Portrait

Thomas Chisholm, the Chef with a Lot on His Plate

Among the former participants in the reality TV show Top Chef who have gone on to open their own restaurants, one person particularly stands out: a French-American 30-year-old who combines the culinary traditions of his two countries at Chocho in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.
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© Antoine Motard

Standing tall in his white T-shirt and Carhartt apron, his blond hair up in a man bun, Thomas Chisholm is beaming. On August 17, he celebrated his “triumphant return” to the kitchen after spending a month at the hospital. Caught up “by accident” in a brawl in Paris in May, he was stabbed in the right thigh. His injury kept him out of his restaurant for several long weeks and made headlines in the French celebrity press, which published day-by-day accounts of his recovery.

Two years ago, Thomas Chisholm was still far from being famous. After jobs at the Michelin-star restaurants Itinéraires and Sur Mesure in Paris, he spent time as a sous-chef at 6 Paul Bert before moving to A.T and working under the French-Japanese chef Atsushi Tanaka – a major influence for his innovative cuisine and how he presents his dishes. The TV show Top Chef, imported from the United States, then pushed him into the spotlight. In 2020, along with 11 other candidates, he took part in the 12th season of this culinary competition, each episode of which is watched on the M6 network by more than three million people.

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The “dipping plate”: mashed beets, fir gel, poultry juice, and bay butter, served with homemade flatbread. © Antoine Motard
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S’more with verjus sauce on a Breton-inspired sablé shortbread. © Antoine Motard

The French-American chef – who used his dual nationality as a signature throughout the show – won over the jury with his Thanksgiving-inspired pumpkin pie and his king shrimp cooked using a thermal shock, but was eliminated after nine weeks. The judges’ decision came as a blow. “I thought I would go much further in Top Chef, right to the final,” he says. “But in a way, the frustration of having to leave the show forced me to focus on my next steps. I soon met my future business partners and investors, and we started developing a restaurant concept!”

The Art of Cooking

Thomas Chisholm is a chef, but could easily have become a plumber or a mechanic. Born in New York City to French parents – his mother worked at the French consulate, and his father at the French Tourism Bureau in the United States – he was 14 when his family moved to Perpignan in Southern France. The change was difficult. The teenager, who had grown up in the Cobble Hill and Clinton Hill neighborhoods of Brooklyn, lived for skateboarding and hip hop, and was hoping to study art. However, he spoke better English than French. “I wasn’t good enough to follow the normal high school curriculum,” he says. “And in France, when you don’t have the grades, they push you to take a vocational course instead.”

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Chocho, at 54 Rue de Paradis in Paris. © Antoine Motard

This is how he ended up at a hospitality school after completing an introductory internship at a gourmet restaurant. After graduating with a vocational high school diploma, he started working as a commis chef at Le Vieux Castillon, a hotel and member of the Relais & Châteaux network located between Nîmes and Avignon. Two years later, having become a sous-chef, Thomas Chisholm moved to Paris. This was followed by Top Chef, the first echoes of fame, countless interviews, and Chocho, his first restaurant, which opened in November 2021. “The show is a huge springboard for us as young chefs. I was just as good before I took part in the show, but no one wanted to invest in my ideas. Being on television changed my life overnight.”

Bathed in a casual atmosphere a far cry from more uptight bistros “with pretentious names that could have come from a philosophy dictionary,” Chocho offers cuisine combining its owner’s American, French, and Catalan roots. The menu boasts marinated tomatoes, melon and ham platters, sweetbread, and a dessert inspired by the iconic PB&J sandwich. Thomas Chisolm is now proud to say that he grew up in the United States – an aspect of his life that he generally downplayed at the start of his career. That was before he discovered Grant Achatz, the triple Michelin-star chef at Alinea in Chicago and a champion of molecular cuisine, as well as “all the chefs who are shaking things up” in the U.S. “When they hear the words ‘American cuisine,’ French customers are often hesitant. Today, I’m proud to show them that France is no longer the only country that can boast about having a strong culinary culture!”

 

Article published in the October 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

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