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!Bravotv.com: On to the Elimination Challenge, we had the Real Housewives invading Top Chef.
GS: It was crazy and amazing. I have to say I had so much fun with this challenge! I was skeptical as the Real Housewives are not known for their love of food necessarily, and I had never met the Beverly Hills ladies before. But they were excellent judges. They took their job very seriously. They were a lot of fun to hang out with on set. They weren’t divas at all. They were game for whatever we threw at them. And I think our chefs did a phenomenal job presenting Lisa with beautiful dessert tablescapes. Lisa is a serious player in the L.A. restaurant industry. She knows her stuff.
They were basing what they did on what Ken told them were her likes, pink, Giggy, etc. What do you think maybe they dwelled on too much?
GS: I don’t think the issue was that they dwelled on what Ken said too much, I think it’s how they chose to translate it that got some of them in trouble. They had meld what they perceived her personal style to be with their style of pastry and dessert making. While both teams did a few beautiful that day and both teams tables looked absolutely gorgeous, the final decision was really about capturing Lisa’s aesthetic and the elegance of Villa Blanca. Craig’s team’s table looked slightly too childish. It was a beautiful table for sure, but it would have been more appropriate for a 10-year-old girl’s princess birthday party. The desserts they served were sophisticated, but the presentation, which was such a big part of this challenge, was tipped a little bit in the Chris/ Amanda team direction because they really captured a more modern elegant feel with their design and their desserts. I think it was much more “adult.” Also some of their desserts were better executed.
Bravotv.com: Johnny kind of made a point to tell Craig that he would have gone home.
GS: Yes, that was true. But again, it was a great instance of how the game is played. And that’s what makes it fair: Anyone can win the Quickfire, and if you do, and you get immunity, you can’t go home. That’s the game. I thought it was great that Craig should have gone home, but because he had immunity (and he won that immunity fair and square) he didn’t. He was safe. He really was in over his head, as he has been from the beginning. And his lemonade was terrible, but he had immunity and that’s the way the cookie crumbles… pun intended. Bravotv.com: Any specific dishes you want to discuss?
GS: I loved Katzie’s macaron with the pipette. It was a pretty and creative addition to their table. Amanda was a great team leader, and Chris made a spectacular showpiece. Everyone on their team seemed to play their role and contribute well. Their dessert’s were clearly delineated and they seemed really organized, even if it didn’t appear that way behind the scenes in the kitchen. I know the other team thought that Amanda’s team was behind, but it doesn’t matter to us because, just like when you’re at a restaurant and you don’t care what’s going on in the kitchen as long as your food comes to you well-cooked, tasty, delicious, and beautifully-presented, that is how we feel about our challenges. That’s what care most about -- the end result. How they got there doesn’t really make a difference to us. I don’t care if they were fighting. I don’t care if they weren’t getting along. They did a great job and they should be proud. And the Beverly Hills ladies were happy too.
Bravotv.com: Anything else you’d like to add?
GS: Afterwards in our break between the challenge and Judges’ Table, we had just eaten all this sugar, but we were all still hungry for some real food. So we brought the ‘Wives across the street from our studio, to this awesome German beer and sausage place called Wurstküche, and I took a picture! Here is the picture of Taylor and Kyle digging into their sausages with Hubert!
We had a lot of fun with them. They were just great sports all around.