A line made up of hundreds of mostly breathless, 30-something women snaked three floors down and out the door of the Williams-Sonoma in Union Square yesterday. They were all clutching copies of the new 'wichcraft cookbook by Tom Colicchio in anticipation of getting the royal Top Chef judge's autograph. "My friend would be sooo jealous if she knew I was here!" confided one woman to another waiting in line with her. "Will you take a photo of me with him when it's time?" she asked, proffering her iPhone. "Absolutely!!" said the other.
"Tooooooooom! Judge me hard!" (Ok, the fans weren't screaming this, but they easily could have been.) Note: Their conversation then went on to discuss Paula Deen and how exciting it would be to meet her in person, so maybe it's not all about Tom's authoritative sex appeal.
Before the signing began, I was lead to a quick interview with Colicchio through the storage area of Williams-Sonoma to a brightly lit, windowless room, outfitted, of course, with offerings of Diet Coke and Colicchio's new line of sandwich spreads. There Colicchio—along with his co-author and co-founder of 'wichcraft, Sisha Ortuzar—awaited my burning questions.
Where are you going to dinner tonight?
That's the big question. We're probably going to Incanto. I've met Chris [Cosentino] but haven't eaten at his restaurant yet. Get some heads and tails.
Give me three words to describe San Francisco's food world and three for New York.
That's hard! What would you say?
Seasonal, local, obsessive?
Well, I don't think you can say San Francisco chefs use more local products that New York chefs do. We use 90 percent sustainable ingredients. There are probably plenty of San Francisco chefs that say they use local products but don't. I think New York is definitely more influenced by French cooking, and maybe there's more of an Italian influence here. In New York, chefs tend to be more technical, which here it's more natural. Some chefs like David Kinch and Daniel Patterson are moving towards the technical side of things, though. You can't pigeon hole it. There's great food in both cities.
What's your favorite sandwich in the 'wichcraft cookbook?
The anchovy sandwich [with pan-fried eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, and raisin-pinenut relish].
What's the worst thing you've put in your mouth as a Top Chef judge?
There was a dish I spit out off-camera during a season shot in L.A.—can't remember whose it was. It was like a room temperature clam that had been sitting out with lychee nuts of something. It was disgusting.
What have you learned about young chefs?
They try to hard. They try way too hard.
Are you opening more 'wichcrafts in San Francisco?
Yes, probably in the Financial District.
Where do people draw the line when it comes to sandwich prices?
Ten dollars is the barrier. It's very hard, though. People assume we're raking in the money. Organic, handmade ingredients are expensive. But our customer isn't the person going to a corner deli.
Your t-shirt has the word "hungry" on it. What's that about?
My wife's a filmmaker and I'm working on a film about hunger. There are lot of children suffering from hunger all over the world.
I saw that Padma just posed in the nude for Allure. Are you next?
Not me. No, no, no. No.