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© Bill Bettencourt
Tom Colicchio has heard the line “chefs are the new rock stars.” But while the multi-award-winning celebrity food master – who operates such hotspot eateries as Craft, Craftsteak, Colicchio & Sons, Heritage Steak and the Topping Rose House, and who has served as head judge on Bravo’s Top Chef – does see similarities in how the public views top-flight chefs and platinum music makers, he insists that what they really have in common is a work ethic born from their early, unheralded days.
“Chefs are like rock stars in that we spent years spent coming up before you even knew who we were,” Colicchio says. “The hours on your feet chopping vegetables and butchering meats, working the line day and night – it’s all part of paying your dues. Musicians will tell you about driving in vans, having no money, sleeping in crappy hotels, eating fast food – all to play some bar for five or six people who care while the rest couldn’t give a shit. And there's so many talented musicians you'll never know – same with chefs.”
Colicchio came by his love of music early – growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, he heard his parents play records by Elvis, the Four Seasons, The Beatles and Janis Joplin.” I was a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” he says, “so there was always music playing in the car and at home.” From the age of 10, he learned to play the guitar in fits and starts, but it wasn’t till he was 35 that he decided to spend some quality time with the instrument.
“It’s something that I picked up and dropped over the years, but only later in my life did I get more consistent with the guitar,” he says. “Everybody want to be a rock star in their mind, but I never thought about becoming a musician. I do love guitars, though. I've got a few nice ones."
Colicchio calls a Martin 000-18 his first “serious guitar purchase.” In the past few years, he’s become a regular at Matt Umanov Guitars in Manhattan, one of the last non-chain music shops in the tri-state area. “I’m not the kind of collector who knows everything about Gibson or Fender or Martin,” he says. “I’ll go in and pick up a guitar and play it, and if I like it, I’ll buy it. But I’ll think about it, too: I’ll go back a few times, pick up the guitar again, see if I still like it. I don’t impulse buy. I need to make sure the guitar is a good match with me.”
His most recent acquisition is a 1932 Gibson L-3, which he calls "a weird little instrument. It's got a carved top and back, and a metal bridge. It’s really small, too, only 12 frets. There was something about it that I just liked. I knew I would enjoy it.”
In his professional kitchens, Colicchio doesn't play music ("There's too many people with different tastes; you'll have arguments"), but when he's cooking at home, it's anything goes. "Blues, reggae, jazz. – it's all good," he says. "It all depends on what I’m in the mood for. Cooking isn’t suited for any one particular type of music. Whatever you want works. Just relax and have fun."
On the following pages, Colicchio runs down the 10 records that changed his life (ranked alpabetically by artist). For more information on Tom Colicchio, visit his official website.