‘Top Chef’ gets renewed, brings search for next cheftestants to Dallas

Top ChefLast night on part 1 of the 11th season finale of Top Chef, cutie Louis and workhorse Shirley got booted during the elimination round on Maui, leaving temperamental Nicholas and deserving Nina in the final showdown, which will air next Wednesday. But the bigger Top Chef news in the last 24 hours is this: Not only has Bravo renewed the show for a 12th season, but it will kick off its search for kitchen talent in Dallas — and pretty soon.

On Feb. 18 from 10 am. to 1 p.m., producers will be holding a casting call at the Hotel Palomar before moving on to Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. (No word on whether bearish host Tom Colicchio, pictured, will be in attendance, but fingers are crossed.) It’s a slightly ironic choice of location, as the menu at Central 214, the restaurant at the Palomar, is being reimagined by former Top Chef contestant John Tesar. Actually, Dallas has been the hometown to a lot of alums, including Tiffany Derry, Tre Wilcox and Casey Thompson.

Anyone wanting to sign up for the competition can download an application here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tesar out on ‘Top Chef’

Last week, Danyele McPherson — formerly with Stephan Pyles and sous chef at The Grape — was booted from Top Chef, largely for lacking confidence in her dishes.  Confidence wasn’t a problem for fellow Dallas chef John Tesar, above right, who was considered arrogant by his competitors on the hit reality cooking show.

Last night, Dallas lost its chance at another finalist (as Private|Social’s Tiffany Derry and Fort Worth’s Casey Thompson were) when Tesar was told to pack his knives and go following a disastrous risotto.  Tesar was given a second chance with a face-off against Lizzie, where each had to make a burger; Tesar’s lamb was deemed less worthy than her chicken. (I ate at Tesar’s old Commissary, and complaints about service aside, one thing the man knows how to make is a burger.)

Tesar was even given a third shot on the online-only Last Chance Kitchen, where ousted chefs compete against each other for a wild-card spot, but Tesar came up short there, too, against even more arrogant C.J.; Tom Colicchio, above left, judged Tesar’s foie gras too salty.

(There is one way he might be saved: Tweet #savechefjohn and he might become a fan fave.)

Don’t feel too badly for Tesar, though. His new Preston Center restaurant Spoon is worth a taste (read my review later this month), and as he told me recently, “say what you want to about me, but I work hard.” That’s obviously true.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Craft closing, gastropub will take its place

Our friend Teresa Gubbins over at Pegasus News is reporting that Craft, the Tom Colicchio restaurant in the W Victory Hotel, will close by the end of the month. Despite launching a surprisingly affordable lunch menu a year ago, the high-end resto hasn’t been hot for a while. It’s too bad, because the decor is great, as has been the food. But crowds never followed.

It may be too high end for the W there, which is more flashy than Craft tried to be. According to Gubbins’ report, the new concept to take over there — called Cook Hall, and the debut of what is planned to be a series of like-themed places throughout the W brand — will add televisions; Craft was one of the last bastions of quiet fine dining in Dallas.

Colicchio has made several appearances in the kitchen over the past few years, but apparently not enough to get buzz going again. Sorry to see it go, but if it wasn’t working…

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Michelle Obama joins “Top Chef” alums in Dallas

For the second year in a row, First Lady Michelle Obama takes her “Let’s Move” initiative to the streets, and this time, it’s coming to Texas — along with some Top Chefs.

Top Chef: Texas is currently running on Bravo, which helps explains Big D for the location of the national tour stopping here on Friday. The aim of the program is to teach kids how to make healthy food choices.

Among the celebrichefs in attendance at DISD schools this Friday will be Tom Colicchio, all-stars winner Richard Blais, dreamboat Fabio Viviani and Jen Carroll.

Dallas ISD is actually a leader in healthy food options for its students, boasting the most “gold” schools of any district in the nation for the Healthier US School Challenge program.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

ChefTEXANs

“Top Chef’ comes (finally) to Texas … but you’ll have to wait to see Big D

Tube

REMEMBER THE A AL MODE | Simmons, Lakshmi and Colicchio feed a mega-sized ‘Top Chef: Texas.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

It’s been apparent to devoted viewers of Top Chef over the years that Texans know how to cook — especially those from Dallas. Right now, former all-stars Tiffany Derry, Tre Wilcox and Casey Thompson all have busy restaurants across the Metroplex, and other Lone Star competitors have made a mark. So it was with a collective “It’s about time!” when we learned Season 9 would be set in Texas.

But aside from being in Texas, there are few chefs from Texas in Top Chef: Texas, premiering Nov. 2. That means just as much attitude, but fewer bragging rights.

Well, almost.

“It’s Texas; they made it bigger,” one of the cheftestants says, amazed when 29 competitors arrive at The Alamo in episode 1. Of course, just because it starts off big doesn’t mean it will stay that way; in the Texas-sized two-part premiere, 14 chefs get eliminated on the way to a lean 15 cooks.

That’s a lot of personalities to juggle in a short time, and with so many chefs, you get few pings with the gaydar to pick out family, but the (few) gays stand out. Janine, despite her early pronoun-neutral coyness, is a fun chef with a good story, while Ty-Lor’s otterish prissiness gives a dash of fabulousness to the proceeding.

The first chef to make an impression, though, is Tyler, who stakes a claim as an early asshole; fortunately, we don’t need to spend much time with him. Some of the others show promise, but do they withstand the buds of Tom Colicchio, Padme Lakshmi, Gail Simmons and new judges Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Atcheson (neither of whom added much to the premiere)? Well, that’s the fun.

If you already like the show, the Texas setting is a plus, and if you don’t … well, shots of the Riverwalk probably won’t change your mind, or make you wanna see it anymore than the slew of other Texas-set reality series littering the airwaves. But it just might.

In addition to Ty-Lor, Chuy Valencia was on my radar as a talented cutie to watch, but for now, we’re confined to the kitchens of San Antonio. The show hits Austin, too, before ending the season in Dallas, so if you’re looking for local landmarks, you’ll have to wait ‘til after Thanksgiving.
Seems like a good idea. We’ll be thinking more about food by then.

Premieres Wednesday on Bravo at 9 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Top Chef’ recap (spoiler alert!)

Last night on the second episode of Top Chef All-Stars, Jen Carroll — the prickly, Asberger-like chef with the abrasive personality and the poor attitude — was kicked off, as much for her inability to acknowledge the weaknesses in her dish as for her flavorless eggs.

What seemed significant in her being kicked off to me was how local and gay chefs all dodged a bullet. There were eight chefs on Team T-Rex: Three who are queer, and three from Dallas. So, only Jen and Antonia could have gone without causing a minor stink in my office.

Still, it was a whew! moment for local Tre Wilcox, who was tagged for over-salting his sauce and Tiffany Derry (of the recently shuttered Go Fish) for inconsistency in her frittatas.

Ultimately, though, it was the right decision to axe Jen — not really because she sassed the judges (as Tom Colicchio said, being the nicest chef won’t sway them if the food is bad), but because her arrogance combined with ignorance about her own abilities made her, to me, someone not deserving of “top” titles.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tom Colicchio returns to the kitchen at Craft Dallas on Monday night

A few months ago, I interviewed bearish TV chef (and recent Emmy winner) Tom Colicchio, who was in town for the third anniversary of Craft, the restaurant chain he co-founded. It was a rare appearance here for Colicchio, who doesn’t make it back to Dallas often enough.

Well, not so rare now. For the second time in three months, he’s back, cooking alongside the Dallas team (which he touted as one of the best with his brand) for dinner Monday night and Tuesday. True, he didn’t make it here in time for Dallas Pride, but we’re still hoping he keeps his pledge to ride on a bear float in L.A. Pride next year. It’s the least he can do for Dallas after purloining our Craft’s pastry chef, Shannon Swindle, for his L.A. shop.

For reservations, call 214-397-4111.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Crafty fellow: ‘Top Chef’ co-host hits Dallas

Craft chef and reality star Tom Colicchio makes a rare Dallas visit — and toys with his bear fans

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

‘Top Chef’ judge Tom Colicchio
BEAR BAIT | Just the presence of ‘Top Chef’ judge Tom Colicchio in town sent local reservations at Craft soaring, but he says Dallas’ kitchen is the best at staying true to his vision of simple but exceptional food. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Lots of great chefs get their first culinary experience in inauspicious settings. Stephan Pyles trained at his family’s West Texas truck stop. Rick Bayless learned in an Oklahoma barbecue joint.

For Tom Colicchio, it a snack bar in Elizabeth, N.J.

“My parents belonged to a swim club,” he says from the cushiony bar in the lobby of the W Victory Hotel Downtown. “I got to go to work in shorts, no shoes, no shirt. It was the best job I ever had.” He eventually moved up to Burger King.

And then finally, he became Tom Colicchio. Which makes him possibly America’s most famous chef.

He knows why, of course: Television. Colicchio is the co-host and senior judge on Top Chef, the hit Bravo reality competition series that puts lesser-known cooks through the paces to discover the best young chef in the country. He’s also the creator of Top Chef Masters, which pits Colicchio’s friends and colleagues against each other for charity … and bragging rights.

“I was very hesitant to do TV. I said no three times before I said yes. But I think we are making quality television.”

Still, while TV has brought him (more) fame and (more) money, it’s not something he’d necessarily want on his gravestone.

“I spend maybe 20 days a season working on the show,” he says, slightly flustered. “And I don’t do the Top Chef tours. No one ever prints that.”
But neither can he ignore that the recognition associated with celebrity has brought him sincere if unusual attention. Short, shaved-headed and stockily built, Colicchio has been a sex object to gay men, especially in the bear community, almost since the show first aired. It’s a role the straight chef accepts with humor and grace.

“I was on Andy Cohen’s show on Bravo [Watch What Happens, which films in Los Angeles] and said I was mad at the bear community:  The gay Pride parade was going on, and no one had asked me to be on a float,” he says. The show was soon flooded with calls, including the editor of Bear’s Life magazine. The end result? Colicchio is already booked to ride on a bear float in next year’s L.A. Pride parade.

It was just over seven years ago that Colicchio sold Gramercy Tavern, his acclaimed New York bistro, and started a new concept — Craft, which uses as much local, sustainable and organic small-production food as possible in simple yet flavorful preparations. Its success — there are now eight in the chain — brought him his second wave of fame; TV just added to it.

Colicchio was in Dallas (coincidentally) on the third anniversary of the opening of Craft Dallas inside the W, cooking alongside his on-site exec chef, Jeff Harris. It’s a rare experience for him, but one he relishes.

“All my chefs know that 50 percent of their job is quality control — getting best ingredients,” he says. And the Dallas branch is as good as any in his fleet at staying true to the concept.

“The biggest challenge is getting the chefs to keep it simple — they always want to push it. And I’m always saying, ‘Pull it back! Pull it back!’ Jeff is good at that.”

It’s not always easy keeping things in check. Colicchio is dedicated to sourcing his food from smaller, family-owned farms, though he balks at insisting on the term “local.” “If you’re truly local, you wouldn’t have any lemons or tea,” he says. “How far do you take it?” But it’s his resistance to go for corporate farming is what keeps prices high at his restaurant.

“The food we use is expensive — I’m not charging to rip people off. That’s the real price of food,” he says, when it’s not subsidized.

Organic, farm fresh food is a passion for him. And that’s a long way from flipping burgers poolside.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens