Bravotv.com: So let’s start with the Quickfire Challenge with the gum. What do you like in gum flavors?
Gail Simmons: I want gum to wake me up and refresh my mouth. My favorite flavor of Extra Desserts Delights gum is Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. It has a great balance of minty-ness and chocolatey-ness. I thought this was a fun challenge! We weren’t actually asking them to make gum, but it was to get them making desserts that were truly tiny, with the idea that they could be translated to a gum flavor. I have to say I think they all did an exceptional job. Their desserts were absolutely beautiful. They were beautiful little miniature desserts, even more so than a petit fours is, as these were truly full-blown desserts. Craig did really well! His flavor was thought through and very balanced. I was impressed with many of them that day, especially Carlos’ and Nelson’s as well.
Bravotv.com: Were you surprised that Craig won? Craig seemed surprised himself.
GS: Here is why I liked that he won: besides the fact that his strawberry-lemon pancakes are a very viable flavor for a gum, it proved what people sometimes ask us, and the reason the guest judge is so important on the show -- they come in having never met these chefs before, having not spoken to them at all, and after 20 minutes, they have to choose a winner. They have no preconceived notions. They don’t know that Craig has been struggling. They didn’t know who was on the bottom of the challenge the night before. They have no idea. So it’s really proof of how fair the competition is. Every day your slate is wiped clean and it’s anyone’s game. How each chef has done in the past has no bearing on how you will do the next day. And that’s why it was so great that Craig won. Because Hugh had no preconceived notions and no idea of anyone’s skill level. He honest to goodness just liked Craig’s dish the best and chose him as our winner.
What did you think of Hugh as a judge? He’ll be joining you in Texas.
GS: I think he’s great. He’s so much fun. We had a great time on this shoot together. And we certainly had fun in Texas together when we shot Top Chef Season 9 over the summer. I think he’s a great addition to our team. He’s adorable. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s snarky! He definitely doesn’t pull punches. He’s direct, and I think that was good for the show. He’s a good chef. He’s a Food & Wine Best New Chef from 2002, so he’s definitely part of the Food & Wine family. And more than all of that, he’s a fellow Canadian!