newton's Table. "As a businessperson, I wanted to grow, and I was approached by many different people to expand Newton's Table around D.C.," he says. "As I went down that road a little and did some soul-searching, I thought it would be great to have a second restaurant, but at what cost? I'd seen so many people stretch themselves too thin, then the quality starts to diminish."

Friedman noticed that the most popular item on his menu, and on the menus of other restaurants he has run in the past decade, was the fuzu, a customizable rice-noodle dish similar to pad Thai. "The answer," he says, "was staring me in the face. Fuzu was customizable, cost-effective, and all the flavors were already there. It was like it was meant to be and offered an opportunity to grow my business without reinventing the wheel. I could put controls in place to ensure consistency, cost and portion size."

But his big decision, and one faced by many chefs who enter the fast-casual world, will come a little farther down the road. When Newton's Noodles, which opened its first location in September, reaches five units, Friedman will decide whether to franchise. "I've known in my heart since day one that this is a restaurant concept that can go national," he says. "Right now we have all our systems in place and are tweaking them. Once we have more units open we'll reevaluate."

Whether or not a chef decides to franchise, fast casual scratches an itch most of them have. "Chefs are driven to this because they want to be entrepreneurs," says Good Stuff's Catherine Mendelsohn. "People eat in restaurants all day long now, but they aren't about to go out to fine dining all the time. They want wholesome, good food in a comfortable environment. Fine dining will never be out of fashion, but it's not the way to go for someone excited about food or who wants a presence in the food world."

Violence? Racism? Lies? What does it take to get kicked off reality TV?

But on rare occasions, a player somehow manages to cross the line between so-bad-it's-good and so-bad-it's-banned. That's when the-powers-that-be behind the show in question decide there's no time to wait for a viewer vote, eviction, torch-snuffing or whatever means of elimination traditionally takes care of the problem. Instead, the troublemaker gets kicked off the show.

The sudden interest comes after weeks of bad behavior on CBS' summer-TV staple, "Big Brother." Racism, misogyny, homophobia . you name the slur and it's a safe bet one or more of the houseguests have said it — and then some.

In fact, the offenses have been bad enough to cost one player a job, another an agent and earn yet another a public reprimand. But what the offenses haven't done is earn anyone an early exit.

To date, CBS has yet to say much about this season's unacceptable behavior. Requests from for comment have been answered with statements that make no mention of possible consequences for the offending players. "At times, the Houseguests reveal prejudices and other beliefs that we do not condone," read one response by the network.

"We are weighing carefully issues of broadcast standards, an obligation to inform the audience of important elements that influence the competition, and sensitivity to how any inappropriate comments are presented," CBS later said.

As nasty as things have gotten this season, it isn't new for the show.

While the current unpleasant houseguests remain in the game — yes, even Aaryn Gries — for now, "Big Brother" hasn't shied away from making a cut in the past. Back in season two, Justin Sebik got the boot 10 days in. After smashing property and threatening fellow houseguests, he took things too far when he used a sweeper and a knife — and a series of creepy lines — to flirt and threaten player Krista Stegall. "Seriously, would you get mad if I killed you?" he asked before kissing her and holding the knife to her throat.

Season four saw the show kick out Scott Weintraub after he exhibited explosive mood swings and threw furniture. "Big Brother" handed out eviction notices again in season 11 when Chima Simone threatened producers, and when Willie Hantz threw food at a fellow player and head-butted another in season 14.

Other reality shows have had their issues with problematic personalities. Take MTV's "Real World," for instance.

Just last season, tensions between Nia Moore and Jordan Wiseley ran high. She stole his wallet, threatened to strike him with a clock, and more. He spit in her face and called her racial slurs.

The show's executive producer and co-creator Jon Murray told that though they were inundated with e-mails to kick out both housemates, the series is designed to let the participants solve their own problems. Whenever serious issues arise, the show leaves it up to the cast as to whether they want to evict the person in question. (And there have been several ousters five people — including the infamous Puck — have been evicted in the show's 28 seasons.)

" 'The Real World' is about young people dealing with their own issues and hopefully figuring out ways to solve them on their own," Murray said. "But I could see us stepping in if somebody was purposely trying to use racist words to provoke a violent response."

Stephen Williams in season seven did get violent when he slapped housemate Irene McGee as she quit "Real World," but producers didn't step in. As Murray said, the show left the possibility of eviction up to the cast. They chose to keep Williams around.

One show that didn't tolerate physical violence is Bravo's "Top Chef." In the second season, contestant Cliff Crooks was yanked out of the competition when things got too physical. During a night of drunken shenanigans, Crooks dragged fellow chef Marcel Vigneron out bed and pinned him to the floor while yelling for the others to come shave the young man's head. (No one did, but they gathered around and laughed.)

After the shocking incident, head judge Tom Colicchio — who also produces "Top Chef Masters" — wrote on his Bravo blog, “The Producers stepped in with a veto. Sending all of the chefs but Marcel home wasn’t going to happen. Bravo’s Legal department advised us that the Top Chef rules, which stated that harming or threatening to harm other contestants was potential grounds for disqualification. According to these guidelines, it was clear that Cliff needed to go.”

While physical violence is a very clear line to draw, for some reality shows, it doesn't take that much for producers to step in with a disqualification.

"American Idol" is one such example. The singing competition has booted several hopefuls in its 12 seasons, and none for violent behavior. Delano Cagnolatti from season one was the first to find out how a minor infraction can lead to the end of one's singing dreams: He was booted for being 29 years old when he claimed to be 23. (Contestants had to be under age 25 at the time.)

The following year, Corey Clark made it to the top 10 before he was disqualified. His crime? Crimes. According to producers, the singer never revealed his criminal record. But Clark claimed his real crime was having an alleged romance with judge Paula Abdul. Season two also saw now-Broadway star Frenchie Davis kicked out in the semifinals due to topless photos that were published online years earlier. She disclosed that detail from the start, but show staffers waited weeks to take action.

Later seasons saw the show disqualify hopefuls for undisclosed criminal records, drunk driving the night before the Hollywood rounds, past legal woes and a previous contract that might have interfered with the "Idol" agreement.

On "The Bachelor," it took getting a little too close to the staff be disqualified. In season 14 of ABC's romantic contest, Rozlyn Papa had her chances of getting the final rose crushed when it was discovered that she was having what host Chris Harrison called an "inappropriate relationship that got physical" with a show staffer. Both Papa and the employee were promptly dumped.

One good way of ensuring an elimination by producers is cheating and rule-breaking, something that contestants of "Project Runway," "RuPaul's Drag Race" and "America's Next Top Model" have learned.

"Runway" designer Keith Michael was booted in season three after he'd smuggled in pattern-making books — a big no-no on the competition. "Drag Race's" Willam Belli was a frontrunner in season four until it was discovered that his husband was a frequent visitor when contestants were supposed to be sequestered. And on "Top Model," cycle 17 finalist Angelea Preston was unceremoniously dumped, causing The CW to reshoot parts of the finale. Rumor was that she may have announced her later-reversed victory before the finale aired

So with all these disqualifications in mind, what's it going to take to finally send the nastiest "Big Brother" contestants home for their bad behavior this season? Will the producers finally say "enough" and step in as viewer outcry continues to mount? Or will it be up to the housemates to make the move? Only time will tell.

— Additional reporting by Maria Elena Fernandez

Do you think bad behavior should mean contestants get the boot from areality TV show? Or is crossing the line just part of being real? Click "talk about it" and tell us your thoughts.

Reality judges range from wise to wacko

A tiny little show called "American Idol" affected television in profound ways, but one of its most significant — and pernicious — influences on other competition shows is that its template has been widely copied.

Although more than a few shows have borrowed heavily from its format, what most competition shows steal from "Idol" is the panel of three judges offering critiques to the contestants' faces.

Far too many shows just think they can sit three people behind a table, call them judges, and then give them a few minutes to make allegedly witty comments. But that rarely works as well as it does on "Idol."

At the worst, an assembled panel can be disastrous and drag down the whole show (hello, "Celebrity Circus"). In the best scenarios, however, the judges are the highlight of every episode.

The greatest judges are a mix of personality and expertise, and likewise, the best panels draw from different types of judges. Not all types work on all shows, nor are all types ideal, even though they can be found on more than one show.

The Truth-Telling Mean Judge with an Accent

Any discussion of judges must start with one man: Simon Cowell. It was his brutal honesty and abrasive commentary, heavily featured in commercials, that drew audiences to "American Idol" when no one knew what the show was. While his shtick has gotten a little tired, he's still consistently honest, and others have followed his lead.

"Dancing with the Stars" has its Cowell in grumpy Len Goodman, who also judges the UK version, "Strictly Come Dancing." Other judges in Simon's mold include Piers Morgan on "America's Got Talent" (which is produced by Simon Cowell) and Nigel Lythgoe on "So You Think You Can Dance." Besides producing "Idol" for its first seven seasons, Lythgoe previously judged the UK's "Popstars," where he was known as "Nasty Nigel." Clearly, both British and U.S. audiences had the same reaction to his attitude.

The Smart, Informed, and Condescending Judge

Ideally, a reality show judge is an expert who's exceptionally knowledgeable about the show's subject. There are too few judges like this, but those who exist stand out as some of the best judges on TV.

"Project Runway" panelist Michael Kors and "Top Chef" head judge Tom Colicchio are the best models, even they have entirely different personalities. Kors is witty and incredibly descriptive, praising or dismissing contestants' work with quick one-liners, while Colicchio is serious and grumpy even when he's smiling.

The third judge on "Dancing with the Stars," Carrie Ann Inaba, also fills this role she knows her stuff and sticks to it. Just ask any couple Inaba penalized for lifting a foot off the floor a few millimeters during a dance in which such a move is unacceptable.

Some judges are professionals who are also insiders, like the Food Network executive panelists on "The Next Food Network Star," or the band members on CBS' "Rock Star" who were essentially selecting a future bandmate they bring even more weight to the judging table.

The Star Power Judge

Some people sit in judgment of reality show contestants simply because they bring names to the panel — even though they do not know how to judge. Thankfully, there are fewer of these than one might imagine, and even when they're present, they tend to graduate into other judging categories rather than just emit star power all the time.

Paula Abdul filled that seat on "American Idol" its first season, and is now more well-known for being on that show than for her singing, while David Hasselhoff fills that seat on the "America's Got Talent" panel. Even smaller cable network series try to get a name to draw viewers and credibility designer and former "Trading Spaces" cast member Vern Yip, for example, is the only HGTV "Design Star" judge who's close to a household name.

The Alternately Unhinged and In-Control Judge

Paula Abdul may be best known for her wacked-out moments, but she's not always nutty. More often than not — and in fact, for nearly all of "American Idol 7" — she was in control. For Paula, that means offering comments that are rarely critical and instead babbling on with typically meaningless platitudes instead of providing feedback. Still, the fun of Paula as a judge is that she may say something ridiculous, or bawl, or stand up and dance and clap in her weird way, at any second.

These occasionally unhinged judges are the most fun because they're unpredictable, at least until their unpredictability becomes predictable. Janice Dickinson on "America's Next Top Model" fits into this mold, although her crazy moments as a judge on "Top Model" (she judged the first four seasons) involved going off on the girls rather than being supportive.

"So You Think You Can Dance" judge Mary Murphy absolutely belongs in this category, as she alternates between deafening shrieks and smart critiques, although Bruno Tonioli on "Dancing with the Stars" is perhaps the best current example. While he's unquestionably an expert and gives reasoned, well-informed critiques of the dances, he's also out of control. That's generally verbal: His comments are frequently bawdy or suggestive, with not much left to the imagination, and it's his unpredictability — and, in some cases, his Italian-accented unintelligibility — that gives "Dancing" judging segments their life.

The Judge Who Seems Embarrassed to be on a Panel with Crazier Judges

Sometimes judges don't quite seem to know why they're on a reality show but go along with it anyway, like they're hoping it's all a bad dream.

Nigel Barker, photographer and "America's Next Top Model" judge, always seems dignified and composed (unlike his fellow judges), and remarkably has never once crawled under the table to hide. He had a similarly embarrassed-seeming colleague in 1960s modeling legend Twiggy during her time on the show.

Randy Jackson arguably fits here, even though he's evolved into a one-note joke of a judge himself even as he's tried to distance himself from Simon's cruelty and Paula's inanity.

The Third Wheel Judge

Even the best judges can occasionally find themselves overshadowed temporarily by the others on the panel, but for some judges, that's a way of life. They're neither great nor terrible, straitlaced nor crazy. They're not necessarily bad at their jobs, they just tend to fade into the background.

On "Top Chef," Gail Simmons tries hard and generally offers relevant feedback, but she's no Tom Colicchio, and when guest judges such as the outrageous Anthony Bourdain show up, she gets lost in the shuffle. Heidi Klum is that way on "Project Runway," too her feedback isn't bad, but doesn't quite have the same punch of Michael Kors' or Nina Garcia's, and the editors tend to use her less than the other judges.

A subset of this group is the "May Be Great at their Jobs but Suck at Being on TV Judge," and Bravo has a number of these as a result of their repeated cloning of "Project Runway." The network has a number of of judging opportunities but not many qualified candidates, which explains "Make Me a Supermodel"'s entire panel — including Tyson Beckford and Niki Taylor -- who are all very flat and dull.

Let's face it: Tyra Banks gets her own category because she simultaneously fits into nearly every other category and none of them. She has first-hand knowledge, dedication to her show, apparent passion for her models' careers and lives, and the ability to go completely nuts at any second. (She also has a great partner in runway coach J. Alexander, who's also known as Miss J, and they play off each other like a great comic duo.)

The best example of Banks' split judging personality came during cycle four of "Top Model," when she lectured exiting model Tiffany — and then when Tiffany talked back, took about a half-second to go from a conversational tone to screaming ("I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you! How dare you!"). It was frightening and exceptional television. She seems to be getting somewhat bored during recent seasons, but she still stands as a model judge.

Andy Dehnart is a writer who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news. Find him on Facebook.

Watch the video: Emmy nominee Tom Colicchio on what chef he would like to cook for him - 2017 Primetime Emmys (January 2022).