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Tom Colicchio, Citizen Chef

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On a recent afternoon, the chef Tom Colicchio was sitting with his staff in his office, on East 19th Street in Manhattan, hashing out the details of the high-end hotel restaurant he plans to open this winter in Miami. What would he name the lobby bar? Would he serve small plates to bathers at the pool?

Then it was time to take a conference call. The subject: a state law in Vermont that requires food producers to clearly label products made with the genetically modified ingredients known as G.M.O.s.

If the switch from appetizers to activism seemed jarring, Mr. Colicchio, who owns and runs the Craft chain of restaurants, argued that the two were of a piece. After all, he said, since the 1970s, when Alice Waters touched off the farm-to-table revolution, chefs have served as educators and cultural enlighteners, informing their customers about the social benefits of organic farming and sustainably produced food.

More recently, many restaurants in cities like New York have been transformed from places to get a meal into something like religious shrines for an eating elite. And many chefs who have benefited greatly from the trend have come to the conclusion that it is not enough to simply cook with - or preach about - heirloom tomatoes and artisanal goat-milk cheese. They have become increasingly and explicitly political, writing op-ed pieces, backing candidates for office, testifying before congressional committees and supporting laws to curb the use of antibiotics in the nation's food supply.                 


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