Tom Colicchio Loves ‘The Bear’ (And Hates ‘The Menu’)


Do you still have nightmares about any dishes that are just a pain in the ass every time?

Well, yes, there are dishes that I’ve done myself or I’ve done as a cook that are pain-in-the-ass dishes, but the real artistry in what we do isn’t the recipes. Anyone can go buy the French Laundry cookbook and master some of those dishes. The real difficulty is taking those dishes and putting them into a kitchen, night after night, to recreate for 100 to 200 people. How do you set up the kitchen? How do you prep so that everyone’s in a position where they can thrive? How do you set up the stations? How do you expedite? That’s all the real artistry.

So I’m trying to think of the latest restaurant scandal. Like there was the Horses restaurant thing that happened this week–

Yeah, I heard about that. I still don’t know what happened there. I heard something about some cat got… the guy killed a cat?

There are some different versions of it floating around, but as a restaurant investor yourself, how do you protect yourself from stuff like that? It seems like every third person in the restaurant industry ends up in some sort of scandal.

You say investor, I invest in my own restaurants.

Right. Well, you still have to hire general managers and chefs and…

Oh, yeah, of course. You’re asking me how I do it? Start with culture. You have a certain culture in the restaurant, and you have to keep your eye on it. If something is brought to your attention, it’s an HR issue. You need to quickly investigate it and take action. You can’t let it sit. It doesn’t matter who it is, you have to act quickly and you have to let the staff know that your words have meanings. You can’t tell your staff that you’re going to act one way and if something happens you don’t do anything; then they know you’re full of shit. So, to me, it’s about setting that culture up from the beginning, and everyone that comes into that restaurant, they’re going to know what that culture is. I’ve had employees that have been with me for 21 years. Here at Craft, we’re open 22 years, I have three employees that have been there from day one, not including myself.

So hire well and stick with them?

Hire well, but also it starts at the top. When the whole Me Too thing in restaurants started happening, I sat with my staff and I said, “You’ll never have to worry about whether I cornered someone in the walk-in, that I touched someone inappropriately—I can tell you right now it’s never happened.” So, you know, you hold yourself to very high standards.

Do you think the restaurant industry learned anything from COVID? Do you think it changed coming out of that?

It’s hard to say. I suspect that a lot of things that restaurateurs and chefs had to do to deal with the pandemic, they’re already starting to go by the wayside because you get busy. So that little side hustle’s gone, box dinners gone, a lot of to-go stuff, forget it, we’re not doing it anymore. So that much hasn’t changed. But I think our industry was starting to change before that. There was a lot of talk already about equity in the workplace. There was a lot of talk about the paychecks hadn’t changed. I think when the pandemic came, the big change was that… and again, I think this was happening in the labor market anyway – that pay scale changed, for one. Which was fun. And I think because of inflation, we’re able to charge more. And so even though we’re paying more per hour for labor, and we’re probably paying more for food, we’re also able to, at least in high-end restaurants there is a little more price elasticity. So we were able to price a little more freely. I think with mom and pop restaurants it’s tougher because they don’t have that elasticity in pricing. So, I think there’s a lot more that we’ve learned that had nothing to do with the restaurants.

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Tom Colicchio Loves ‘The Bear’ (And Hates ‘The Menu’)

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