'Nightline' Platelist: Tom Colicchio

Craft Restaurants owner Tom Colicchio lets the ingredients speak for themseves.

ByABC News
February 26, 2008, 4:54 PM

Feb. 26, 2008— -- Tom Colicchio, "America's Top Chef" and owner of Craft Restaurants, has been cooking for as long as he can remember. He was introduced to the culinary world through fishing with his grandfather when he was only 4.

"It was my job to come home I had to clean the fish," Colicchio said. "So, I learned to filet fish when I was about 4 years old. And then we would just cook all afternoon and eat that night, and it would last all night long.

"So, something as simple as going out for day fishing turned into a feast. I didn't know any other way, that's just the way I was raised, and I kind of expect that from everybody."

Colicchio said being in an Italian family, food was always "central" in their household. His mother cooked dinner and they sat down together as a family to eat every night.

"It was a way of her expressing love and it was clear that it was so important to her to have a meal on the table and have us all sitting together," Colicchio said of his mother. "And I think that really also transfers into what I do today ultimately, we're here to make people happy, and that I got from my mom."

It was fitting, then, that Colicchio sought out careers throughout his life that centered around food. In fact, his first job was as a snack bar cook at 13 years old.

He worked his way up from scooping ice cream, to working the cash register, finally to manning the grill. The work was under the table and physically exhausting, but Colicchio loved every minute of it.

"It was the best job I ever had," Colicchio said. "I found out how much I really enjoyed it. Not only did I enjoy it but I enjoyed the physical aspect of it, sort of working the griddle and sort of timing everything and getting everything down it was a blast, it was a lot of fun."

When Colicchio was 15, his father suggested that he should become a chef. "It's probably one of the few times I listened to him," he said.