Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio picks the best Masters Champions Dinner menu

April 2, 2012

Colicchio_forwebEvery year at Augusta, the previous year's Masters champ chooses the menu at the famed Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. (Only Masters champions and the club chairman make the guest list.) But who is the Master of the Champions Dinner? We asked Top Chef head judge and restaurateur Tom Colicchio [right] which Masters winner should wear the Green Apron.
Here are the candidates: Charl Schwartzel, 2012: A "braai," a South African-style barbecue of pork, lamb chops, chicken, steaks and sausages. Phil Mickelson, 2011: Seafood paella and machango-topped filet mignon. Mickelson chose a Spanish menu in honor of Seve Ballesteros, who was too ill to attend. Seafoodpaella_phil2011  Angel Cabrera, 2010: An Argentine asado, a five-course barbecue with blood sausage, pork sausage and beef ribs. Trevor Immelman, 2009: Bobotie, a spiced minced meat baked with a custard topping. Bobotie  Zach Johnson, 2008: Iowa beef and Florida shrimp. Phil Mickelson, 2007: Barbecued ribs. Tiger Woods, 2006: Steak and chicken fajitas. Phil Mickelson, 2005: Lobster ravioli and Caesar salad. Mike Weir, 2004: Elk [below], wild boar, Arctic char, Canadian beer. Elk Tiger Woods, 2003: Porterhouse steak and sushi (repeat of his 2002 menu). Tiger Woods, 2002: Porterhouse steak and sushi. Vijay Singh, 2001: Chicken panang curry [below], baked Chilean sea bass, rack of lamb in yellow curry sauce, and sea scallops in a pepper garlic sauce. (Prepared by a chef Singh brought in from Atlanta). 2001_dinner_panangcurry_vijay Jose Maria Olazabal, 2000: Tapas, grilled filet of beef. Mark O'Meara, 1999: Chicken fajitas and steak fajitas. Tiger Woods, 1998: Cheeseburgers Cheeseburgers Nick Faldo, 1997: Fish and chips. Ben Crenshaw, 1996: Texas barbecue. Jose Maria Olazabal, 1995: Paella and tapas. Bernhard Langer, 1994: Turkey and dressing. Turkey Fred Couples, 1993: Chicken cacciatore. Sandy Lyle, 1989: Haggis, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips. Haggis Bernhard Langer, 1986: Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal).
  Championsdinner_inviteInvitation for 2000 Champions Dinner ( And the winner is………Vijay Singh! "It sounds like he enjoys food, both by the length of his menu and that he asked to bring in a chef," Colicchio said of Singh's Thai feast. "Most of the other menus are pretty conservative, as I would expect from golfers."
He also likes champions who bring their heritage to the menu, like Charl Schwartzel's South African barbecue and Mike Weir's Canadian wild boar, although he'd be happier if Sandy Lyle had left the haggis in Glasgow.
"The haggis is probably my least favorite," Colicchio said. "I’m not a fan, although if you wash it down with enough cold beer you can eat anything."
Colicchio used to play golf himself — "I got down to a 12 or 13" — and he loves the Masters, which he attended twice, just not the pimento cheese sandwiches.
"That's not really gourmet," he laughed.
So if there was a Cinderella story of a chef from New Jersey who came out of nowhere and became the Masters champions, what would Colicchio's Champions Dinner menu look like?
"I'd serve two of my favorite foods: squab, which is a small bird, and wild mushrooms. Crab is another one of my favorites, and it should be soft-shell crab season starting in Georgia right now," Colicchio said. "It’s springtime, so I’d want asparagus, peas and ramps [wild leaks], and you can probably find them around Augusta."
Singh's 2001 Champions Dinner was a hit with his fellow green jacket winners as well, according to a 2005 Sports Illustrated article about Singh and the Niyomkul family, who cooked the meal.

The 2001 past champions' dinner remains magical for both Singh and the Niyomkuls. The festivities began with a barbecue on the clubhouse porch, with Charlie cooking chicken satay and stuffed shrimp. The sit-down dinner featured a scallop and shrimp coconut soup, and then chicken panang curry, baked Chilean sea bass with three-flavor chili sauce, rack of lamb in yellow curry sauce, sea scallops in a pepper garlic sauce and sauteed vegetables, all served family-style. At every past champions' dinner the players have the option to choose from the club's regular menu, and to the mild dismay of the Niyomkuls, Jack Nicklaus ordered a plain grilled chicken breast. This brought a rebuke from Tiger Woods, whose mother is Thai. Says Charlie, "Tiger was like, 'C'mon, Jack, don't be scared. This is good food.' Jack had one bite and never stopped eating the whole night. Byron Nelson had never even seen Thai food before. He ate six or seven of the scallops, and they were huge, probably a quarter-pound each."

Colicchio was encouraged to hear the notoriously finicky former Masters champions enjoyed Singh's menu.
"It’s like I tell my kids," Colicchio said. "You can say no, but you have to try it first." [All photos from Associated Press except chicken penang curry, by Pamela Lao/Flickr] This story was produced for Golf Magazine's weekly Front9 app. To keep up with the latest golf news, get great tips from the Top 100 Teachers in America, and weekly Rules Guy columns, download the Front9 app at the Apple iTunes store. A lifetime subscription is $2.99.