Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, the five-time James Beard award winning chef behind restaurants like Craft and Colicchio & Sons in New York, couldn't have picked a better place to open a new spot, at least Miami thinks so. The celebrated chef is opening up an as of yet unnamed farm-to-table eatery with a seafood and Mediterranean menu focused on simple, local and fresh ingredients, very similar in concept to his other restaurants. Colicchio tells Eater it was an "easy fit" for him and the restaurant's location, the 1 Hotel, a hotel geared toward environmental sustainability and an LEED certification. Read on for his full interview.
Does the restaurant have a name yet? What have you been playing around with?
No we don't have a name yet. There's a few things. The restaurant's definitely going to have, food wise, more of a Mediterranean vibe, so we're playing around with a few things. There's one idea … my family comes from a small town in Italy called Vallata, so we're possibly thinking of that, although it doesn't have a connection to the ocean, so I'm not sure. We don't know yet.
Tell me a little bit about the concept and how the concept came to be.
Well, the concept is not far from what we typically do. Because we're in South Florida I wanted to focus on fish. You know the idea, I just had this idea in my head, that if you were sailing on a sailboat, could be anywhere, you pull onto the beach and you have a certain expectation of what you're doing to find and it's usually very simple, grilled food, really nice, fresh vegetables, great fish, olive oil-based, so that's what we're doing. We're keeping it real simple. We have this great wood-burning grill that we're getting … all wood, no gas, so that's what we're doing. Keeping it simple. I think down here everybody's pretty body conscious and people tend to wear less so, you know, and I think when people want to eat here they don't want to eat a lot of heavy food, they don't want a lot of fried food, so I think we'll focus on just keeping everything really simple and delicious and fresh and that's it. It's nothing crazy.
Since it's Miami, will there be any Latin influences on the menu?
I don't think so, no. I don't think it's about doing ethnic dishes. There may be accents here and there, but I don't see going in that direction at all. It's not comfortable for me and it wouldn't feel right for me to do that. Again, looking at what I've done with either Craft or Colicchio & Sons and some of the restaurants I have in New York, even going back to the Gramercy Tavern days, the food just has a very natural feel to it where it's not fussy, it's not overdone, it's not about complicated dishes with complicated ingredients. So, I think we'll just continue to do that, but I don't see … influences here and there may pop up, but I don't think you're all of a sudden going to find a Latin or a Cuban dish on the menu. I love those flavors, but I like eating them, they don't come from me. So I would probably stay away from them. It wouldn't feel authentic.
What made you choose Miami as your next location?
Well, I've been coming down here for a while and I've looked at a lot of different projects over the years and for various reasons they haven't worked out … I looked at something at the Fontainebleau early on, the Ritz-Carlton years back and nothing just seemed to sort of feel right. And when I found out about this hotel, what really drew me to it was the idea of the design, this very natural idea of sustainability and, you know, that's everything that we talk about in our restaurants … all my restaurants except for one, all of our meats are 100% antibiotic free, most of we buy produce wise is organic and I do it for a lot of reasons. I do it because I think it's better for health reasons, I think it's better for the environment, as a parent I care about what my kids eat, so the same ethos in this hotel was very close to what we wanted in the restaurant, so it was a very easy fit. That was really it, I mean, after five minutes of hearing about the hotel I was like "sign me up! This is exactly what I want to do."
How will you split your time between Miami and your other restaurants?
Typically what happens with a new restaurant is we bring all of the chefs and all of the restaurants will be here for the opening. That could be up to two weeks. I'll probably be here anywhere from a month to two months. And then usually, as I'm sort of phasing out, other chefs are coming down. We will have an executive chef on the property and typically it's someone who's worked with me for a long time. I haven't identified that person yet, but there are a few people that we're talking to. And then after that initial two-month period, I'll continue to come down on a regular basis. But yeah, that's how we open restaurants. It's full on and then we back off, but typically whoever is going to be here day to day will be … you know, I don't want to leave some two year culinary student down here, I want someone who's been with me a long time.
And who is on board so far?
No one yet, I mean, we're still a ways away. Most likely in September we'll start putting a team together. We have operations people who will be here during that whole time, so we'll start I think focusing on putting a team together after September.
What are you most excited about with the new restaurant?
New restaurants, they're always exciting. I still get excited opening a restaurant, it's still fun to do. Some people think I need my head examined, but I enjoy it. What I enjoy is, they're all new, they're all different and you can plan… that's why I'm not so focused on planning right now – design wise we just finished up the layout and kitchen design, now we're starting to work on materials and stuff like that, so that's all fun to do… so it's a great process, I actually love that process. So, we're doing that, but you can plan and, usually, opening night the whole plan just goes out the door and you kind of just get in there and get it done. We've done enough restaurants to know that, but it's exciting to open. There's nothing like opening night. There's nothing like it. There's just an excitement, there's a buzz, everybody's nervous, but because so many of the chefs go down, it makes it easier. The great thing about it is the team that comes down, we're all busy working in different restaurants and doing different things, but we're opening a restaurant all together, so we have a good time. So I'm looking forward to the opening. I'm lucky that Michael Schwartz is a good friend of mine, I've known him since we were both young cooks, so he's going to help me out with suppliers, so that's helpful. That's probably the most important thing right now is just getting our suppliers together and making sure we have great ingredients. So, that's really important. The exciting thing is just watching something that you have in your head and on paper actually come alive and that's always fun.
Did you start working on the menu yet?
No, that's the last thing. Typically, I won't have a menu done, maybe, two or three weeks before we open. And then it'll constantly change. We actually, in all our restaurants, we print menus every night. It's usually the last thing I work on for various reasons. I guess for press reasons it's good to get a menu out, but I still think if I were to work on a menu now and let's just say we're opening in October and then we don't open until January, then I just wasted a lot of my time. So there's no reason to do it until we really have a firm date because it's always so seasonal. We'll take our time. But I know what I want to do, so now it's just a matter of making sure the ingredients are there and a matter of putting together a few dishes.
And the restaurant is scheduled for a Fall opening, right?
That's what I hear.
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