04/07/2009 AT 07:45 AM EDT
This may be his most fulfilling recipe: Tuesday night Top Chef
head judge Tom Colicchio will host a benefit for Children of Bellevue, a charity that assists and educates kids treated in the New York City hospital. But thanks to his personal connection to the hospital, the real celebration takes place later this month when Colicchio's son, Dante, turns 16.
"Sixteen years ago, my son was born eight weeks early," says Colicchio. "He was 2 lbs., 5 oz." The hospital where he was delivered had no more neo-natal ICU beds, so Dante was transferred to Bellevue, where he would spend the first two months of his life. Unable to ride in the ambulance with his newborn, Colicchio ran through the rain, still wearing scrubs from the birth.
"At first it was really bad, going to the hospital every day," says Colicchio. "We saw quintuplets there, and some of them didn't make it. The doctors worked so hard, and the care was great. But still you freak out."
As Dante grew stronger, the family prepared to take him home. A social worker asked Colicchio routine questions about whether they had adequate food and clothing for the baby. "We were kind of annoyed, and said, 'Yes, yes, we have insurance too.' A couple days went by and I started thinking, 'What if I had said no?' " wondered Colicchio.
He learned that through the private Children of Bellevue program that they could have received assistance for meeting the baby's needs. The group also works with long-term pediatric patients, health and parenting education. He asked how they raised funds and was told there was an annual cocktail party.
"I went to one and said, 'I think I can do this better,' " he says. No surprise that the owner of Manhattan's Craft restaurants soon took over hosting duties and roped in 20 celebrity-chef pals to help provide the food. "Last year, we raised $350,000," he says.
As for Dante? The teen "is fine, no complications at all, he's doing very well." Tickets for the April 7 event are available at www.childrenofbellevue.org