Tom Colicchio's Dinner Party
An F&W Best New Chef 1991 who helped launch Manhattan’s legendary Gramercy Tavern, Colicchio runs the sprawling Craft empire and recently opened the new restaurant at Topping Rose House, a luxury hotel in Bridgehampton, New York. At Topping Rose House, he emphasizes Long Island produce, especially vegetables and herbs from the property’s one-acre farm.
Topping Rose House is a 40-minute drive from Colicchio’s home on Long Island’s North Fork. Recently, he invited a few East End neighbors—including chef Kerry Heffernan and winemakers David Page and Barbara Shinn of Shinn Estate Vineyards—to a dinner party. To determine the menu, he visited several farm stands, grabbing corn for a tangy-sweet salad, then stopped at a seafood store to pick up a big kahuna of a sea bass to spread with Asian chile sauce and roast whole. And then, back at his house, he did all the peeling and chopping himself.
One of the first things Colicchio learned to cook, when he was about 13, was a dish of cold mussels and tarragon created by the former New York Times food writer Pierre Franey. “You usually see mussels hot, never cold in a vinaigrette,” he says. On the North Fork, Colicchio buys his mussels at the Southold Fish Market, where the locals shop.
According to Colicchio, “Radishes are the unsung heroes of the vegetable world.” He has been passionate about them ever since he was a kid in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he’d pick them from his grandfather’s small garden. “Radishes add texture, spice and color,” he says. “I was featuring them in dishes at Gramercy Tavern almost 20 years ago, back when no one else was. Radishes are one of those ingredients that I always use when summer rolls around.”
In summer, most people don’t bother to cook tomatoes. But Colicchio likes to see what flavors he can bring out. “I was just messing around with cherry tomatoes, and I decided to try cooking them low and slow, with garlic,” he says. The result: extravagantly juicy tomatoes with amped-up flavor.
Colicchio is crazy about Catapano Dairy Farm in Peconic, Long Island. The five-acre property has 95 or so milking goats, which generate about 60 pounds of cheese and yogurt on any given day. Catapano’s fresh and aged cheeses are excellent, but Colicchio’s favorite is the creamy, superbly tangy and slightly funky goat yogurt, which he uses for cooking and eating straight.
“Some people get sick of corn, but I never do,” Colicchio says. “On the North Fork, the season for corn is short. Just when you might start getting tired of it, it’s over, gone. You have a much better sense of the seasons out on Long Island than you do in New York City, where it’s very easy to push it and keep getting fruits and vegetables when the season really should be over.”
“I’ve been fishing since I was about five,” says Colicchio. “I was introduced to the North Fork through fishing. But I never put my own fish on the menus at my restaurants; I release almost everything I catch. When I do occasionally kill a fish, it’s usually a bass, and I like to cook it whole.”
When he was at Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern in the 1990s, Colicchio came up with a method of stewing tiny pieces of zucchini in just enough water to cover them. “You create a kind of zucchini broth, and what you get in the end is the essence of zucchini,” he says.
Colicchio favors the peaches at Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue on the North Fork. More than 300 years old, Wickham’s is set on land that’s been farmed since 1661. Colicchio buys both yellow and white peaches. For cooking, he looks for freestone peaches, which separate from the pit easily (clingstone peaches are better for straight eating).