Topside with the Top Chef

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Miami Heat

Tom Colicchio was supposed to tell us all about his new South Beach restaurant—turns out he’d rather just talk about boats.

When I hopped on the phone with celebrity chef extraordinaire Tom Colicchio, it was originally to map out his perfect day in Miami, much like we did with Carlos Gazitua on page120. But things went sideways fast.

Tom Colicchio

Colicchio gave me some broad strokes on where he likes to go when he’s in town. He gets coffee, but not Cuban coffee, it’s too sweet for him. He doesn’t have a particular breakfast spot either. “I’ll usually just get something at the hotel,” he said, referencing the 1 Hotel in South Beach, where he is preparing to open a restaurant this month tentatively named Beachcraft that will specialize in wood-grilled, ocean-to-table seafood. He then rattled off a few names of Miami establishments where he likes to eat dinner. “Michy’s is pretty good, and there’s a little mom-and-pop place in a strip mall called The Federal that does great southern-influenced food,” he said. “I love Michael’s Genuine, and the pizza at Dolce is really good … maybe I’d get a negroni somewhere before that.” But the details were kind of scant.

I asked him which pizza at Dolce’s is the house specialty, and he wasn’t quite sure what was on it. Then he sighed. “You know,” he said, chuckling apologetically, “I’m not really the best guy to talk to for this, because my perfect day in Miami is a lot different than most peoples’ ‘perfect day.’ If it were up to me, I’d get up early, get some coffee, load up the boat, and go sailfishing—I like to throw flies at ’em. Then maybe if we have time I’d like to get down to Key Biscayne and hit the flats for some bonefish.”

Wait, what?

“Do you own a boat?” I asked, more than a little surprised. 

“Oh yeah, a 26-foot Regulator,” came the response. “I keep it up in the North Fork [of Long Island] in the summer and Jersey in the winter. From my dock in Long Island I can make it to Menemsha in two hours. With the twin 250’s she can do 50 mph, but I usually cruise her at 32, giving me about 1.8 miles to the gallon or so,” he finished confidently.

I was completely through the looking glass. I had gotten on the phone with one of the most famous chefs in the world to talk about food, and somehow, someway, here I was again, talking boats.

It turns out Colicchio is a real-deal boat nut—just like a lot of you—and is contemplating getting a second boat to keep in South Florida, since he spends so much time down there for work lately. And he loves to fish. Fifty to 60 days a year before he had kids, but now a bit less. He’s fished a good chunk of the western Hemisphere, including Mexico, Guatemala, and the Bahamas. In fact, he said that knowing what he knows now about fish, if he was a teenager again, he would have liked to have taken a shot at being a mate on an offshore-fishing boat. “It’s a tough job, but if you don’t have a boat and still love the water, it’s a great way to get out there,” he said. “But me, I didn’t ever get to do that. I cooked instead.”

With about a dozen successful restaurants in operation, five James Beard medals to his credit, and a role as the head judge on Bravo TV’s popular Top Chef, the cooking thing’s worked out pretty well I’d say. But Colicchio’s also known for being bigger than his celebrity—he’s deeply entrenched in the war on hunger in America, and also is involved with some political G.M.O. issues. A new way he’s keeping his eye on the greater good is by researching which invasive species are suitable for a plate. Beachcraft will serve lionfish, with a one-dollar donation given to the Everglades Foundation for every one ordered, and he and his team are on the prowl for more environmentally harmful species that might make a tasty filet. 

Like a lot of highly successful, self-made boat guys I’ve met, Colicchio strikes me as being all heart. He knows he’s done well. Now it’s time to do good.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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