Chefs of the Round Table: Tom Colicchio of Top Chef

Photo: Nigel Parry

So often we associate disruption with technology, like lightning-fast trains and augmented reality. Which is great — that shit is disruptive — but sometimes change can be softer. Sometimes it’s the subtle shift of an idea, not the earth shattering launch of an iPhone.

When it comes to food in particular, disruption is all around you. (And, no, we’re not just talking about the now ubiquitous avocado toast.) It’s the reason you ordered a green juice this morning. Your preference for organic, local fish. The realization that $300 of sharehouse groceries will result in an incredible amount of food waste.

From TV personalities to New York chefs to world famous restaurateurs, Whalebone caught up with the disrupters revolutionizing the way you think, eat and feel about food. We’ve got Tom Colicchio talking about the need for food policy in presidential elections, Nat Young advocating for a less expensive, modern steakhouse and Adam Richman fighting for the democratization of food — and that’s just to start. So, kick back with that (hopefully local and organic) lemonade. We’re diving deep.

Tom Colicchio

Resume: Top Chef judge; celebrity chef

Vision: Create a constituency of Americans who vote around food.

The Issue: I’ve been a chef for 30 years, so, I’ve always thought about the social issues around food: food waste, hunger, obesity. And what it comes down to is subsidies — that our government incentivizes the farming of wheat and corn as opposed to healthy fruits and vegetables…there’s even something called crop insurance that guarantees farmers a set, inflated price for certain crops. So, if you’re poor in America, those products — often unhealthy, processed foods — might be the only thing you can afford.

More people die from poor diet in America than die of terrorism, so, why hasn’t it become more of a priority in our elections? Why aren’t any of our presidential candidates talking about food?

The Disruption: Five years ago, my wife [filmmaker Lori Silverbush] and I made a documentary about hunger in America. And I also do little things at my restaurants; I reduce portion sizes and prioritize produce. But where I’ve been most effective is with my celebrity.

Top Chef gave me a soapbox on which I could voice my concerns — a soapbox I’ve used to do one thing: Create a contingency of Americans who will vote around food the same way people vote around women’s reproductive rights or the Second Amendment…[my organization] Food Policy Action creates scorecards that grade elected officials on how they vote around food. We’ll also go to Congress and lobby against the mega corporation fighting to ensure their pizza gets picked for school lunch, for example, or someone trying to get rid of the food stamps program.

Essentially, we disrupt on behalf of the people who can’t afford to fight for themselves. It’s small wins here and there — and it’s tough to say if we’re moving the needle — but I really think food could have an impact in 2020.

Keep up with Tom and his disruption via his Twitter, Instagram, and over at Craft Hospitality.

Read more from our Chefs of the Round Table series: