Bravotv.com: So... Season 10!
Gail Simmons: Yes, season 10. Let me just tell you this: if you had told me when we were in San Francisco in 2005 that I would still be talking to you about this show, I would have laughed in your face. I just think it’s incredible to be here. I don’t take it for granted. Most shows don’t get a second season, let alone a tenth, and I’m really proud of how far we’ve come. There’s been so many changes over the years; people think it’s basically been the same since Season 1, but it really hasn’t been. The food is so much better, the chefs are so strong, the challenges are so much fun, and the guest judges are just unbelievable. The fact that Emeril and Wolfgang are permanent judges along with Hugh and I this season really shows you the level at which we’re playing. Top Chef has changed my life in so many ways.
Bravotv.com: What did you think of this first challenge?
GS: I think diving the chefs into our judges' kitchens was a great way to start the season. Last year, we sent them all to Texas and eliminated them in Quickfire-style challenges. But this year what we really wanted to see how they are as chefs in a real kitchen atmosphere, before putting them in the Top Chef kitchen, which is so out of their element. Having them in a judge’s real kitchen is very much like the experience of when they audition for a real kitchen job, if they were going to work for one of these guys. It shows our audience a little more of the real life of professional kitchens. Making a soup, making a salad, making an omelet, or working the line for an evening of service—those are very realistic tasks any chef would be asked to do when they apply for a job. They may seem simple, but I guarantee most people watching the show could never complete them successfully. It is really hard not only to show yourself in the best light, but also to work in a way where the chef can really see your skills, as well as that you are able to cook to his standards. I think you can see right off the bat from the results of this episode that even some of these chefs, who have been cooking for years, could not nail it. There were many who fell short.
Bravotv.com: Let’s start with Tom’s kitchen at Craft in Los Angeles. His group literally had to jump into a real service with his team and a lot of it focused on butchery. Did anyone stand out from that group to you?
GS: Right off the bat I think you can see who understood how to shut up and take orders, put their head down and work. I’m sure everyone was really nervous. Anyone would be nervous working dinner service in a new restaurant, especially for Tom Colicchio. You can tell that some chefs just had more confidence and could move more fluidly through the kitchen. John was obviously one of them. And Lizzie. I was very impressed. She made the pasta and just quietly did her thing. She did it all very well and she had speed too.
The butchery problems? Overall, they weren't all thinking on their feet. They were nervous and they were letting it get to them. A lot of them just weren’t paying close enough attention.
In a kitchen, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance: You want to do your work with confidence and take ownership of it when you’re working during service, but you also don’t want to be arrogant when you work in a certain way that does make sense, you need to be able to back down and let someone else give you orders. Being part of a line is about working as a team, unlike most challenges on Top Chef where you’re working against people that you’re cooking with, and that’s I think what Tom was looking for in their abilities: fitting in with a team, and allowing the team’s work to get easier. You really have to use your brain and think on your feet.