Bravo’s popular Top Chef show is more than one week into shooting season 15 in Denver. Eater caught up with lead judge Tom Colicchio to hear about his time spent in the Mile High City and some behind-the-scenes details about the filming process.
Colicchio comes to Colorado almost annually as a speaker at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, but his last visit to Denver was 18 years ago when he participated in a special dinner with The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller, hosted at Cliff Young’s. “I have only been here for a few days and spent much of that time on the set, so I can’t really comment on the food scene yet,” Colicchio said. “Besides the hotel, where I have eaten twice, I have only been out to eat once.”
He is familiar with some names from the local dining scene and has a (lengthy) list of places that he wants to check out. “I know some of these chefs. I have known Lachlan [Patterson of Frasca Food and Wine] for years. I haven’t been to his restaurant but I know of it. Luke Bergman [who just opened Concourse in Stapleton] used to work for me in New York City. I will definitely go to Concourse.” His list of places to visit includes everything from Cart Driver to Acorn and from Basta to Williams & Graham. Colicchio promised he’ll offer Eater an assessment of the dining scene once he delves into it in the coming weeks.
One subject Colicchio had lots of thoughts and information on: his show. Here are some behind-the-scene details he shared:
- The judges have no relationship whatsoever with the contestants. “They are not allowed to even say hello to us if we are off camera. And there is someone with them at all times to make sure that that happens.”
- He is not privy to any of the details viewers see on camera. “A lot of the stuff you see from behind the scenes, we don’t know. I have no idea what is going on right now while they are shopping. I don’t know what is going on tonight when they go home. We don’t get that information. We don’t want it.”
- There are instances where he won’t see the edited episode that includes that interaction even when the show wrapped up and it is live on TV. “If I am not working — I work nights — sometimes I will watch the show. If I am watching it, I usually live tweet it.”
- His philosophy on judging, 15 seasons in: “How is something cooked, how is it seasoned. Did they adhere to the rules of the challenge? And then it comes down to personal opinion and what you like better. I don’t go in with any preconceived notions. I find that you get yourself in a lot of trouble if you do that. Cooking is really basic when you get down to it. Chefs who have more creativity have an edge but that is still about the third thing I look at. I am still looking at basics.
- When he’s off the clock, he’d rather be fishing. “I am one day one, two days off during this show. I am dying to get out and fish, but every time I call the guides here they are booked. So I will have to ship my own equipment. A bunch the guys in the crew play music so we get together and do that.”
- Production on the show is like an annual reunion. “We know most of the people who do production with us on the show. We’ve known them for years. It is like summer camp. We see them five or six weeks a year and then we don’t see them. It is a lot of fun, a lot of catching up, a lot of late nights.”
- The worst thing about filming is the lack of control over his schedule. “ When I am home, I make my schedule and I come and go as I please. Coming here, there are times when you gotta wake up, be on the set at certain times, and you have to be ready. That’s the hardest part for me.”
- His favorite dish of all time on Top Chef came from chef Paul Qui, who won Season 9 of the show. “He did a dish that was very simple: root vegetables and dashi. It was so flavorful and so simple that it was one of my favorites, one that I always think of. He was so far ahead of everyone else on that show.”
What else are the Top Chef judges up to while in Denver? Padma Lakshmi will spend the most time of all four judges in the city, but she told the Denver Post last week that she prefers dining in her room and saving as much stomach real estate as possible for the eating she needs to do on the job. The other two Bravo judges on this season are Gail Simmons, whose dining adventures in Denver remain unknown for now, and Graham Elliot who left a social media trail of dishes he enjoyed everything from a hot dog at the Ballpark, to a burger and a smoked trout sandwich at Acorn, and chicharrones and bison bone marrow at Kachina.
Where do you think these Top Chef pros should dine in Denver and why?
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El Taco de Mexico
Mercantile Dining & Provision
Beast & Bottle
To the Wind