Gail Simmons

Gail discusses Critics' Table and what it's like judging Bryan Voltaggio again.

on Jul 29, 2013 Welcome to Top Chef Masters Season 5!
Gail Simmons: I'm really excited to be part of the season. I've never been part of a full season before. I've made guest judging appearances over the years, and I've watched the show just get better and better. I was thrilled that I could be the head critic this year alongside Curtis Stone, who I love. How are you going to approach being a critic differently than being a judge on Top Chef?
GS: I don't approach it that differently. I'm not trying to be Tom Colicchio, that's for sure. On Masters, we are all journalists and we're all food critics. On Top Chef, a lot of guest judges are chefs themselves. We approach food as journalists differently than chefs, and that's what the show's about. But my goal is just to be as fair and honest as I can. At the same time, these chefs are all established in their own way, these are all chefs who I've admired from near and far for years. I know them all. We all know them all. We are already relatively familiar with what they do. That said, it doesn't matter who you are or what you've done in the past or how many awards and accolades you have; it's about the dish you put in front of us that day and whether it's good or not and why. As the head critic, I want to help the other critics -- who often have way more experience than I do -- get to that answer together. So do you want to dive right into the challenge?
GS: I am so impressed that more than one chef jumped! When I was 19, I went to Australia with one of my best friends for a summer, and we skydived. It was an incredible experience, and one I'll never forget. It really was quite life-affirming, when my feet hit the ground I wanted to do it again. That said, I was 19 years old and feeling pretty indestructible; I'm a little older now. Would you have done it?
GS: I would like to think I would have! But my legs are weak just thinking about it. I think it was an amazing way to start the season. It seemed at first disconnected and random, but the reason it worked in such a great way to kick off Season 5 is because it forced all of these chefs into the same scenario. It brought them together; it bonded them in a way we've never been able to do, and gave them this incredible adrenaline rush, not unlike working a great service in the kitchen, but multiplied by a thousand. They came down from that plane, and they were all soaring; they were so excited. I'll never forget it, and I think it really did influence the way they cooked from then on. It set the tone for the season on a great note. Douglas really lucked out since he had immunity.
GS: Exactly. It just happened that he had immunity because of his sous chef's success in Battle of the Sous Chefs. Total luck of the draw, but it also allowed him to not have to worry too much that he didn't jump, and he did a really great job. His scallops were quite complex and delicious, considering he made them in an hour.