Tom Colicchio Talks ‘High Chef’ Houston and Harassment Allegations Towards Winner Gabe Erales

Chef Tom Colicchio has spent a lot of the previous two years combating to avoid wasting the restaurant business. It hasn’t left him that a lot time to really eat in any of the eating places he’s attempting to assist.

“I actually don’t get out that a lot,” the pinnacle choose of High Chef and founding father of the Crafted Hospitality restaurant group admits after I ask him in regards to the final great point he ate. As an alternative, he mentions the straightforward pasta dish with bacon, peas, and olive oil that he cooked for himself the night time earlier than.

The notion that elaborate doesn’t essentially equal scrumptious is a theme that has run by way of all 19 seasons of High Chef, which returns tonight on Bravo from Houston, Texas. The standard of each the elements and the present’s manufacturing values could have elevated because it first premiered 16 years in the past this week. However Colicchio’s dedication to meals that tastes good above all else has by no means wavered.

The Emmy Award-winning present is so beloved by the meals world at this level that it’s usually held to the next normal than different, nastier actuality reveals. So when information got here out round final season’s finale that winner Gabe Erales had been fired from his job as govt chef at Austin’s Comedor for alleged violations of the restaurant’s sexual harassment coverage—two months after High Chef’s 18th season had wrapped—followers demanded solutions.

High Chef host Padma Lakshmi tweeted on the time, “As somebody who has been sexually harassed, this subject is a critical one and deserves openness. We filmed High Chef in October of final 12 months & weren’t conscious of the allegations now popping out about Gabe. This ought to be investigated & the community ought to think about its finest motion.” She then added, “To be clear, nobody has alleged sexual harassment on the file or in any other case to Bravo/High Chef and we judges didn’t have any indication of inappropriate habits from Gabe throughout his time on set.”

Erales’ chef/companion at Comedor, Phillip Speer, stated that Erales was “fired for repeated violations of the corporate’s ethics coverage because it pertains to harassment of ladies.” Erales ultimately broke his silence, apologizing to his spouse and claiming that he’d had a “consensual relationship with a co-worker and later decreased her work hours, which together was a poor judgment name and led to my termination after I filmed High Chef.” (We now have but to listen to his alleged sufferer’s facet of the story.)

Till now, Colicchio had not addressed the controversy in any manner, and on this interview says the truth that he met his personal spouse when she was working for him in a restaurant performs into his reluctance to sentence Erales’ habits. Under is an edited and condensed model of our dialog.

The final time we talked was nearly two years in the past if you had been making some extraordinarily dire predictions in regards to the restaurant business. So I used to be curious, how are issues seeking to you now?

You understand, not nice. And issues had been fantastic main as much as December or getting higher. However then Omicron actually put us again on our heels once more. One of many larger issues—the Impartial Restaurant Coalition, we managed to get an enormous chunk of cash for eating places. We bought $28.6 billion, which appears like some huge cash. And I assume it’s, however of all of the candidates that utilized for the grants, just one third of the candidates truly bought cash.

High Chef co-host Tom Colicchio chats with contestants


Oh wow.

And so we spent all this time lobbying the federal government to assist us out and so they did, nevertheless it was actually under-serviced. And so for the eating places that bought cash, they’re in nice form. The eating places that didn’t get cash, they’re at an actual aggressive drawback. If the man down the road bought 1,000,000 bucks, they will provide extra wage, they will renovate, they will do issues. Whereas in the event you didn’t get the cash, you’re type of screwed.

Was there any rhyme or motive to who bought cash and who didn’t?

Effectively, the way in which the invoice was initially written, women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned companies had been purported to get first crack at it. After which there was a lawsuit that stopped that. And so then after that, it was simply random.

So some folks had been simply unfortunate.

Yeah, so we’re again, attempting to get one other $40 billion, which might cowl the whole lot. And we’re shut, however who is aware of?

Have you ever seen any everlasting modifications to the business, issues that modified throughout COVID that you just don’t assume are going again?

It’s arduous to say proper now. I believe eating places are going to attempt to discover income streams wherever they will discover them. However I additionally assume, simply realizing how eating places run, that if we get again to full capability, numerous these little facet issues that persons are doing are going to go to the wayside as a result of they’re not going to have the bandwidth to do them. By way of issues like fairness and inclusion, that was occurring earlier than the pandemic. I additionally assume numerous eating places are reevaluating the offers they’ve with the take-out corporations, as a result of after they cost 30 %, it’s not possible for us. So I believe that’s altering quickly.

So earlier than we get to the brand new season of High Chef, I’ve to inform you how a lot I liked the earlier season. That was actually the primary one that you just did mid-pandemic. And that is one thing I truly talked to Gail [Simmons] about, however the stakes simply felt a lot increased as a consequence of what it means to be a chef proper now. Do you agree that it felt like a distinct present and completely different stakes given the state of affairs?

It positively felt like a distinct present simply when it comes to the manufacturing. However when it comes to the present, I believe that identical to the business has moved to be just a little gentler and nicer, and that rough-and-tumble stuff simply doesn’t minimize it anymore, I believe in the event you truly take a look at High Chef, I believe High Chef mirrors that, culminating within the Portland season, the place all of the cooks had been so cooperative with one another. In the event that they’re going to win, they’re going to win doing what they’re doing. They’re not going to win by bickering and combating and attempting to make any person else look unhealthy. And I believe that’s the way in which our business has moved and I believe it’s mirrored within the present.

By way of manufacturing and getting a present out, the stakes felt increased, as a result of at any second, if one thing occurred, if we had an outbreak, we’d have been shut down. And from the very starting, we needed to get the present executed. In the beginning of the pandemic, I used to be calling producers saying, “We’ve bought to shoot a present, we’ve bought to determine this out.” I believe it’s essential to indicate that we’re nonetheless standing and that we are able to nonetheless produce one thing actually good, even with the restrictions. And fairly frankly, I believe some components of the present had been truly actually nice due to the pandemic. Like Restaurant Wars, like having the previous contestants embedded with us as a result of we couldn’t fly folks out and in. And so we requested them to stick with us and quarantine with us and that turned out to be nice.

And the opposite factor that’s type of fascinating—and I believe we are able to positively see within the Houston season—is that every one these contestants have grown up watching High Chef. We began 16 years in the past, so numerous these cooks of their late twenties have been watching us for 18 seasons and it’s type of neat. It appears like the mix of the contestants and the present itself, that we’ve matured. And it’s change into an actual ceremony of passage for the cooks to come back on the present.

It’s unlucky that allegations like this had been made, as a result of [Gabe] is a really gifted chef and he gained his season. You’ll be able to’t take that away from him.

Provided that it has change into this kinder surroundings in some methods, on the flip facet of that, final season was tainted a bit by the whole lot that got here out afterwards in regards to the winner, Gabe Erales, and the allegations towards him. I do know Padma [Lakshmi] addressed it a bit on Twitter, I don’t imagine you have got. And because you you’ve spoken out towards sexual harassment within the business earlier than, I simply needed to know, how did you’re feeling if you came upon about his alleged habits?

Effectively, I imply, you already know, it’s previously. However I’m unsure what we’re speaking about as a result of nothing’s actually come out.

The story was a couple of relationship with somebody who labored for him who was subsequently fired. And I believe that was what folks had been pointing to as regarding.

Yeah. However I believe what occurs is, you already know, one thing comes out and sexual harassment is talked about—this definitely didn’t rise to the event of among the different cooks, among the stuff that they had been doing or allegations of rape and issues like that. So I’m not saying any of it’s acceptable, but additionally, we by no means as soon as heard from the lady who he had an affair with and it was a consensual affair.

Did it have any impact on the vetting course of for the cooks on the present shifting ahead after that?

I’m not concerned within the vetting course of, so I’m unsure, however I’m certain it did. It’s a fairly prolonged course of and there’s every kind of evaluations which can be executed. And after we had been conscious of it, it was after the actual fact, so there wasn’t an entire lot we may do.

In fact. That’s why I am asking whether or not it had an impact shifting ahead, however in the event you’re not concerned in that a part of the method, then I perceive.

No, I’m not concerned in that. However I believe, the primary season apart—we had some actual difficulties with one of many contestants—after the primary season they bought rather more strict. So we vet folks very, very intently. So it’s unlucky that allegations like this had been made, as a result of [Gabe] is a really gifted chef and he gained his season. You’ll be able to’t take that away from him. And I’ll simply say yet another factor. You requested me if I spoke out towards it. My spouse labored for me and he or she was a server in a restaurant that I labored at. So we had a consensual relationship, we fell in love and bought married. That stated, personally, in my firm, now we have a non-fraternization coverage. So when these allegations had been made and we came upon that Gabe was let go, my assumption was that the corporate he labored for had a non-fraternization coverage. Initially, we had been advised he “broke coverage.” What the hell does that imply? That’s all we had been advised.

High Chef winner and accused sexual harasser Gabe Erales leads a toast


It was very imprecise at first.

Till the day of our finale, then it was known as sexual harassment. Previous to that, we had been advised he was fired for breaking violations, for breaking coverage. That may very well be something. So actually, I’ve nothing to say, as a result of numerous it was simply rumor and innuendo. I imply, he bought fired. That’s between him and his boss, actually.

Alright. So let’s transfer on to the brand new season. I bought to see the primary episode and actually loved it. Are you able to speak just a little bit about Houston as a meals metropolis and why you needed to do the present there?

I believe it’s a fantastic meals city. I believe it’s a extremely underrated meals city. And a part of the reason being there’s not numerous tourism in Houston. There’s a fantastic scene there. And it’s a extremely, actually numerous scene. There’s nice Latin meals, there’s nice African meals, there’s wonderful Vietnamese meals. Finally, we’re going to hit each main metropolis and so it simply made sense.

I really feel like, for lots of the viewers, it is going to change their preconceived notions about what Texas is. And I’m questioning if it had that impact on you in any respect, even simply spending time there filming the season.

I had spent just a little little bit of time in Texas, and in Houston, previous to this. However I believe so. I believe after they see the season, particularly the entire season, and what we do and who we work with, I believe they’re going to have a look at Houston as being perhaps just a little eye-opening and one thing they didn’t notice.

Tom Colicchio speaks throughout a information convention with Democratic lawmakers about starvation and vitamin outdoors the U.S. Capitol October 26, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Drew Angerer/Getty

Watching the present over a few years, it looks like the extent of cooks has simply elevated of their skills and ability and expertise yearly, and this one isn’t any exception. I’m pondering particularly of somebody like Chef Luke Kolpin, who labored a number of years at Noma. However on the identical time, we see him, within the first episode, wrestle to compete on High Chef in comparison with what his expertise was like professionally. It’s an excellent instance of how restaurant expertise doesn’t essentially provide help to succeed on this present.

Effectively, in the event you don’t have restaurant expertise, I don’t imagine you’ll be able to compete on the present. That stated, sure cooks are simply higher fitted to this type of competitors the place you’re pondering on the fly. You’ve bought to decide to one thing straight away. You don’t have time to tinker. There are some cooks that don’t work that manner. It doesn’t imply they’re good or unhealthy. It’s simply, that’s their course of. So I believe the present perhaps is best suited towards the chef who can actually shoot from the hip. There’s no proper manner or fallacious manner. However somebody additionally, who has numerous expertise in a single kitchen, they get used to doing issues a sure manner. And so they depend on sure issues which can be in that kitchen. And a fantastic kitchen like Noma is like that. There’s issues which can be there, which can be accessible to them. And be mindful, except you’re the chief chef within the restaurant, or perhaps chef de delicacies, you’re not the one who’s creating stuff. You’re simply cooking. It’s very completely different when you need to be artistic and personal it.

Such as you talked about, these cooks have grown up watching the present over a few years now. How do you’re feeling just like the present’s longevity has affected the way in which folks compete? The truth that they know the way to do issues from watching the present as a lot as they know the way to do issues from their precise real-world expertise.

I believe real-world expertise most likely has much more to do with it. I believe generally they assume they’ve it discovered. “Tom likes this.” They do not know what I like. They know I don’t like okra.

Effectively, everyone is aware of that!

I like the whole lot and in the event you put okra in entrance of me, I’ll eat that too. I’m not going to inform you to go house since you made me okra.