Gail Simmons

Gail reflects on the neck-and-neck competition between Nina and Nick and why after an arduous Judges Table, Nick came out on top.

on Feb 5 For this final challenge the chefs are tasked with creating a four-course menu and a restaurant for the evening. Do you want to start by talking about their approaches?

Gail Simmons: I think they both had a similar approach in that they wanted to show us how much they’ve grown, how much they’ve changed, and the breadth of their cooking ability. I think they both came really prepared, which was amazing to see. They both had very clear visions from the beginning of exactly how they wanted their restaurants to be run, exactly how they wanted to cook. They chose sous chefs who they thought would be able to deliver that in the best possible way. So it was really an exciting finale, also because it was such a close finale. It was really up in the air. There was not, in my opinion, an underdog or clear winner whose finale it was to lose. I think in the past, not always, that has been the case. For me at least, this was a neck-and-neck race, which was great. It made us really excited to see what they would actually cook. Why don’t we start with Nina’s restaurant?
GS: Well first off, our judges were really fun to be with. David Kinch from Los Gatos, California, who I’d actually never met in person before but I had been a fan of and known about for a long long time. I know his girlfriend well. Takashi Yagihashi a Top Chef Master from Chicago. Paul Bartolotta, who has been on the show with us and been in other finales before -- I think the last finale he was in was in Signapore, and Morimoto who has a restaurant at the Andaz where we were staying in Maui and obviously spends a lot of time in Hawaii and is a fish genius to say the least. So it was great to have them their and have their knowledge and insight into the food. It was really exciting for all of us. So now, why don’t we talk about the food at Nina’s? What did you think of her decision to branch about beyond the four dishes, by adding the breadfruit and the papaya skewer?
GS: This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen someone make extra courses, or provide a little extra touches in their dishes. I liked what she chose to do. I have to say that the two things she chose to do -- the breadfruit appetizer at the very beginning with the foie gras butter and then the papaya skewers were amazing. They both added a lot to the meal in terms of how well they were made and how thoughtful they were. That papaya skewer was the perfect sort of palate cleanser. It was cold, icy, and delicious. And the breadfruit was a great play on a bread course and it was also very delicious.

The only reason that something like that becomes an issue is that they are using their time and energy to put towards making these things when there are flaws in the four dishes that do count the most. So you kind of wish, if you they hadn’t been preoccupied making theses dishes they could have thought through something or made the other dishes better. Sometimes your main dishes suffer because of it, and in this case specifically her swordfish and her dessert were definitely not perfect. We all sort of felt that it was a shame that she gave us these amazing things that we couldn’t really count in the body of her work, but that dishes that we did have to really examine weren’t exactly as we hoped they would be.