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If You Can’t Take the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen – Cover Feature

Photo by Bill Bettencourt
By Nycole Sariol

On a late Wednesday afternoon, Chef Tom Colicchio is late to catch a flight. Colicchio is no stranger to airports these days. Especially since signing with Bravo yet again to host the mega-network’s newest competition series, Best New Restaurant, in which the infamous Top Chef host scours the country in search of the nation’s best all-around restaurants, one city at a time.

“Uh, non-stop services…all flights are…” he trails off as he mutters chopped-up thoughts underneath his breathe, popping in and out of our phone interview. Though the departure prompter has now summoned fifty percent of Tom’s attention, the other half was tightly transfixed on divulging the meat and potatoes of his latest small-screen endeavor.

Best New Restaurant - Season 1

“The show is about so many different talents coming together rather than one chef; this is about the entire restaurant,” elicits Tom.

Best New Restaurant debuts on January 21st at 10pm eastern time and the pressure to win has never been more paramount for the sixteen competing restaurants, rooted in the large-scale metropolises of Los Angeles, New York, Austin, and our very own Magic City.

Tom, alongside BlackboardEats founder Maggie Nemser and New York restaurateur Jeffrey Zurofsky, will judge the qualified restaurants aspiring to take home a semi-finalist spot at the end each episode. During the first eight episodes, the grub hubs will dual it out in a trifecta of adrenaline-pinching tasks: first, the chosen restaurants must endure the “Pressure Test” of juggling a flurry of ravenous walk-ins and the intensity of a packed house. Next come the hidden cameras, where “Undercover Diners” secretly capture the overall service and experience of the restaurant through a customer’s eye view. The two restaurants that have surpassed each of the aforementioned tasks will then face each other in a thirty-seat VIP dinner service, taking them into the semifinalist rounds.

Best New Restaurant - Season 1

The winner of the show will revel in a stew of glory consisting of an exclusive feature in Bon Apétit magazine, participation rights at Vegas Uncork’d, and a well- deserved monetary pleasantry of one-hundred grand.

It all sounds as juicy as it looks. But perhaps the juice worth squeezing are the contestants themselves. “What’s interesting is that we have all types of restaurants participating: we’re not out there looking for white table cloth, upscale restaurants – we have Barbeque, mom and pop, and fast casual restaurants that have invested their entire life savings and maxed out credit cards just to open their shop,” Tom shares. “What’s really important is that we’re looking at these restaurants not only in context of how good their food is, but their over-all concepts.”

Tom and crew know not of the word discrimination: as far as personalities go, the symposium of participating restaurants span the gamut, from prim fine dining to unchartered hole-in-the-walls, yearning to be discovered. Some of which, happen to fall within our very own backyard of the 305.

Best New Restaurant - Season 1

To dutifully represent Miami with reverence, eateries like R House, Buns & Buns, The Federal, Tongue & Cheek, and Dolce Italian will take up their prongs and fight in our honor.

Though Tom is not one for favoritism, he alludes great verve for one Miami restaurant in particular: “The Federal is a place that you probably drive by a hundred times and don’t even think about going to, but their food is fantastic – talk about putting their heart and soul into what they’re doing!”

All quaking contention aside, it appears another chef and TV personality, who fancies a life of extreme candor and intimidation – more so then Colicchio himself – will make his uncanny presence known as Best New Restaurant’s executive producer: Gordon Ramsay.

Ramsey can usually be recognized as striking fear into even the most steadfast of hearts in Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, but today, he trades in his reigns of terror for a life of national wanderlust with his esteemed Colicchio counterpart. The show is an American spin on Ramsay’s UK series “Ramsay’s Best Restaurant,” so of course the British spitfire dug right in.

Presumably, working with such an infamous kitchen- tyrant would evoke indubitable intimidation, but – surprisingly – Tom wouldn’t know – not yet at least: “I have yet to meet Gordon Ramsay,” Tom laughs. “Believe it or not, I have never met him, though I hear he’s a great guy to hang with. So, unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you what he’s like to work with.”

Best New Restaurant - Season 1

Unbeknownst to the average eye, Best New Restaurant isn’t the only project that has Colicchio hell-bent.

Aside from the soon-to-be-arrival of his New York hotspots, Living Room in the Beekman and the restaurant at Topping Rose House, the famed food activist has had his sights set on anchoring a dining concept right here amongst the sand-ridden shores of Miami Beach for quite some time. Whispers of Tom opening up a restaurant within the swanky walls of 1 Hotel South Beach wafted around for months, and up until recently those rumors were indeed confirmed truths. However, the decision of a name posed a slight problem for Tom and his team, and frankly, had everyone waiting anxiously on the edge of their seats.

“It was hard naming this restaurant,” Tom says of what is now known as Beachcraft. “We came up with a bunch of different names that we wanted to explore, and working with the hotel we finally arrived at one.” Beachcraft dubbed most fitting in the eyes of Colicchio, due chiefly to the fact that Craft is Tom’s brainchild, brand, and the name of just about all of Tom’s restaurants scattered throughout the country. “Craft is our brand and the restaurant is in Miami Beach,” thus, “Beachcraft just made sense.”

Mediterranean flavors imbue Beachcraft’s menu, while a Woodburn grill ignited by natural fuels and topped with locally sourced ingredients seek to help bewitch taste buds of its diners abound.

And when it comes to making friends in Miami, Tom is in no short supply: he owes his local ingredient and farm connects to Miami big leaguers and pals, Michael Shwartz and Michelle Bernstein.

Tight-knit friendship isn’t what keeps Tom coming back to Miami for more, however, but it’s constant development within its synergetic dining scene. “There’s great things happening in Miami, and it’s truly blossomed into a serious and active restaurant scene; we’re really excited to be a part of it.”

Looks like the hungry denizens of Miami will in fact be seeing plenty more of Bravo’s bald-headed sweetheart, whether it be through our mounted flat screens or bopping around the beach, setting all right in the world – or at least in the kitchen.

Production Photography by DALE BERMAN/BRAVO MEDIA

Click here to view post on the January/February 2015 issue.

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