Backstage with Sandy Kenyon: Guitar Mash songwriting contest

MANHATTAN, New York (WABC) -- New Jersey's own Tom Colicchio is one of the most famous chefs in America, so you may be surprised to find him playing guitar on stage and out of the kitchen.

"I've been a music fan my entire life," he said. "Growing up, I was the kid walking down the street with the transistor radio, back then listening to AM music. And I just fell in love with music."

He is one of the judges of the "My NYC Songwriting Contest" competition for young people, staged by an organization called Guitar Mash in conjunction with The Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment.

It's open to teenagers in all five boroughs. High school sophomore Chloe Hennessee was last year's winner.

"I was really nervous going into it, but everyone in Guitar Mash was so open and welcome and really made sure that I felt confident in what I was going to perform," she said. "So it was a really great experience for me."

Colicchio wanted to be a rock star before he learned to cook, and when fame came in his chosen profession, he got serious about his first love by taking guitar lessons after he turned 40.

"When I'm judging food on TV, it's really technical -- something that's seasoned right, cooked properly," he said. "I play guitar, but I'm not a songwriter, so I look at it very differently than someone who is in the middle of it."

The two generations share a common bond, united by their love of music.

"What's really appealing about this song is that it sounds sweet and endearing, but there's a lot going on," Colicchio said of Hennessee's song. "It's a lot of different things happening there, which is really cool."

Hennessee said she's been grateful for the opportunity.

"Guitar Mash gives you a good stepping stone to going further with music," she said.

Colicchio said it's been special to reach out to the younger generation.

"It sort of unlocks the doors," he said. "You can go out there and make a fool of yourself, and it doesn't matter. You're having a good time."

"My NYC Songwriting Contest" is again calling for entries. Teens have until October 15 to submit their original tunes inspired by New York City. For more information, visit

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