Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons sheds lights on the greater significance of the Ellis Island challenge.  

on Mar 2, 2011 The only other time you ate with the contestants' family members was Season 6. What was it like this time at the table with all the mothers and spouses?
GS: It was really poignant. The whole episode had this air of nostalgia to it, and having them there was really great for the chefs. It just re-energized them at the end of this very long race they've been running. They were exhausted, they'd been beaten down, and they knew that the end was close. They needed something to get them over that final hump, and having their families there really gave them the support and "juice" they needed to keep going. It was wonderful. We learned so much about them from their families. They're all really lucky that they come from families that really value and love them, and they were all able to find inspiration in that. Obviously we had to be on our best behavior because we weren't going to give it away if there was a dish we didn't like. But to be honest there wasn't really anything to worry about, because we loved everything and everyone did such a great job. It was an emotional, wonderful meal to be at and to share with the people that they loved the most. What were the highlights?
GS: There were highlights from all of the dishes. They all really did incredible jobs. The dishes were so diverse, even Antonia and Mike, who both chose to make Italian food, took really different routes in doing so. Michael's gnocchi was perfect; it really had a rustic feel about it. His grandmother's recipe obviously had incredible significance to him, because he was so close to her and he hadn't cooked Italian food since she passed away. It was like a rebirth for him. Antonia's risotto was just fantastic. It was loose and light and really captured the flavor of the fava beans and rapini. That veal osso bucco was also delicious. Tiffany's southern food told us so much about where she came from. Clearly her mom was a great cook and fed her all of this food that she was able to reinvent. She showcased her mother's flavors, but in a modern way. The okra was just awesome, and her short rib was flavorful. I was obsessed with Carla's cheddar biscuits. She did such a great job with the them, also the pork shoulder and that fried grits cake were so interesting. I had never seen it cooked that way before. The challenge is always going to be to give us flavors that taste good and have soul, especially for a challenge like this, but that also shows us their individual creativity. Richard's dish epitomized Richard to me -- it had classic flavors from England and Ireland, meat and potatoes with bone marrow and a taste of America in that corn puree, but he presented them in a way that only Richard can do, finishing the dish with the glassworts. I've never heard them called glassworts before. I used to work with them when I cooked at Vong in the '90s and we called them sea beans. You have to blanche them so that they're just lightly cooked and they're salty -- they're briny, they're like a seaweed. They have a great crunch, which really added to the dish and came as a surprise, tied it all together.