Top Chef is back for it’s 15th season, and this season will be wilder than ever as contestants go up against each other… and the elements of Colorado! Of course the show’s beloved judges are also back for another season of tough love. We had a chance to speak with head judge Tom Colicchio, along with the show’s newest judge, chef Graham Elliot, about hot topics in the culinary world ahead of the show’s premiere tonight. Check out our interview below, and stream the season premiere of Top Chef tonight at 10/9c on Bravo.
What can you tell us about how the stakes will be raised even higher this season?
Tom Colicchio: How the steaks are being raised? Grass fed or grain fed? Ha! I think that the contestants coming in, they know they have a lot to live up to. They look at the chefs who’ve gone through the show, and what they’ve gone on to do. Superstars come out of this show, and it’s not because they’re on our show—it’s because they’re incredibly talented coming into the show! So I think that the pressure on all the chefs coming in, is that they know what they have to live up to. And it’s a pretty high standard!
Graham Elliot: Season 15 is going to be massive, so we’ve gotta keep pushing! The way you do that is by having great contestants. The contestants this season are doing everything from Pakistani, to authentic Mexican, to Amish cuisine—things that you don’t see very often. And they’re doing it at such a high level that will continue to inspire the viewer.
So speaking a little about different cuisines, and chef’s tackling cuisines that might not necessarily correlate with their backgrounds. Where do you think the line is drawn between cultural appreciation vs. cultural appropriation in the kitchen?
GE: I guess the question is: are you paying respect to something, or are you taking advantage of it? For me it’s a hard question to answer. I’ve been to all 50 states and around the world because my dad was in the Navy. So I’ve been immersed in different cultures. I’m not from any one place in particular. I think that appropriation is something that chefs have been talking about recently. It doesn’t touch me personally in my day-to-day chefing, but I do think that there’s totally a discussion that should be had about it.
TC: Yeah there’s definitely a debate going on in the culinary world about this. I think it’s okay to borrow from cultures. I think we all do it, but I think you have to honor it. I think when people say “I created this dish,” just stop it. You’re not creating anything! Everything’s been done. It’s just a brioche, and you’re just regurgitating everything that you see. And that’s okay! But let’s not pretend that we don’t know where it comes from. I think that’s when you get in trouble. Being honest and open about it, and thinking, “Listen I saw a dish and it got me thinking.” People who are making dishes that are copies, I think that’s a problem. I like that you asked this! It’s a hard one answer.
What’s a dish that you think every novice or beginner chef should to try to master?
TC: Chicken soup and a roast chicken. But for me, it’s all about technique! Learn how to cook a green vegetable, and you can cook any green vegetable. Learn how to cook a piece of meat, and you can roast anything. For me, it’s really all about mastering those basic techniques of roasting and braising.
What do you make of the quick social media-based video recipes that have become incredibly popular?
TC: Well there’s no short-cut. If someone asks me, “How can I become a a better cook?” The answer is cook! It’s like anything, you want to play guitar, you have to practice. You hear musicians practice four hours a day, well that’s how I got good! I didn’t make a deal with the devil—I actually put the time in.
If you learn the basics then everything is pretty easy. That’s why I think people need to spend more time on the “boring” parts of cooking, not the exciting parts. Please, you don’t need to actually plate stuff and make it look pretty at home. If that’s what you want to do, that’s great, but learn how to cook first.