Tom Colicchio is Searching for America’s “Best New Restaurant”

Chef Tom Colicchio is well known as a restaurateur of dining meccas including Craft and Gramercy Tavern, and as the head judge of Top Chef. Now he is hosting Best New Restaurant, a new culinary competition on Bravo, where delicious food is only part of the battle.

Chef Tom Colicchio surveys the kitchen at DOMA.

In the cutthroat culinary world, where 60 percent of new restaurants close or change ownership within three years of opening, 16 of America’s top young restaurants are vying to be called the best. But the competition looks at much more than food. Colicchio warns that even if the food is stellar, a restaurant will not survive if the service, décor and concept aren’t equally impeccable.

And perfection can be found in a wide variety of restaurants; the show highlights restaurants varying from barbecue to bistros to white-tablecloth fine dining. “This is about real people and the team behind the restaurants,” Colicchio says. “There are some mom-and-pop restaurants, people who have emptied their life savings and maxed out their credit cards and opened a restaurant.”

And to test each establishment’s mettle, Colicchio interviews the restaurant’s key players to get a sense of the restaurant and even employ a secret diner or two, but the paramount challenge of Best New Restaurant is the “pressure test,” where a restaurant is inundated with 30 diners at once. “They have two hours, from start to finish, to seat everybody, get them their food, get them their coffee and get them out the door,” explains Colicchio. “It really does mimic what a busy night would look like in a restaurant. And some restaurants do really well, and some don’t.”

Buoyed by the show’s spirit of competition — where, although fighting in a bracket-style tournament, each restaurant is ultimately competing against itself to present its best incarnation — Colicchio is confident in Best New Restaurant’s appeal for viewers and restaurants: “After our first season, we’re going to have a ton of restaurants calling us and trying to get on.”

BestNewRestaurant_3How the competition works, (courtesy Bravo press release):
In the first round of competition, the restaurants are divided into pairs based around a common theme reflected in their concepts or culinary influences. All are challenged to the same three tasks testing their overall performance, the strength of their staff, and the clarity of their concept. First, the restaurants are subjected to a “Pressure Test,” in which 30 hungry diners descend on the restaurants without notice to see how the businesses handle the stress of a packed house. Next, Tom sends in two “Undercover Diners” wired with hidden cameras in order to get a patron’s perspective when the restaurants do not know they are being judged. Finally, the two paired-up restaurants come together in a neutral location and serve dinner for 30 VIP diners. At the end of each of the first eight episodes, Tom declares one restaurant the victor, and the establishments move on to the semifinals.

The semifinal rounds will feature the restaurants battling in two groups to open a pop-up restaurant based around what the eateries see as the next evolution of their current concepts. The grand finale pits the final two restaurants against each other in a head-to-head contest to put forward their best service possible for a group of 50 VIP diners at Tom’s restaurant Riverpark in New York City.

At the end of weeks of grueling competition, only one tasty restaurant will be crowned “Best New Restaurant” and win an editorial feature in Bon Appétit, a featured spot at America’s number one global food festival, Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appétit 2015, and $100,000.

Episode 1: “Italian Cuisine” Wednesday, Jan. 21 10pmET
Two delectable new restaurants serving Italian cuisine face off in three daunting challenges. Doma in Beverly Hills features Italian food with a global twist while the team at Dolce Italian in South Beach is dedicated to serving authentic Italian dishes. Service is the key to success in this episode where Doma’s veteran waiter Igor puts on a show at every meal and Dolce’s general manager Dean has hospitality in his genes.

Episode 2: “Shared Plates” Wednesday, Jan. 28 10pmET
Two innovative restaurants making waves with their shared plates concepts face off. Miami’s The Federal is run by a powerhouse couple who put their life savings into the restaurant. In Austin, Swift’s Attic is the creative brainchild of an experienced culinary dream team.

Other Match-ups Include:
New Service Concepts – The Church Key vs. Restaurant Jezebel
Operated by Couples – R House vs. Barlata Tapas Bar
Battle of the Burger – Porter Ale House and Gastropub vs. Tongue & Cheek
European Inspired – L’Apicio vs. Little Sparrow
Fast Casual Dining – Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbecue vs. Buns & Buns
Seasonal Menus – Union Restaurant vs. The Pines

Best New Restaurant > Bravo > Wednesdays beginning Jan. 21 at 10pmET

Photo © Dale Berman/Bravo