Gail Simmons

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

on Jul 29, 2013 We discover quickly that Herb Wilson didn't plate his oysters. Did you know he would be going home before he fell on his sword at Critics' Table?
GS: We did know. It's just one of those situations where we had no choice. Not only did he not present the main piece of his dish, but there was nothing else to the dish. So it really was a no-brainer, and not because he's not a reputable or impressive chef, but we just could not possibly judge on a quarter-sized amount of sauce on an empty oyster shell. Everyone else managed to not only get their food on the plate, but get enormous amounts of very sophisticated food on their plate. Looking at what everyone else was able to do in those two hours, you cannot judge any other way. He had the exact same circumstances, and in fact, several of the chefs didn't even have all their utensils. I get that he hadn't shucked oysters in a long time, but that's where the sous chefs become so instrumental in the season. Not only is it going to be about how good you are, but how good a leader you are. If you train your sous chef well, he should know you instinctively. The challenge for the sous chefs was to make a dish that represented their chef, and Herb's sous chef chose oysters. Herb might not be the one shucking the oysters each night, but his restaurant is seafood-based, so it's not so far off. Who would have gone home if Herb's dish was successful?
GS: It probably would have been Richard. He had no utensils, so we understand how this happened, but his beef was pretty sloppy in the way it was cut. It's not like he had to make the dish he did -- he could have done something different with the beef altogether once he realized that he wasn't going to be able to cut it as thinly as he wanted. And with the salmon, it was just not appealing to look at or taste. What was it like having Bryan Voltaggio in front of you again?
GS: When he got up to the Critics' Table, he said it was weird to be back and, trust me, it was just as weird for me too. It was like a time warp: all of a sudden I was back in Season 6, in Las Vegas. Maybe we've both aged a couple of years, but I think we both look more or less the same. Honestly, what was great about it was that right off the bat, he proved that he could play with the Masters, that he deserved to be a there. Being the first Top Chef to compete on Top Chef Masters, you kind of have an advantage and a disadvantage. On one hand, he's done this before, he knew how to act in the competition. So, he has an advantage in some way over the Masters. He's also probably been cooking in his own kitchens a little more recently. On the other hand, he doesn't have the experience necessarily that a lot of the other chefs have, and I'm sure that they looked at him as the young kid who was on our original show, so I'm sure that was intimidating for him. But the dish he made -- those carrots -- were beautiful. I love that he chose to do a vegetarian dish. I love that his sous chef gave him those ingredients, knowing him, and that he created the dish that didn't need a protein to shine, but that still really stood out because of its flavor and its composition. Could you tell a difference in his cooking?
GS: Yes! The longer you cook, the better you get, the more confident you become. Don't forget: he came very close to winning Top Chef. He was in second place, which is not too shabby. I would say he has expanded his training in so many ways. He has a small empire now. He's not just a chef who owns one tiny restaurant in a small town outside of Washington, D.C.