Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons explains why she's excited for the new season in D.C. and handicaps the first competition.

on Jun 16, 20100

I was ecstatic to learn we would be shooting our seventh season of Top Chef in Washington, D.C. This meant not only would I be close to home (New York City), but I would also get to visit the nation’s capital for the first time in over 20 years! Not to mention that coming off of such a strong sixth season in Las Vegas. I was more than a little curious to know how our new crop of chefs would measure up.

I arrived in town the morning of our first Elimination Challenge and was immediately taken by the beauty of the city in full bloom. Spring is definitely the best time to visit D.C. The snow has melted away and the oppressive heat and humidity of another Southern summer hasn’t yet set in. It was just our luck (and perhaps some clever planning by our producers) that the first week of our shoot coincided with the city’s fabled Cherry Blossom Festival. For about two weeks each April, Washington is blanketed in the soft pinks and creams of almost 7,000 cherry trees, flowering simultaneously. The trees—many situated around the Tidal Basin at the base of the National Mall—were a gift from Japan to the United States as a symbol of lasting friendship. About 3,000 trees were planted in 1912, another 3,800 in 1965. A number of festive cultural events and activities planned around D.C. at this time help celebrate the season and commemorate this generous gift. As we pulled up to the Mellon Auditorium, the gilded hall where our first challenge took place, I remember thinking how fitting the moment felt, as if the trees were welcoming us to town, inspiring our chefs with their unique visual beauty.

The challenge we put to the cheftestants required a little more introspection. Just as every part of the country is represented in the Capital, we asked each chef to create a dish that reflected their roots and personal story. They would serve tasting portions of their dish to 300 young Washington professionals at a Cherry Blossom Gala to kick off the festival. After a thrilling first Quickfire on the roof of the Newseum, the 17 chefs were divided into four teams in which they would compete head-to-head, as chosen by the top finishers in the Quickfire: speed demon Kenny, D.C. local Tim, precision-focused Kevin and our first Quickfire winner, Angelo.

It is always a bit dizzying to taste the food in that first Elimination. Meeting the chefs and keeping their names straight, let alone each of their dishes, can be quite a task. Thankfully, the challenge required that we focus only on one group of four to five dishes at a time, choosing the best from within each group as eligible for the win, while the weakest would be up for elimination. Seven seasons into the show, I understand how terribly nervous our chefs are in this first challenge and have come to expect a certain level of disorganization, considering they are cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen, surrounded by cameras, strange equipment and competitors they do not know (or trust). As usual, we tasted a number of delicious dishes which showed exceptional promise; while a handful of others were unappetizing disappointments.

27 comments
BeccaT
BeccaT

My husband and I love watching Top Chef and we are always excited when you and Tom are on it because ya'll do a great job of breaking down each of your decisions.. Thank you!! ps. I love your witty side comments :)

yankeegirl
yankeegirl

as mostly everyone here has stated - i will as well - WELCOME BACK GAIL!! i agree & have always felt that ur insight & fluid description of how the dishes taste is great. (still waiting for smell-o-vision & now taste-o-vision!) i have always thought u would be fun to hang out with :) i have enjoyed EVERY season since the birth of top chef & am looking forward to the rest of season 7. i am relocating back to the northeast & hey maybe a top chef philly or pgh might be nice - i'm just saying!! :)

RonnieM
RonnieM

I have been a viewer from the first season, but this is the first time for me to read your blog. First off you are my favorite of the judges followed closely by Tom. I like the fact that you both tend to explain the complexities of the dishes as well as your likes or dislikes. Not being much of a cook myself, I am amazed at the artistry that most of the chefs display and I was extreamly happy to find your blog explains some more of the dishes that were not given much air time. Thank you for the time you put in to write your blog, your writing reflects the beauty we see on the show.

suzymagnolia
suzymagnolia

I'm confused. I didn't see you guys tasting Tiffany from Beaumont's dish and i don't see it mentioned in your blog?

Kevin C
Kevin C

Gail, Welcome back! I've enjoyed Tc since season 1! I also enjoyed your judging on Top Chef Masters! Boy, these shows are great and there really is some great talent out there. Thanks for everything!

Lauren G
Lauren G

Wait, you live in New York but haven't been to DC in 20 years??!!! It's like 3 hours away and a total foodie town! Hope you enjoyed your time there — maybe you'll head back again before another 20 years have passed. Love the show, and your blog is great too! Thanks for bringing awesome foodie tv to us for all these years. Top Chef is the best food show on TV, period.

Chuck L.
Chuck L.

Hi Gail. I am glad TC is back...have been a loyal fan since season 1 (except for that crew of idiots on season 2..lol) and am looking forward to a great season. Once again, your blog was insightful and a good look into what the judges were thinking. Also, I have to agree with Padma, you are simply luscious..... :-).

Emily D
Emily D

Sorry so late - in respect to Susan9659 - I too, would have liked to see something more representative of Michigan..

Looking forward to a great season and all of the blogging and comments!

Bigorilla
Bigorilla

For Richard: Which was hardest, Top Chef or Iron Chef America?

Bigorilla
Bigorilla

I love your show, most of the personnel that compete were a joy to listen to with a few exceptions.

For Padma; Motherhood has made you into a very vivacious woman. You are one of the few that I have seen in my 70 years that this has happened to.

Judge Tony; is like that chef from France Ludo. If he does not like it then it is not cooking. He is like a typical British Male. His way or the highway.

NancyGS
NancyGS

I am seconding LK's comment and want more info about Top Chef: Just Desserts. As a pastry chef (though not good enough to compete, just be inspired) I always cheer for the chefs that can do pastry as well as savory, and try to think how I could accomplish a good pastry in the little time normally given for dishes. This should be really interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of you, Gail!

Professor Dave
Professor Dave

I miss the days when Top Chef was for unknowns. Sure, Angelo's a great chef, but he better be given his awards and pedigree. He'll find success with or without Top Chef to help. What's the point?

Jenna3225
Jenna3225

Gail,

I know you work for a food magazine and describing food is kind of your job...however, the words you use to describe the cheftestant's food is amazing. Reading your blog made me wish that I could be there tasting it myself amidst the thousands of cherry blossom trees. :)

Thanks! Jenna

Tilted Sideways
Tilted Sideways

I really like the idea of hosting this year's competition of last year's winner. If Angelo wins, might Top Chef 8 be set in Durham, CT?

borbor
borbor

I just love reading these blogs. Gail, you contribute so much to each show you are on - you obviously care about the chestestants and your comments are always constructive. Getting your behind-the-scenes perspective is an added bonus. Thank you for being back (permanently I hope) on the best thing on TV.

LK-DC Native
LK-DC Native

Gail,

I always enjoy your comments on the show along with Tom the most since you have the most experience. Beautiful 1st episode on the Newseum, home to Wolfgang Puck Catering and one of his restaurants, The Source by Wolfgang Puck on 6th and Penn. You mentioned a new show "Top Chef: Desserts" When is this casting or happening? I know a great DC pastry chef! Thanks

Jeanuine
Jeanuine

Love that it's on earlier so that I don't have to catch recaps because I fall asleep; I know pathetic right? LOL

Gail you are one of the judges that I love because you are firm but enter in with feeling as well. Sometimes Tom is seemingly in a bad mood and nobody is safe from his wrath.

I'd love to see you all receive the dishes without knowing which contestant made them. Any chance of that happening in the future?

Personally I thought it was the most boring beginning of all seasons, but I won't allow that to hamper my watching. I love when it is in fact all about the culinary skills and cooking and not personalty differences.

Thanks Gail for making great cooking television viewing.

Susan9659
Susan9659

Being from Michigan, and the Detroit area, I don't know where John ever got the idea that maple syrup was representative of the region! Cherries, blueberries, apples, even sugar beets, but maple syrup? When was the last time anyone ever heard of Michigan Maple Syrup? We are the Cherry Capital of the World, there were so many great things that he could have created! The restaurant where he is the executive chef is phenomenal, but I noticed that the name of the place was never mentioned...probably a good thing based on his poor performance. Great episode!

beach life
beach life

Brilliant commentary Gail. Thanks for the detailed perspective. Quincy is correct; this episode could have indeed have been longer, as we didn't get any perspective at all on most the chefs competing. At least we have your blog for the additional insite.

Joe555
Joe555

Is it just me, or does Jacqueline look just like Kate Hudson? I was thoroughly amused by that last nite....

Great season already.

Btw--Gail you look amazing.

Cassava Head
Cassava Head

Thanks for the insight, Gail! I too am excited for this season. DC is indeed a culinary scene with a winning combination of proximity to NY and a deep-pocketed, discerning customer base that demands "real" and not fake-fancy fine dining. Thanks in particular for mentioning the dishes that were great but not necessarily #1 in the group. Too bad the SE Asian cake didn't get more airtime, since the Quickfire made that young man seem (incorrectly, it would seem) like a dud.

Duke1998
Duke1998

Wow! That's a great pic! Watch out Padma!! New Sexy Co-star may take over! Heeheheheh...

A.L. Sullivan
A.L. Sullivan

So poetic. Now I can't wait to visit D.C. in the spring. It's crazy coming up with a dish and executing it when you're nervous and thrown out of your own familiar bubbles. I can't wait to see what the cheftestants come up with when their confidence surges.**Cheers to the new season!

drl
drl

with politics the way they are this year. I seen some of your up coming guests & I think I'll be turning off much of this season, I wish you would have used people from the secret service or smithsonians & got away from actual politicians

SusieW
SusieW

Part of being a good judge/critic is being able to be direct and honest without being mean. This is why I like Gail so much. I think she is great & a big part of why the show is so much fun! Thanks Gail you would definitely be on my dream list of dinner companions!

Quincy
Quincy

Kinda wishing Bravo would have given this show the proper respect and added at least 15 minutes of airtime for the premiere episode rather than clog up the 10PM hour with that ridiculous "art" show, but with that said:

a) Welcome back! b) Thank you for being on at 9PM! c) Since Padma said it, I can too. You are luscious! d) I'm shameless rooting for the local guy, Kevin! e) John was the right call f) Jacqueline the Kate Hudson doppelganger would have been fun if this season was done in New York and there was a New York Yankess challenge with Alex Rodriguez in the mix. g) Quality first episode and I'm wanting more already!!

Quincy
Quincy

Kinda wishing Bravo would have given this show the proper respect and added at least 15 minutes of airtime for the premiere episode rather than clog up the 10PM hour with that ridiculous "art" show, but with that said:

a) Welcome back! b) Thank you for being on at 9PM! c) Since Padma said it, I can too. You are luscious! d) I'm shameless rooting for the local guy, Kevin! e) John was the right call f) Jacqueline the Kate Hudson doppelganger would have been fun if this season was done in New York and there was a New York Yankess challenge with Alex Rodriguez in the mix. g) Quality first episode and I'm wanting more already!! g)