Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons lays down the ground rules for this unique season.

on Dec 1, 20100

This one feels a little different.

After seven seasons of Top Chef, two seasons of Top Chef Masters and right on the heels of Top Chef: Just Desserts, I think it is safe to say I have met my share of new cheftestants. By this point, I have the whole thing down to a science. I know exactly what to expect from our first day of shooting, I have a time-tested system for remembering all their names at the first Elimination Challenge, I know more or less how well (or sometimes how poorly) each chef will do, having never anticipated how hard it is to cook under these conditions, and perhaps most of all, I realize how nervous and full of optimism they are as they stand before us at that first Judges’ Table.

All that said, within minutes of entering the Russian Tea Room for the start of Top Chef All-Stars, I tossed my assumptions and usual routine right out the door. For the first time on our show, I experienced a feeling that caught me completely off guard: nerves! I felt anxious and excited, as well as ill-prepared for what we were about to do. I could sense it before I even saw our returning chefs in person. It was palpable, but subtle, as slight as a change in barometric pressure, as certain as Tom’s shiny head. This season was going to be very different.

My angst was confirmed as soon as we were seated at the dinner table, surrounded by many of our strongest eliminated competitors from seasons past. I remembered them all well, partially because I have had the opportunity to get to know most of them personally since they last stood in front of us. I have shared meals and attended events with them, and have been lucky enough to eat at some of their restaurants across the country. But what shocked me was how clearly I remembered their food, their cooking styles, and their personalities in the kitchen. My first instinct was to smile, reach out and welcome them back, like I would a long-lost friend. But I could sense as they stared at us across the table that a friendly reunion was not in the cards. If I remembered so much about each of them, they surely had crystal clear memories of me in this circumstance too.

I know what you are thinking. At that moment I was thinking it too: How will this intimate knowledge affect our judging? Will it give some an advantage? How will they react? More is at stake this season, in both prize money and reputation, with all 18 seeking either retribution or redemption. It is hard not to consider all of this from the start. So, as we begin our next great adventure together, let me assure you of a few ground rules:

1) I have never regretted a decision I have made on this show and am not about to start second-guessing now. Rest assured, our judging is as impartial and balanced as ever. After all, that is why we are a panel of four. We keep each other in check and base our decisions on honest and thorough discussion, including all sides of an argument for both winning and losing chefs. We do not see what goes on in the house, in their private interviews, or most of what happens in the kitchen before we eat. As always, we judge each challenge in isolation, on the food put in front of us that specific day. It is the only way the challenges work. A chef cannot win by resting on his or her laurels, or on how well (or poorly) we suspect they can cook. They still need to prove it every time. That is also why we usually have a guest judge, who does not have our history with the chefs, does not know what they cooked last week or last season — or what they cook in their restaurants back home.

44 comments
Jimbobjr
Jimbobjr

Stephan.. not worthy of top chef master? well im sure ,im not alone thinking he should have won Top Chef reg. Geuss the Jewish producers arent done punshing the man for being a cocky German.

latida
latida

I am very happy that Elia is gone! Her attitude drove me up the wall. Part of being a professional (especially in the food industry) is being able to take critiques. Based on what I saw, Elia couldn't handle others' opinions of her dish, wasn't willing to learn from her mistakes...granted if you don't think you've made a mistake it's rather difficult to learn from it. Either way, I won't have to listen to her on the show anymore. Hurray!

jamaicanese
jamaicanese

I love the show...these chefs all had the potential to make it to the end...but I'm dying to know which season/finalists did you feel was the hardest to judge? Which two contestants (Marcel and Ilan?) was the closest? And why did the judges make the decision. Thanks Gail! And great job :)

jeanette1
jeanette1

You are so right each elimination will be very painful. However this season will also rock I am sure!!

Miguel Bocanegra
Miguel Bocanegra

Hi Gail, how are you?, I'm from Mexico I really like the program, but I readed somthing that was not totally true, you said: "We do not see what goes on in the house, in their private interviews, or most of what happens in the kitchen before we eat" exactly today ALEX goes out, I feel that you knows about he said about Get MArried and he wants to go out, No one of the Chefs talked with you about this comment of Alex and Tom asked to the the other chef (I dont remeber the name) About her if she wanted to stay, then who did not want? I saw this like you know about the issue in the house arent you? Also I know the worst performance was about Alex, still thinking about he is the correct person to go out, just want to saw, dont use the personal comments of the chefs against them. Thanks

PS. I really like you, you are really pretty :D with all respect I like your eyes :D

Mike

Jantina
Jantina

Thank you for the blog. I always wonder what it is about the dish the judges don't like that gives the chef the boot. Bourdain's, "I hate it. I hate it. I hate it." Didn't really tell us what was bad about the dish.

I and my friends always thought season 2 chefs weren't that good and they proved it w/ the quickfire and Elia's subsequent ousting. We consider Elan the best of that sophomoric crowd. Not really a great chef like other seasons.

I appreciate you sticking to your decisions and not letting the contestants whine or rationalize their way out of their elimination.

Bao Vo
Bao Vo

Congratulation!!! Top Chef Just Dessert was a sucsess. The recipes are great. Is the recipe for Morgan's BLACK PEPPER BAUMKUCHEN complete ? If you could provide the complete one. Thank you so much. Bao

Johnnie
Johnnie

I'm amused by the person who said that Gail seemed to be judging Elia...hmm...it's a competition and they are the judges...

jetsgirl
jetsgirl

I actually think Gail was way too hard on Elia. I believe it's because Elia is so much better looking than Gail or Padma. Jealousy is not a virtue. The show probably just lost half the male audience and maybe a quarter of the women. Personally, I love Angelo and Tiffany F. so I'm still in.

Lyshorty
Lyshorty

Loved reading your blog Gail!! I can't wait to see your future blogs. Not sure if you read your blog comments, but if you do I have a couple of quick questions:

1) Do the responses of the contestants during elimination persuade the judges at all?

2) Has there ever been a moment when a decision to eliminate a contestant was split down the middle between the judges? If so, how have you decided on the elimination?

Thanks so much for taking the time to blog and provide such wonderful insights!

Roberta L.
Roberta L.

Gail, I really enjoy reading your descriptive, intelligent and honestly written blogs. I'm so looking forward to this tremendous season.

Thanks so much.

Megameg
Megameg

So excited about this season...I got hooked on Top Chef during season four and I love it, thanks to reruns of previous seasons I have gotten to know chefs from past seasons. Hmm if I had to root for someone, it would have to be Blais, because I of course assumed he would win his season and because he is out of the Atlanta area :) Aside from him I really liked Carla, she had a great personality but I would not think that her skill level is equitable to Richard's, but from what I have seen she does an excellent job with flavoring..so flavor alone, flavor and technique I think is more of the ticket, they all no doubt can cook their a's off or they wouldn't have been on the show the first time around. Hmm what else, oh all these whining blog responders, really get over it and get a life!!! YOU CAN NOT CHANGE THE JUDGES Decisions, live with it and get over it...freedom of speech my a, go find a hobby instead of complaining on a blog about food you've never tasted by people you've never met!!!! Okay that is all, now back to you TC ;)

katrianna
katrianna

YAY! ALL STARS. Great blog, thought you were fab on Just Desserts

Renoroc
Renoroc

This is probably shaping up to be the best season I've seen. Now that desserts have their own show, will these TC contestants have to make desserts? I'm wondering. Stay awesome!

May O.
May O.

I didn't realize how much I liked you until TCJD. You're a great hostess! And, I actually found the show really involving, in spite of the fact that I almost never order dessert. Is it just me, or are pastry chefs more, um... high-maintenance? :)

seah
seah

firstly i'm disappointed at the lack of sportsmanship shown by the other chefs cooking in richard's group. clearly tre and a few others saw that richard exceeded his time and no 1 actually bothered to tell him to stop. i'm amazed that richard remained so calm even after being disqualified. i woulda screamed my head off at those who clearly saw me exceed the time and chose to kept quiet about it. but i guess that's wat makes richard such a great chef as i've nv seen him lose his temper or show any emotion for that matter even after his loss in the finale of season 4.

secondly if someone did indeed inform the producers about richard's mistake, then i have to agree that it's fair because like wat richard said after that, rules are rules. but i have to ask this: would the producers have noticed his mistake if that person had not informed them about it. if so then i have to say that the producers were not doing their jobs.

thirdly i feel it's abit of a shame that bravo tv chose to invite chefs like tiffani faison of season 1 and marcel and elia of season 2 back for another go. i thought tiffani didn't deserve to be in the finals as she got through only because dave made a mistake by leaving out 1 dish in the second last eps of season 1. as tom said during judges table of that particular eps: if dave had put out any sort of third dish he woulda been through to the finals instead of tiffani.

elia for me simply doesn't deserve to even be a chef if she doesn't even get the basics of cooking right when she served fish which were raw. and i'm sure as everyone remembers had betty not asked to be sent home just to keep elia in the show she woulda been gone much earlier. fact that she hadn't learned from her mistakes and that she recreated a dish that was worse than the 1 she was sent packing for says it all.

kikiki
kikiki

Bacon and fennel don't cook fish - she should have concentrated on the basics since they gave her so much trouble!!

Topchefer
Topchefer

I, for one, thought Fabio's pasta looked extremely unappetizing. Given a second chance to make this dish, I was expecting it to at least look better. Hope he steps it up, his attitude is off putting. (Although, Bourdain is obnoxious, imo, but Fabio will have to put up with all kinds of critics in this life if he is to be a public persona.)

Topchefer
Topchefer

If you have ever watched this show before, you know it is way too late to bring Elia back. In a competition every contestant knows they could be eliminated at any time. That is the name of the game. If we don't like the choice, too bad.

Johnny Utah
Johnny Utah

It seems to me that they just hated the dish and your long-winded commentary was just a bunch of hot air.

Megg
Megg

It's not PRECONCEIVED when its her opinion after tasting Elia's dish. I love Elia too, but she made a mistake. Raw fish is unacceptable. They're not going to bring back a contestant just because you're unhappy with the judges' decision.

Megg
Megg

All the chefs have had bad days. Mia did save Elia but Elia got herself to the finals. Unless you've actually tasted her food that she produced during that season, I don't think you can accurately judge her cooking abilities.

ccjs
ccjs

Elia was the right one to go home and was closely followed by Fabio if for other reason than his attitude - awful.

dianeL
dianeL

Gail,

I was very glad to see Elia go home. You may not have to listen to whining, but the viewers do, and she was pathetic. She whined through season 2, and nothing has changed. Stephan is a good bet for next week, but we never know. I know someone was asking why Dave from Season 1 wasn't in this group, but as I can recall, Dave didn't care to do this over again. Some people like competition, others dislike it and never want to find themselves doing it again. I don't think Harold would ever do it again.

I enjoyed this episode and it looks like it's going to be an intense season. I'm so glad you people decided to do this. Great idea

i_love_food
i_love_food

I just don't understand how anyone can try to judge the chefs from a TV episode. We cannot taste the food! We cannot smell the food! We cannot even see the food in front of us...only a picture or video. I was shocked to see Elia go, but the challenge was a good one: repeat the dish that sent you home, but make it better. A great tie-in to previous episodes. These chefs are obviously a bit impressed with themselves because they were "kitchen rats" (to quote Spike) and have jumped ahead to media stars. But I hope we all remember (them included) that the only ones to experience the dishes first hand are the judges. BTW, I love Anthony Bourdain's comments! And I miss Toby Young, who wants to have an experience comparable to "full-blown, unprotected sex" with a pork dish!

Blonde Gator
Blonde Gator

Testing the new "Reply" function....if this works the way I hope it will....Bravo! Top Chef!!!

Great new feature (I hope).

AtlViewer
AtlViewer

I'm no Stephen fan, and it sounds like he's rusty and might go home early. That being said, it seems mildly unfair that he had to do 3 dishes, none of which were his creations. That's a lot more challenging, it seems, than a lot of the other chefs had to do with their dishes.

...or am I mistaken about the backstory for his "failure"?

Curious Viewer
Curious Viewer

Thanks for some great insights into the judging and the contest this season.

I am curious as to your take on something, being the only female judge. There's been a lot of talk by Richard Blais and even some support from Tom Colicchio that Blais "should have" won Season 4, which makes it sound a bit like he was robbed or that Stephanie didn't deserve her win.

Considering Stephanie is the only female chef EVER to win, doesn't this talk seem a bit sexist? I appreciate that Richard is a very talented chef and that he certainly was a favorite, but Stephanie won an equal amount of elimination challenges and was no slouch herself. Not sure why all this pro-Blais "he was robbed" talk but it seems like the sole female winner of Top Chef should be respected.

Varun
Varun

Oh, this season is going to be awesome! I had sort of expected an All-Stars season a couple of years ago itself - but I had assumed that only the finalists (including the Top Chef Winners) would be a part of the season. But this takes matters onto a different plane altogether! Each of these chefs has a lot to prove - to himself/herself, family, friends... And a few among them are in it to seek redemption, as you so rightly pointed out, Gail.

Oh, and weren't the first challenges just wicked! A Quickfire to determine the best season? Well, I sort of wished it would be season 6, or even 7, but kudos to 4. And the elimination? Facing your devils and trying to conquer them? Each and everyone among the chefs must have thought long and hard, after their respective eliminations the first time around, about how the dishes they had envisioned could have been executed differently. Which is why after hearing the judges' views on Elia's dish, it was a little surprising to see that she might not have put in too much thought into it! But hey, great work Gail, and all the best for the next rounds!

Thomas Beck
Thomas Beck

Why has no one ever pointed out the crybaby Elia that not only should she have lost in the season 2 final - she SHOULDN'T EVEN HAVE BEEN IN THE FINAL in the first place? If Mia hadn't resigned specifically to keep Elia in the competition, Elia would have been eliminated following the street party episode. Elia seems to have completely forgotten that inconvenient fact, but that doesn't make it any less the undeniable truth. Someone should force this whiny petulant nobody to face the fact that perhaps she's really just not as good as she thinks she is. Otherwise, she's going to be the Bristol Palin of the cooking world.

Joseph Mooradian
Joseph Mooradian

So far I am loving the new All-Stars show. There are some serious heavy hitters that came so close to winning. I did love Elia when she was on before, and was routing for her this time out. But she made the fatal error of thinking the dish she made the first time was fine, and so she basically made it again. I don't know why she expected anything other than the same result...."pack your knives and go..." As for the judging...I'm also still stuck with the overwhelming view that it's a MAN'S WORLD. Every time the judging seems tight and could be a toss up...when I guess that it will be the woman going home...9 times out of 10 I'm right. Just saying...conscious or not...given two/three chefs with a choice for who goes home...they usually send the woman packing.

laurant
laurant

Great kick off and what a surprise. Elia new she was beat whn she basically begged the judges for a pass. She was a head case bach then when the chocholate tuilles didnt work. darwinism is the determining force here and I pick a dark horse, Casey!

Lee Gray-Benson
Lee Gray-Benson

Your blogs are always so great, Gail. Clear and well put. I'm super excited for this season, and it is shaping up to be the best so far. Good luck to the contestants and the judges!

Blonde Gator
Blonde Gator

Loved the concept(s) for both the QF & EC. Terrificly clever, and fascinating to watch the interactions on the QF.

Gail, it's harder for us to watch the Elimination Judges' Table as well. These chefs are all great, and it is sad to see them go, again. After reading the blogs, I realized Elia did indeed deserve to go...to repeat the same thing over exactly the same way and expect a different outcome is either arrogant or naive, AND a losing strategy.

It's nice to see the elevated level of professionalism amongst the contestants, a la the Masters episode where the Chefs chose the ingredients for their peers with care rather than spite. It shows me growth, they want to beat each other by winning, rather than by sandbagging someone else. Or so it seemed last night. I hope this remains the case.

Appreciate your insights into the production aspect. It would be great to do a one hour show on exactly how you produce a show, start to finish. I've always wondered about things like timing, (even for a quickfire, those whose dishes get tasted first might have an advantage, with a hot dish..do the contestants know the order before they cook to mitigate heat/resting, etc.?). Also would love to see a more detailed judging discussion. Like that.

Finally, I was disappointed to not see Stefan, Kevin, and Brian V., but I realize what kind of commitments they must have had not to participate.

Angela Foster
Angela Foster

Gail I was not surprised to hear you say after Tom said that they were asked to improve upon their previous dishes, that Elia "refused, she shut down". To me that is a preconceived or conceived notion that you know what was going on in her mind. If you will go back and look at the tapes, you will see that she added fennel and wrapped the fish in bacon and to me that is not refusing nor shutting down. She honestly believed that her dish was good the first time but she did try to tweak it and be true to the produce. There is a difference between making a judgement and passing judgment. To judge something you have to take the evidence and make a concise judgement from the evidence. To pass judgement is to judge someone on what you think happened not concrete evidence. I feel like you passed judgement on her, as I have seen you do to a lot of chefs in the past. Believe me I did not always know the difference but had to learn from someone else the difference between the two so I try to remember the difference and use it wisely. I am not trying to be rude or harsh or judgemental, I'm just looking at the evidence (I hope). As you said in your blog in tip #3, "Don't get too comfortable with any preconceived notions you have. I also think that by the expression on your face that you did not like at all what Elia said as she was leaving the Judges Table, "Don't eliminate me yet because I have a lot to show you and I mean it". Maybe you used that to make the judgement and maybe you didn't, it just looked like that hacked you off and you might have been swayed by it somewhat. Please tell me if I am wrong. Also all of you guys, judges and other chefs, thought that Stephan's dishes were not good at all. You all had a lot more to say about his than you did Elia's. And in his Season, he did not cook that great but was kept as long as he was because of his wine pairing and running front of house. Also he is not currently working as a chef as all the other chefs. That is a lot of evidence, in my opinion, to believe that he should have been asked to leave first. As the comment from Quincy above, it is usually pretty evident who should go and who should stay. I think that the show will really suffer from not having Elia and I don't believe that I am the only person who thinks so. If you could somehow find a way to put her back in unless the show is already finished and we're watching what took place 6 months ago, then that would be excellent. Please do not take this as an "in your face" commentary but just what I am feeling after watching the first episode of a program that I absolutely love.

Angela Foster
Angela Foster

Gail I was not shocked to hear you judge Elia's dish as "she refused, she shut down". I have heard you on numerous occasions over the years judge a chef like you knew what was in there mind. That to my estimation is judging a person not the dish and we should never judge a person. A judge is supposed to take all the proven evidence and make a judge by that only. But in judging the way you did, it was taking a conceived or PRECONCEIVED notion that you knew what was in her mind. If you go back and look at the tapes, you will see that she truly believed her dish was good the way it was done the first time but she still made some tweaks by adding fennel and wrapping the fish in bacon. So there was no way that she refused, she shut down. I think that also and you can correct me but you did not like what she said at the end of judges table, "Don't eliminate me I still have a lot to show you and I mean it". I am basing my opinion on the look on your face when she said it. As you said in your #3 tip on your blog,"Don't get too comfortable with any PRECONCEIVED notions you have". In my estimation and I will assume a lot of other folks, Stephan should have been the one to go by the comments you, the other judges and the other chefs made about his dishes. Also, if I remember well, he was not ever noted as being a one of the best chefs. His wine pairings kept him in the Season he participated in for as long as he did. And also, he's not even being an active chef as of this date. I'm really not trying to be rude or harsh or to judge you, but I do think that you need to try to quit thinking what the chef is thinking or has in his mind when he cooked his dish. And I do wish that you would try to get Elia back in this season somehow, if it's not already over and we're just seeing what happened when taped earlier because it appeared by the footage for next week Stephan has put his foot in it again. Thank you so much for your time, because I know that this was very lengthy.

dsyind
dsyind

I have to admit that I am very disappointed in Elia being eliminated first. I always like Elia, and not just for her looks. Her food always seemed to be good and clearly she made it to the finale in her season.

That said, I still have plenty of favorites left: Jen, Casey, Tre, Jamie, Tiffany (season 8), hell, almost anyone can win and I'd be happy (except Marcel and Stephen - don't like them much, though I think its mostly attitude)!

TifosiNYC
TifosiNYC

I was curious and excited by the prospects of this hybrid. However, I am confused by the choices made to bring back some of these contestants. I can only assume that some of the more desirable non-winners were not available.

The fact that you brought Stephen back, then he was in the bottom three and you eliminated a clearly stronger competitor is, well, very disheartening.

Chuck L
Chuck L

As being someone who hated the season 2 cast with a passion for the way they ganged up on Marcel (not saying Marcel doesn't have an attitude problem, but that does not condone their actions IMO), I was so happy to see Elia get the boot.....now I can really start to enjoy the show. Go Jen C!

maureen leibovitz
maureen leibovitz

Gail I am already missing your "just desserts". At least we saw some beautiful prepared flavors. In my humble opinion pastry chefs have to be extremely talented to make it to the top, as your show showed. What I saw last night was, it seemed, judges favorite flavors asian inspired pork belly and a horrible pasta dish. I didn't know what the heck it was at first. I love lemon filled, flavored desserts. Most people would say chocolate and I completely understand but there is something about lemon that gets to me!!! Sylvia Weinstock and I have something in common. Glad your back in N.Y.

Ben Reily
Ben Reily

Did you title this blog after a song? That is quite sexy Gail

Viewer from DC
Viewer from DC

Where is Sam from season 2. I just want to look at him. He wins hands down.

Seriously I'm trying to pick my top 3 but I think I might try for the top 5 and maybe 1 will be the winner

Antonio Richard Carla Jen Tre Angelo Dale L

Beebs523
Beebs523

I love your blogs Gail. So far I really like the all stars season. The first challenges were great, very witty. I was really hoping Stephen would go first (out of the 3) he is so arrogant and condescending towards other chefs who have done very well for themselves. Him and Marcel need to get over themselves already. Saying that, Great start and I'm looking forward to what's ahead :)

Quincy
Quincy

So glad to have the Top Chef I know and love back. And as you said, there are NO weak links here. At all.

Stephen concerns me and I'm actually surprised he's back for this go-round. I had been under the impression he wasn't really 100% a "chef" these days, and tonight didn't give me any reason to believe otherwise. I fully expected Fabio to be the one sent home tonight, which was killing me inside. But lo and behold, I was surprised, and in the first week! Usually the first elimination is a foregone conclusion (Preeti, Nimma, etc.) but here already, I was completely surprised. This bodes VERY well for the upcoming season.