Q&A: Bravo’s Gail Simmons

The “Top Chef” star will be signing her new cookbook at Terrain on March 12.

Gail Simmons. Photograph by Guerin Blask.

Famed judge Gail Simmons from Bravo’s award-winning, hit-show, Top Chef is coming to Terrain in Glen Mills on March 12 to celebrate her new cookbook, Bringing It Home. Enjoy an evening of wine and hors d’oeuvres inspired by recipes in the book and the opportunity to have Simmons sign your copy.

We caught up with Simmons prior to her visit to hear what she had to say about all things cooking, being a foodie, and, of course, where she loves to eat when she’s in town.

MLT: How has being on Top Chef changed your life?

GS: It’s hard not to feel like Top Chef changed my life in every way. Until I went on the show I never dreamed of being on television and could have never guessed I would be part of such a successful show for over 12 years (and counting!). Top Chef has allowed me to travel this country and around the world, meet almost every major food hero and chef of my dreams, eat extraordinary food, and discover countless young talents who have gone on to change the culinary landscape of America. More than anything, it has given me a voice and a platform in the food space to help spread the gospel of good food, which makes our industry stronger and in turn effects how we feed our families, our communities, and how we treat people and the planet.

MLT: In your opinion, what U.S. city has the best food scene?

GS: I believe it’s hard to get a bad meal in any city these days if you do your research. But some of my absolute favorite places to eat right now are New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin and Philly.

Simmons' new book, Bringing it Home

MLT: You live in Brooklyn. Do you get to visit Philadelphia often? If so, do you have any favorite restaurants that are tops on your list to go to when you’re in town? Have you been to Philly chef and Top Chef winner, Nick Elmi’s restaurants?

GS: I don’t get to Philly as often as I should. I have yet to visit Nick at his restaurants, but I am a huge fan of his and hope to do so on this visit. I have eaten at all of Michael Solomonov’s restaurants (Zahav, Rooster Soup Co, Abe Fischer and Federal Doughnuts). My list of places to eat at in town is long and wide at this point—from Nick to Mark Vetri to, of course, my other Top Chef winner Kevin Spraga.

MLT: In addition to authoring Bringing It Home, you’re also special projects director at Food & Wine magazine. Which is most challenging: writing a cookbook; working at Food & Wine; or judging on Top Chef?

GS: Yes, this is my first cookbook. My first book, Talking With My Mouth Full, was a memoir of sorts. Writing a cookbook is by far harder than the work I do on Top Chef or for Food & Wine, mainly as writing this book took basically two full years and was more or less a solo project. Sure I had an amazing team of people work on the book with me, from my coauthor and long-time friend Mindy Fox to my editor, designer, photographer and food stylist, but the book’s concept and content was entirely my vision. It has my name on the cover and it all came down to my personal voice and point of view. The work I do for Top Chef and Food & Wine are full team efforts, in which I play one of many roles.

MLT: Your cookbook is so good. I put stickies on so many recipes I want to try, especially the Lazy Lobster Pie, Spaghetti Pie, Spicy Pickled Pineapple, your special sauce for hamburgers, and the Chocolate-Dipped Dulce De Leche-Filled Sandwich Cookies. What are your five favorite recipes in the book?

GS: I couldn’t possibly pick just five favorites as I created them all, and they all have a story and a special place in my heart. But I would say the Spaghetti Pie, Pickle Chips, Piri Piri Chicken, Grilled Lamb Chops and Chocolate Black Licorice Bundt Cake are definitely up there.

MLT: What’s the number one piece of cooking advice you love to give when asked?

GS: I am always amazed how many people tell me they are terrible cooks or just can’t cook. No one is born knowing how to cook, the same way no one is born a pro tennis player. It takes focus and practice and years of attention to become a great cook, but you don’t have to be a professional to understand the fundamentals and to derive joy from the kitchen. I believe cooking is a skill that’s learned over time, not innate. So if you want to cook, the only thing to do is to just get cooking! What’s the worst that can happen? You mess up? Messing up along the way teaches valuable lessons and is part of the process. I guarantee you will improve with each try.

MLT: The photos of you cooking with your daughter are so cute. What’s your favorite thing to make with your daughter’s help?

GS: I love doing anything in the kitchen with Dahlia, although it definitely has taught me patience, as things never go as planned. We make eggs, pancakes and smoothies together almost every weekend. She loves helping to chop fruits and veggies for salad, make soup, and bake cake and cookies. Right now she is going through a major frosting moment and wants to put pink and blue icing on everything. We use rich, plant-based food coloring.

• • •

Her favorite meal: I couldn’t possible pick just one, but my wedding meal was pretty fantastic, for the emotional meaning—the fact that I was able to share it with so many integral people in my life—and because it was made up of all my favorite foods, cooked by my former boss Daniel Boulud.

Most memorable person she’s shared a meal with: Ferran Adria, Juan Mari Arzak, David Copperfield, Gwyneth Paltrow and Alex Rodriguez, all at the same table.

Chefs she most admires: Jacques Pepin and Edna Lewis.

Chef she’d love to have cook her a meal: Francis Mallmann, over an open fire.

Her most memorable moment on Top Chef: I couldn’t possible choose, but the most memorable moment because of Top Chef was when we won our 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Series. We have always been the underdog and the little engine that could. This was so unexpected and a true triumph. It was surreal.

Ingredient she couldn't live without: Lemons.

Her ideal ending to a meal: Definitely a decadent dessert. I have a sweet tooth and I am proud of it.

For more information on Simmon’s guest appearance at Terrain visit www.shopterrain.com. Reservations are required and are $65 per person.

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