Top Chef, Tom Colicchio Top Chef, Tom Colicchio

Top Chef Season 7 has stormed the kitchens of Washington, D.C., with a new voice on the judging panel: four-time James Beard Award winner Eric Ripert. What does head judge Tom Colicchio think of the new arrival? "Having Eric judging the food has a little bit more weight than Toby [Young] judging your food," he says. Colicchio also sizes up this season's cheftestants for and tells us his favorite Top Chef dishes of all time. Plus: How would he handle the dreaded dessert course if he were in competition? As we saw in last week's elimination, dessert is really the cheftestants' Achilles' heel. If you were in the competition, what would you make?
Tom Colicchio: First off, if I were going into this competition — and you know a few weeks prior — I would commit some desserts to memory, especially easy things like a panna cotta. You need to do desserts that don't involve baking — simple things like crème brûlée, pastry creams or cream puffs. It's not that complicated. I spent time working in pastries, and it's not difficult. Every chef should have an understanding of pastries or desserts. So how does this group compare to others?
Colicchio: Like most seasons, they get bogged down a bit and mistakes are made, but all in all, I think they did really well. I still think last season there was a lot talent, but this season definitely holds up. The chefs are a little more conventional this time, but we really had some great food. What's it like having Eric Ripert at the judge's table?
Colicchio: For me, I like having him there. I liked working with Toby [Young], but he didn't have the most authoritative voice when it came to the food. Toby is more of a scene critic when it comes to restaurants — or at least that's my understanding of it. He did know a good amount about food though. Having Eric judging the food has a little bit more weight than Toby judging your food. But you're not going to get the one-line zingers that we got out of Toby. [Laughs] Any challenges coming up that incorporate the D.C. setting?
Colicchio: Yes. There are a lot of politicians on the show. We use a lot of landmarks for challenges. Whenever we go to a city, the city becomes almost like the 18th contestant. But it was great being in D.C., and for me it was great to be able to get home [to my wife and baby]. I was going back and forth on the train because I don't do the Quickfires and would have a full day off. It took a little less than 30 days to shoot the show, and I'd say I was home probably 10 of those days. What were some of your favorite dishes from past seasons?
Colicchio: In the first season finale, Tiffani made an artichoke risotto with pork belly. She cut the artichoke hearts into a very, very small dice, so it was actually artichoke instead of rice in the risotto. I thought that was brilliant dish. I also liked Hung's duck dish he made in the Season 3 finale. Another dish I really enjoyed last season was Kevin's Quickfire snail dish with bacon jam. Also, Michael Voltaggio made banana-asparagus risotto for the vegetarian challenge and it was really good. It's usually the dishes I'm surprised by where I say to myself, "I don't know how that's going to work," and then the chef can pull it off.


Top Chef airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo.