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Tom Colicchio Part II: What's Not to Love About LA?

Last week we caught up with chef, restaurateur, and Top Chef sage Tom Colicchio at his new Century City Craft. Yesterday we ran Part 1 of the interview where he dished about being on the show, what cheftestants never seem to learn, but what he has. Today, it's all about LA: Why he's here, why foodbloggers are actually good for business, and why LA is better than New York. Yep. Read on...

Why bring Craft to LA?
I was approached by one of the partners at CAA, and I came in town and we talked about it. I thought it was exciting, what I saw going on over here. I think LA is a great market. The city is so welcoming to everything we're doing. It's been a really good experience. I like this part of town. The tall buildings remind me of home. There's a great restaurant culture here.

Are there a lot of obstacles or challenges you didn't have in the other cities?
There haven't been too many yet. In LA, once LA people get home they stay home, they don’t want to go back out in traffic. New Yorkers go home to change and you get right back here. But we have a built in lunch and early dinner clientele, and we're close to Santa Monica, Brentwood, Beverly Hills. And what's not to love? It's horrible here. [laughs] It's sunny all the time, gorgeous. Really, I'm having a great time.

What do you think the biggest difference is between NY and LA?
People say it's all about the scene here, but there are plenty of restaurants in New York that people go to for the scene. We're not a trendy or sceney restaurant. That's not what we do. Look around, this harkens back to Old Hollywood more than anything else. On Chowhound we read that the staff is really friendly, and they go out of their way to please people. People aren't used to that in LA. But I don't think it's really a NY or LA thing, it's just how we treat and train our staff. This is what service and hospitality is about, and they're two different things. Service is service, hospitality is how we treat people.

So why now?
We've been so successful in Vegas, and I come out every year to do Wolfgang's Meals on Wheels event, and people would come up and talk about Craftsteak, but didn't know what Craft was. That just told me we have strong fan base here and could really bring something.

Since your menus are so ingredient focused and seasonal, you must love the farmer's markets.
Oh it's fantastic. In Dallas, they have it, but we really have to look for ingredients. It's amazing what we're finding here. We're finding great tomatoes here now. In NY, we wouldn’t get really good ones for another month. Stone fruits are unbelievable right now. Fifteen years ago, at the farmer's market in New York, you could find gems, but a lot of them stopped bringing it in because they weren't making money on it. In LA there are little finds here and there, and it's remarkable.

Do you go?
Sure. I was at Santa Monica yesterday and Saturday, and at Hollywood on Sunday. Probably 95% what we have right now is all green market stuff.

What do you think about food blogs?
With some blogs, they just get things wrong. There's so much rumor and innuendo, and many don't fact check. I sometimes wonder about their motivation, too. There's a lot of misinformation, there's no filter, and it just gets out there. That's the problem. Whether or not someone is credible as a critic? Whatever. Everyone has a palette, everybody goes out to eat, and our goal is to make people happy.

Do you think blogs affect your business?
No. I like that there's a camp that's passionate about Craft, and I like that there's a camp that's not. I didn't get into this business to be a Gap. I opened a restaurant that has a point of view.

Do you think that point of view filled a niche?
When I started Craft in New York, it was all so different. Adam Platt from New York Magazine recently said it was the most influential restaurant in the country because so many people started copying our point of view. I get calls all the time from people saying someone's doing Craft in some small town somewhere. It's flattering. BLT pretty much took the concept.

And now Laurent Tourondel is opening here.
Yes, and we opened in Dallas, and he opened there. It's funny.

Do you think chefs think about being a celebrity and a brand like you and Craft?
I don't know if we're a brand. For us, we just stumbled up on it. When I was at Gramercy, Craft was just something I wanted to do because I couldn't do it at Gramercy.

How many restaurants do you have now?
Six restaurants.

That's practically an empire, and definitely a brand. More coming?
Six for now.

What about San Francisco?
I'm not opening anything else in San Francisco. I'm not interested in doing anything in San Francisco. We have 'wichcraft and that's enough.

Did you bring in people from Craft to open here?
We brought in a chef from NY, three sous chefs from NY and Dallas. My chef from Dallas was here, my chef from Vegas. Every person in that kitchen is being trained by my staff. And the permanent chef is from New York.

What LA chefs have impressed you?
I haven't a lot of time to go out to eat a lot on this trip. Lee (Hefter) is a fabulous chef, but you have to say "Lee cook for me." He's a very good cook. Father's Office is awesome. A.O.C. is great. I was surfing with Raphael (Lunetta) this morning, so I have to get down to Jiraffe. I've been to BLD for brunch is great. Hatfield's is great. When we shot Top Chef 2 we stayed downtown, and more often than not, Padma, Gail and I would order in from some great takeout Thai place. I can't remember the name, and it's probably not even that good, but it's just what we wanted.

Raphael's teaching you to surf?
Um, sure. [laughs] Yeah, a little bit.
· Tom Colicchio Talks Top Chef: It's not Hell's Kitchen, alright? [~ELA~]

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