Back to Basics
Gail Simmons appreciates the season opener's classic challenges.
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.Bravotv.com: Well next we’re on to Emeril’s kitchen, where he makes his chefs make soup.
GS: It was a good group. Soup is also a thing that appears very simple to make, but you need to build a lot of flavor. You can make it quickly, but you want it to stand out and have it be fresh and full and rich and deep. So I thought it was actually a good challenge to see what they did. And I love how diverse the soups were; all completely different.
I can only imagine how complicated it was for Stephanie and Kristen to be cooking together. You’re so used to cooking with a team, cooking on a line where you’re there to help each other, not to battle against each other. It’s counter-intuitive when you’re at a really high level in the kitchen to have to compete against your fellow chefs all of a sudden.
Josh did a great job. He is taking the risk of possibly missing his child's birth by being on the show. I don’t think it’s his first child, but still, it’s pretty crazy how much that matters.
Bravotv.com: Next up is Wolfgang and the omelets.
GS: The omelets! Classic French challenge. Some of them were brown and crusty. And I noticed that a few chefs put a vegetable mess on top of their omelet creations in order to make sure Wolfgang didn’t see what was underneath! But Wolfgang seemed so nice about it. I think Wolfgang’s just a softie. I would not have been that tolerant!
Bravotv.com: Next we’re in Hugh’s kitchen, where they make salads.
GS: Yes, there was a lot of run-around and craziness going on. I liked seeing Hugh in the kitchen. I’ve actually never seen him in his own kitchen before. Adorable!
Bravotv.com: Gina didn't seem to be too thrilled about going home -- she referred to herself as "a movement."
GS: That was great -- she was horrified at being removed! It’s a huge shock to your ego and often you don’t know exactly why you are eliminated, but that’s because you only taste your own dish. You don’t have perspective on yourself. That’s what I meant when I said before that they contestants have to learn to cook to each chef’s expectations, even when they don’t know them.
Bravotv.com: So what can we expect from the new season, moving forward? The trailer looks really good at the end.
GS: Every season we try to do something totally new and different. Especially this season, there are a few huge twists in the plot that I cannot wait to reveal to the world! We really tried to get a little more back-to-basics with regards to the food and the challenges. The guest judges are still amazing, and we have so much fun with them, but the challenges are more streamlined this time around, and I think and that’s really helpful and exciting. Seattle’s also just really beautiful, especially in July when we shot the show. Great weather. Food is at its peak: all those beautiful fruits and vegetables and seafood! I gorged myself on Rainier cherries and peaches the whole time we were there. It’s a pretty incredible corner of the world and I cannot wait for our audience to explore it with us!