Gail Simmons

Top Chef judge Gail Simmons dishes on her 'Masters' experience.

on Jul 8, 2009

The thing was,  I was in Asia just a few months before we filmed the show. My very last night in Vietnam we ate a famous market, the Ben Thanh Market, and we ate this dish that I’m determined to learn how to make at my house and I'm working on that. It consists of a young coconut that sits in a bowl that has salt on the bottom so it's grounded, but the salt is soaked in alcohol. The young coconut has been opened and carved out and there’s all the coconut water in the center, and they fill the water with fresh herbs. They take fresh shrimp and set then coconut on fire. This was almost exactly what Doug wanted to do, but did not do. But they use alcohol in the base of salt to set the coconut on fire around the edges, which heats the center, and in turn boils the shrimp in the coconut water. When you pick the shrimp out of the coconut you dip them in salt and lime juice and eat them. It was one of the most incredible dishes I’ve ever had. So when I saw him trying to get this coconut on fire I was thinking, I know exactly how to do this correctly! He wiped the gel all over the coconut and did it unevenly and it just seemed rushed. The idea was great and I know the idea can be pulled off, because I’d seen it done in a random market in Asia. I’m sure he had gotten the inspiration somewhere. It was not done properly. No pun intended, it really just fizzled. The flame died. Some people had these weird little flames coming out of their bowls and it was disconcerting. It wasn’t a very practical way to serve food. Some were on fire and some weren’t, and it left a terrible smell.

I love Douglas and I think he’s a really talented chef and has been working in the food industry for years with many successful restaurants across the country, but this was not a good day for him. He had an idea that he couldn't execute. It was fun. More than anything, I think the chefs had a blast doing it. It’s for charity. I mean, there’s a great friendly spirit of competition, and this particular episode was just pure fun and silliness. It was great to see how their minds work.