70 LONGISLANDPRESS.COM • FEBRUARY 2019
CHEF TOM COLICCHIO
SMALL BATCH, RESERVED
By NICK CICCONE
Comedians often say the longer a
joke is discussed, the less funny it
becomes. Chef Tom Colicchio feels
the same way about food.
Seasoned restaurateur, author, and
lead judge and executive producer on
Bravo’s Top Chef, Colicchio has been
in the business for more than two
decades. His latest venture is Garden
City’s rustic, 180-seat Small Batch,
which opened on Dec. 11.
"We tend to purposely open slowly,”
Colicchio says. “We don't overbook
the place. Our feeling is that
I'd rather do fewer people and have
everybody happy than jam the place
up and half the people are not getting
food or are getting the wrong drinks."
Colicchio has launched dozens of
restaurants over the years. He’s run
a restaurant group called Crafted
Hospitality since 2001, but the project
that launched Colicchio’s career is
The Gramercy Tavern, a luxe Manhattan
In 1994, New York Magazine
published a novelistic cover story
about Colicchio and his copilot,
Danny Meyer, as they navigated the
planning stages for Gramercy Tavern
before its opening. The article was an
unprecedented, painstaking account
of the behind-the-scenes questions
restaurateurs must consider.
“It is easy to engage him in conversation
on fly fishing and nearly
impossible to get him to talk about
food,” the author wrote of Colicchio.
Twenty-four years later, Colicchio
agrees with that assessment.
“I prefer talking about fishing more
than cooking,” he says with a laugh.
“That is true.”
There are two possible reasons
for his close-mouthed approach —
neither of which is unfriendliness. In
retrospect, he says, he may have been
reluctant to talk about a restaurant
that hadn’t opened yet. He and Meyer
were hopeful, but they weren’t sure
what they were doing.
Some say it’s bad luck to talk about
a process that hasn’t yet unfolded.
Colicchio had concerns about the
number of seats Meyer wanted, and
eventually suggested shrinking
their covers and focusing on driving
up check averages — which proved
effective — but that was an insight
gained through experience.
The other reason Colicchio doesn’t
like talking about food is, well, because
he doesn’t like talking about food.
“How do you explain what I do?” he
asks with genuine confoundedness
and zero pretension.
Most restaurants, he says,
can be easily categorized — Italian,
French, Asian, etc. — but
the logical label for his style is
“Contemporary American,” which
doesn’t quite fit.
“People think American, they
think burgers and meatloaf,” he says.
“So, it’s hard to explain what I do, and
it’s like, after a while I don’t want to
talk about it. I want to do it.”
Just what is he doing? With Small
Batch, he says it’s a new take on contemporary
eating. The space is casual
and as open as open-concept gets. It’s
not fine dining. And yet, there’s some
fine local fare listed on the dinner
menu: grilled Spanish octopus with
chorizo, Fresno chilies and cranberry
beans; grilled sea bream with braised
fennel, green olives, grilled red onion,
and salsa verde; Long Island duck
with honeynut squash, Swiss chard,
fig syrup and black garlic.
Colicchio is as invested in hiring
quality staff as he is in the menu.
“We’re going to teach you how to
wait tables, but I can't teach you to be
a good person,” he says. “You're never
going to get fired in this restaurant
for making a mistake .... You’ll get
fired for making a sexist comment,
or a racist comment.”
He is unrelenting about that last
point. In his Twitter bio, he refers to
himself as a “food activist,” and for
his photo he dons a T-shirt that reads:
“Immigrants feed America.”
It’s all very 2019. But the celebrity
chef Tom Colicchio, the politically
active Twitter dad, is just one side of
him. He says he’s mellowed over the
years. He says he isn’t ready to retire
from food, but when the time comes,
it certainly seems like he’ll have plenty
of other things to do.
You might find him spending
time with his wife, filmmaker Lori
Silverbush, and their three sons, or
watching YouTube fingerpicking lessons
by his favorite guitarist, Jorma
Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and
Hot Tuna fame, or — of course — fishing,
or dining out on the North Fork,
or gardening, or cooking a quiet,
elaborate meal at home.
Just don’t ask him to tell you about
Small Batch is located at 630 Old
Country Road in Garden City. It
can be reached at 516-548-8162 or
Celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio recently opened his latest venture, Small
Batch, in Garden City.
"I'd rather do fewer people and have everybody
happy than jam the place up and half the
people are not getting food,"
says Chef Tom Colicchio.