Chef Tom Colicchio, the outspoken “Top Chef” judge, spent between $50,000–$100,000 to change the name of his latest Manhattan restaurant, Fowler & Wells, when the sordid reality of its backstory came to light.
The restaurant, which opened last October and is now called Temple Court, was named for a publishing company and scientific institute founded by Lorenzo and Orson Fowler and Samuel Wells. The trio were believers of phrenology, a field often used to classify races as mentally superior or inferior based on the shape of one’s skull.
The pseudoscience was used in many cases to justify slavery. Colicchio told The New York Times that during the concept’s development his team understood the nefarious connotation but only had a passing knowledge of it, and that he initially saw the connection as a harmless one. There was even a section of the bar list with a brain diagram titled the “Phrenological Cabinet.”
Colicchio is a well-known progressive voice on social media. He told the Times he has “a fairly liberal persona and never in a million years would consider myself a racist, so it never crossed my mind.”
But a Times review in January spotlighted the issued and Colicchio said the report triggered an immediate call to action to change the name. The decision was also made well before the Charlottesville, Virginia, incident on August 12.
The name fix, however, was a process that took months. The Times reports that the new name had to meet the approval of the developer, GFI Capital Resources Group. Then design had to create a new sign and logo and new menus and business cards had to be printed.
Also, Temple Court was already the name of the concept’s private dining room. So, those materials needed to be redone as well.
"In the mid-1800s, the building where The Beekman in New York City now stands housed the offices of Fowler & Wells, a pair of publishers and phrenologists. Using their names for my newest restaurant was a way to link us to the location's past. After we opened, we dove more deeply into the works of Fowler & Wells and realized our research had been incomplete. We discovered facts about their beliefs that go against everything we stand for, both personally and as a company. With this information in hand, we decided to change the name of our restaurant to Temple Court, the original name of The Beekman's historic building. Other than the name, the restaurant remains as it was originally conceived," Colicchio said in a statement.
Some of executive chef Bryan Hunt's dishes feature Maine Lobster with chanterelle mushrooms and tarragon, presented in the style of Lobster Thermidor; Eggplant Agnolotti with pinenuts, tomatoes and sultana raisins; And Dover Sole with gooseberries, inspired by Sole Veronique. Executive pastry chef, Abby Swain, highlights seasonal ingredients in desserts such as Tarte Tatin with sun gold tomato and peach and Gâteau Basque with corn and blackberry.