Gail Simmons

Gail explains why Carrie's dish didn't land her in the bottom.

on Nov 7, 2013 Quickfire  Challenge. We have the creole tomato and the lovely John Besh.
Gail Simmons: I think John Besh is even more lovely than the coveted Creole tomato. He’s fantastic. He has a new book out called Cooking from the Heart, and it’s sitting on my desk right now. It’s so beautiful. I’m very happy for him.

I think this was the perfect Quickfire challenge for our chefs, appropriately at Covey Rise Farms, which is a gorgeous special place. So many restaurants in New Orleans, wherever we ate while we were there, always highlighted the ingredients and the produce that they got at Covey Rise Farms because it really is one of the best local farms. I was thrilled the chefs got to spend some time there.

I actually went to a Creole tomato festival when I was in New Orleans. The dishes for this Quickfire looked colorful and fresh, but some clearly were better than others. Nina’s looked fantastic! I was surprised to hear that so many of them seemed to be stumped by the challenge, that they just had a mental block about it, considering how straight forward it was compared to so many other crazy things we have them do. But I can imagine that happens from time to time just by nature of how the show works. You have such a limited window with which to think through what you’re going to do before you have to act. It was interesting that many of them didn’t do dishes that were very creative or exciting this time around. On to the Elimination Challenge, where they used cream cheese to create three different courses. Nina got to choose what course she did and she chose an appetizer -- did you think that was a smart choice? 
GS: I did think that was a smart choice. I’m sure she did it, one, so she could cook first and get it over with, and two, so that she would have more options to make smaller portions. I find it sometimes easier to cook appetizers than main courses because they don’t have to be as large; they don’t have to be as substantial, and they don’t have to always incorporate that more traditional protein-vegetable-starch ratio that chefs always want to put on a plate. Let’s start with the appetizers. 
GS: The appetizer group was the best of the three groups, probably for all of those same reasons. It’s easier to make more compact, more succinct. The colors were gorgeous using all of those magnificent summer vegetables. This was shot in June, so it was prime time for local produce and we were very happy with this first course dishes overall. They really gave us a breadth of flavors and presentations.

I thought Patty’s crudo was the most simple. It wasn’t dressed enough, it needed olive oil, it needed seasoning, but her vegetables were well conceived and incorporated. Carlos gave us great flavor, very creative. Sara’s lamb chop -- which looked more like a main course than an appetizer -- was truly still raw and stood out as the weakest of the lot for sure. On the other hand, Nina’s clearly was the most successful. Her zucchini blossoms were beautifully fried; they weren’t greasy, the eggplant and cream cheese combo was absolutely fantastic inside of them. And she presented them in a really modern, clever way.