Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

How Fly-Fishing Helps 'Top Chef' Judge Tom Colicchio Focus on What's Important

The angler also shares his healthy and delicious recipe for red snapper with lemon-rosemary vinaigrette

spinner image tom colicchio from top chef fishing with his dog tiki off long island new york
Colicchio in search of serenity, with dog Tiki at the bow
Photograph by Bryan Derballa

From the time I was about 6 years old, my grandfather would take me fishing in Barnegat Bay in New Jersey. Afterward, I had two jobs: Clean the fish, and keep him awake on the ride home. So I've pretty much been fishing — and trying to keep people entertained — my whole life.

It was all spinning-rod fishing until my mid-20s, when I started working for a guy in New York City who was into fly-fishing. He talked about it a lot, which got me curious. I asked him about it, and he taught me how to cast with a fly rod on his front lawn. And that was it for me.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership

Join AARP for $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine

Join Now

With fly-fishing, the mechanics of casting are actually pretty easy, once you learn them. After that, it's muscle memory. The hard part is manipulating the line on the surface of the stream or river so that the fly looks natural to the fish. If it moves in a way that's not natural, the fish won't bite.

So many things can complicate the situation: the currents, the clarity of the water, the fish themselves. Each catch is a puzzle that needs solving. I think that's why I was drawn to fly-fishing. I've never been diagnosed with ADHD, but I suspect that I have it. When I step into the water, though, I calm down. I can hyperfocus on solving that puzzle, and everything else just sort of melts away.

These days I do a lot of saltwater fishing from my boat. Depending on where I am, I fish for bonefish, striped bass or bonito, and I practice catch and release. I realized that fish aren't infinite and that we need to take care of our resources or else they will go away. We've come close a few times; striped bass were nearly fished out, but they've come back. Red snapper was another scarce fish that has come back. My recipe for red snapper with vinaigrette goes back 30 years. It's the first dish where I purposely set out to make something that felt Italian, Mediterranean. You can substitute a lot of different fish for the snapper, by the way. Black sea bass works really well.

I've learned a lot since I first developed this recipe. I've caught a lot of fish and thrown most of them back. I don't think fishing makes you a better chef, but it can make you a better person.

spinner image braised red snapper with lemon & rosemary vinaigrette
JOHNNY AUTRY (Food and prop stylist Charlotte L. Autry)

Braised Red Snapper With Lemon & Rosemary Vinaigrette

Serves 4


For the vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fish:

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 pound red snapper fillet (skin on)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Combine vinegar, rosemary, lemon juice and lemon zest in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Gradually add ⅓ cup olive oil while whisking.

Peel lemon and remove pith. Divide into segments and set aside.

Char bell pepper over an open-burner flame; place in a sealed container until cool enough to handle. Scrape away charred skin and discard stem, seeds and veins. Cut into strips. Set aside.

Dry fillet with paper towels; cut into 4 pieces. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat; add fish, skin side down, and cook until skin crisps, about 3 minutes. Remove fish.

Place pepper strips and lemon segments in a cool skillet with enough vinaigrette to surround, not cover, them. Nestle in fish, skin side up. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, basting fish frequently, until it flakes easily, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Nutrients per serving:

318 calories, 23g protein, 3g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 24g fat, 40mg cholesterol, 51mg sodium

Members Only Access. Log in to continue.

Gain access to celebrity interviews, smart advice, recipes, novels, Pilates, and AARP digital magazines. With content arriving every day, there is always something new and exciting to discover with AARP Members Only Access.


Not a member?

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.