Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio - the man behind the massive reality hit Top Chef and co-owner of the Craft restaurant empire - isn't much different from his TV persona. When I spoke to him, he discussed both his personal and public life in the same straightforward, fast-talking way he interacts with contestants on his show. But his no-nonsense New York personality softens when he talks about his three loves outside of the kitchen - wife, Lori and his two sons, Dante, sixteen, and Luka, who was born August 1st . No doubt about it, Tom is a family-first, food-second kind of guy, though he makes it clear he's very serious about both. Luckily, he took a few minutes out his very busy day - he was hosting a dinner party that night - to share his thoughts on bland kid's menus, Thanksgiving at the Colicchio house, and how to handle a screaming baby in a restaurant. - Andrea Zimmerman
Congrats on the new addition to the family. How's it going so far? Are you exhausted yet?
No, it's actually fine. He's ten weeks old now so we sleep a little longer. My wife [Lori Silverbush] and I decided to tag team with feedings. My feeling is you can go one night without sleep but two nights is too hard so we're trying to break it up a bit.
It's his first Thanksgiving! How is it done at the Colicchio house?
The last couple years I haven't done it. My big dinner is Christmas Eve - 99% of all Italian Americans have fish dinners. It's all seafood. It starts off with a frio miso and then we move into a couple of seafood dishes - a salt cod or baklava salad that we serve with a beet dish. Then there's usually marinated sardines and anchovies, and then we go into a cuchuco which is a big fish stew that I serve over linguine and finish up with a whole roasted cod with lemons, olives, parsnip and garlic. I love doing Thanksgiving but the last couple of years I've gone to my wife's mother's who is a very, very excellent cook.
So you can sit back and relax.Before your baby turns one you can take them pretty much anywhere.
Yeah, or catch up on sleep.
Have you taken him out to a restaurant yet?
Sure. We were in Napa Valley the other day so we took him to [Thomas Keller's] Ad Hoc. I feel like before your baby turns one you can take them pretty much anywhere and they'll just go to sleep but after that, put them away for a couple years.
I used to be a waitress and we had some loud screaming babies in the middle of our restaurant.
My feeling is if the baby is loud and screaming, you've gotta leave. If something's going on and you can't get him quiet, just pick him and leave. Say, "Sorry, I gotta go."
Do you let your kids order from the kid's menu?
No, kids should order off the menu. I think they're better off ordering appetizers. Some kids are picky eaters but I think a lot of it has to do with parents saying, "Oh, you won't like that. You don't want to eat that." Why? You don't know what they like until they try it.
How would a parent go about exposing their child to new foods so they don't end up with a kid
who wants to eat mac and cheese every day?
From a very early age, I think it's a good idea to open them up to new flavors, new foods and different ethnic cuisines. Traveling is always great. But again, I think a lot of the problem is that kids eat like their parents and their parents aren't trying. I remember giving my kid oysters and saying, "Here, try it. It's not going to bother you." But when they get to school, his classmates go, "Oh my god, you eat that? That's horrible."
So leading by example.
Right. My son's mother, she doesn't use mustard. Hates it. So my son hates mustard.
You're talking about Dante, who's sixteen. At that age, I thought my parents were the most uncool people ever. But he can't possibly think that - you're a judge on Top Chef!
Yeah, he was pretty easy until the baby came home and all of a sudden, he was like, "You guys don't know what you're doing!" All of a sudden he became a teenager. But no, I think he still likes hanging out with us.
Was he excited about becoming an older brother?
Oh yeah. He was actually in the delivery room at the very end - he wasn't at the business end of things. And he took a little video, which was pretty cool.
Did he get the cooking genes?
No, not so much the cooking the end of it. He's into food, he loves eating. He likes going out to dinner - he gets that from both his mom and me. We have him try everything. If he doesn't like it, that's fine, but he can't not eat it just because it's green. He does help me every now and then but it's not something that he's passionate for. He's really into photography.
When did your interest in cooking start?
Chefs are notoriously bad eaters. Are you kidding me? I eat steak and cheeseburgers. When I was thirteen. I loved food. Food was always very important. I would go fishing with my grandfather at a very young age and it was my job to clean the fish. For some reason I was interested in not just eating but also the process of it, and at thirteen I realized I was pretty good at it. I never thought [food] was a mystery. I was never afraid to cook. You put something in a pan, you change it, you look at it and you figure it out. It's
not that difficult.
Could you have ever seen yourself with someone who just had no interest in food?
It would make things difficult.
To read more with Tom, click here.