Gail Simmons

Gail explains how the chefs' failures were not in concept.

on Oct 11, 2013 What did you think about the gumbo challenge with the legend Leah Chase?
Gail Simmons: She's amazing! I mean, the woman is 90 years old, and as you can see, she is still going strong. She is such an icon of New Orleans cuisine. She comes back later in the season too, and you'll see her incredible restaurant. She’s such a strong force in the industry, and she's just such an amazing example for other chefs, her resilience after Katrina, for women chefs around the world – she's just completely inspiring. What did you think when Michael and Justin didn't win the gumbo challenge, but Carrie came out on top?
GS: I guess it was unfortunate for them, but it wasn't an easy challenge. The challenge wasn't to make a really traditional gumbo though; the challenge was to infuse it with your heritage and do something meaningful for you. Carrie's looked great! She cooked with delicious, unusual flavors that tied together where she was from, where her husband was from, and her mother-in-law from Trinidad. I thought that was really cool, and I bet it was delicious! I loved that it reminded Lea Chase of her Gumbo Z’Herbes, a very secret famous spice mix that they make gumbo with in New Orleans. On to the Elimination Challenge with the food trucks for the Habitat for Humanity volunteers.
GS: The city has come a long, long way, which was inspiring to see when we were there, but by no means is it back to how it was pre-Katrina. Katrina was eight years ago, and there's so much work still to do. It forever changed the landscape of New Orleans. There still is, as we said, something like 50,000 homes that were completely abandoned, never to be returned to from the residents who left them. Most of those are in really destitute, poor neighborhoods like the Ninth Ward, which is where the devastation was the most pronounced. People don't have the means to rebuild, even if they want to. So groups like Habitat For Humanity are invaluable there, and have done such incredible things for the people of New Orleans. The groups we met with – some were local, there was a group from Canada, actually, that we worked for that day – all had different reasons for being there, but ultimately everyone just wanted to help and it was inspiring to speak to the workers and also the residents. With Habitat for Humanity, the homeowners work alongside the volunteers on their own homes. So, when we were at the construction site, the owners were there as well, working on their houses. I think that also creates such a great sense of value for them and for the people who are working because they're actually working alongside the people who will ultimately live there. It's extra incentive to work hard. What did you think of the overall truck concepts?
GS: Overall, I think they were great. No one was misguided in the general concept; they all were well thought-through. It was really execution issues all the way. For the trucks that didn’t do well, it wasn't the concept that wasn't good. There was nothing served the whole day that we thought, “Why would anyone make this on a food truck?” If anything, the food we were surprised that they made on a food truck were the things that won. And so you can hardly fault them. That was one of the few challenges we did entirely outside, and they were out in that heat in a food truck with no air conditioning and barely a full-sized refrigerator for hours. Who thinks you can roll empanada dough on a food truck under those circumstances? Who thinks you can fry tempura for tacos and keep it crispy? But those were the best dishes of the challenge, so you could hardly complain about it.