Bravotv.com: CJ, Stefan, and Josie return to the kitchen. What did you think when you saw them?
Gail Simmons: Well, obviously, we knew what they were coming back to do. At first, I had some reservations. But when I saw how it played out, it actually made perfect sense, and really switched things up for the show; I thought it was smart as it totally changes the dynamic. You'll see as the show continues, what that means—not only for the chefs who are new (the 15 chefs who were cast) but also for these veteran chefs. We’ll learn if having completed before gives them that advantage or not. The three of them have changed a lot since they were last on the show, so it’s great to see them back again, and see how they interact with the other chefs. They come across, on that first day, sort of feeling superior. But I think the Top Chef kitchen is a great equalizer—everybody’s humbled. Quickfires humble you.
Bravotv.com: For the Quickfire Challenge, they had to create a dish that highlighted the local shellfish. So, the chefs choose their groups. We’re kind of seeing this side of John that’s sort of nicer; he’s really into working with Kuniko.
Gail: John seems smart. He’s strategizing. It’s kind of funny that he was like “She’s Japanese; she must have good knife skills.” That was ridiculous, but you know what? He turned out to be right. And, that team was really strong, whether they knew it before or not. What a crazy thing having to pick teams when you’ve literally just met people. You have no idea who is who, what their strengths are, so it’s a big chance. You have to learn to trust people very quickly, but you also have to fend for yourself, because at the end of the day, only one person wins; the good news is that with this Quickfire, no one goes home.
Bravotv.com: What do you think of the Carla backlash that's starting to emerge?
GS: I don’t blame them. She is who she is, she’s larger than life. I don’t doubt of talent, but she’s a big character. And big characters are great to watch, but they’re not always great to work alongside in terms of just getting along. I think there’s a way of working in the kitchen that the other chefs are used to that she defies. She’s very loud, she’s throwing things, she’s talking non-stop. It can be very distracting, especially when you’re trying to work. She drove me crazy by the end of the episode too!
Bravotv.com: As we focus on the local seafood in this challenge, do you recall one seafood moment in Seattle that was somewhat of a revelation for you?
GS: I had so many seafood moments in Seattle! I basically stuffed myself all season long with oysters, spot prawns, crab, and salmon. We’ll get to more of that as the season unfolds. But, it really is interesting to me that you’d think in this day and age of travel and shipping, no matter what coast you’re on, no matter where you are, that there isn’t such a difference in terms of quality of ingredients. But we tasted so many things this season that you just can never get of such high quality on the East Coast. Like spot prawns, I’ve certainly had them before, but God are they good in Seattle. And we’re there in perfect season for them. Sweet, delicate prawns that basically need almost no cooking. They’re really, really special to that part of the country. So that was sort of amazing.