“Leave it to Bravo to book the season that we were filming the week of my wedding,” Top Chef judge and Food & Wine Magazine editor Gail Simmons joked of departing the reality cooking competition mid-season last year. “I left very abruptly and specifically to get married. And I’m back. It all worked out well,” she said.
Starting tomorrow, Simmons returns as judge alongside fellow foodies Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Toby Young for the premiere of the 6th season of Top Chef, Top Chef: Las Vegas.
“Not to diss the old school, but these chefs are incredibly talented,” Simmons said when asked her opinion on the new batch of 17 chef’testants. “Every season gets stronger and stronger, and these guys really impress us. They inspired us every day, and it was really exciting to eat their food.”
I had a chance to grab a bite-sized interview with Simmons a few weeks ago at Press Tour in Pasadena. Below, her responses:
When did you realize you were a foodie?
My mother had a cooking school in our home when I was growing up and was a food writer, so it was sort of innate. In fact, there were times when people used to tell me when I started in this industry – 15 years ago – ‘wow, you’re just like your mom,’ and when you’re just starting out that’s the last thing you want to hear. I used to really shy away and get upset about that. But now I embrace it. I think it was always in me, and I’ve been doing it a long time.
Preview the premiere below!
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Do you ever use cook books? If so, which ones?
I cook from books all the time. It’s really what I’m in the mood for. I have a massive cook book collection at home. It’s like an entire wall of my house. And I cook from every book I can get my hands on. The most recent recipe I was actually making – a nectarine tartine – was from the galley of a new cook book that is coming out in September. It’s called “The Craft of Baking” by a pastry chef named Karen DeMasko. She was Tom Colicchio’s pastry chef at Craft for many years and she left to write this book, and it’s amazing. She is so talented.
What’s your favorite stay-think snack?
When I’m really hungry I’ll grab a hand full of nuts. They’re obviously really satisfying. I actually find, I mean, it’s not groundbreaking, but especially in the winter when you’re kind of hunkered down, and it’s cold outside and you’re after dinner and you’re craving like a late night snack, I’ll eat a grapefruit. Because I always find that if I eat half a grapefruit late at night or before I go to bed if I’m craving, you know, ice cream and chocolate cookies, it will totally quell the appetite and it doesn’t make me feel hungry and it kind of gives you that bite and that acid that I find just is fresh and healthy and then I’m not hungry anymore.
Are there any big trends you see happening in food lately?
Oh God, so many things. There’s some great stuff out there right now. I actually have to say, it’s amazing that I knew it was happening, and it’s certainly happening in New York, but out in LA there are crazy food trucks. There is a food truck on every corner. It’s like the green truck or the dessert truck or the Korean Burrito truck. I love it. I think it’s great. And I think it gets people to try new stuff and it’s really fun. I think because of the year that the world has had, people are gravitating to – and I hope it stays this way – being at home, to eating at home, to entertaining at home, but with a more educated palate because people are eating really well right now, and I think that people, because of the economy, are also gravitating to comfort food, to simpler food. Even the great chefs of the world are kind of shying away. They are still using the best possible ingredients but shying away from super fussy because that’s not how we want to eat right now. That’s not really how I want to eat right now. You know, I want to eat comforting, simple, well prepared foods.
If you’re in a hurry and have to eat, do you have any quick food fixes?
I have to say, and this may or may not sound cliché, but you know, simple salads. Having stuff in my fridge that I can chop up. I love chopped. Chop it up, get olive oil and lemon. Roasting a simple piece of fish is like the quickest thing to do. There are very few pieces of fish that take more than a few minutes to make. But something that is quick out of the freezer, I keep really great organic sausages in the freezer that are pre-cooked and I can take them out and defrost them and roast them up with some sweet potatoes, some onions, some peppers, do that really fast. It’s a great kind of party meal with a glass of wine.