Bravotv.com: What’s the hottest pepper you’ve ever eaten? Have you ever had a ghost?
Gail Simmons: I’ve never had a ghost pepper, but I’ve certainly had habanero peppers and a lot of Thai chilies. I love chilies, I love heat, although they need to be in balance. Heat is not a flavor.
Bravotv.com: Were you surprised Paul cooked with the ghost pepper?
GS: I wasn’t surprised. I was hoping someone would use it because Top Chef is all about taking risks. I just feared for Padma, Susan, and Mary Sue having to eat it if the person didn’t know what they were doing! You just hope that if someone is taking that chance, they have some skill in handling peppers like that. I have fallen into the trap before of working with a hot pepper and then rubbing my eye or something and that can be very scary, and very painful.
Bravotv.com: So, about that bagel incident you alluded to. What happened?!
GS: When I was in 8th grade, I was late to catch a bus and I wanted to take a bagel sandwich on the road with me, so I was rushing and I did what any amateur cutting bagels does, which is holding the bagel in my hand and slicing it down towards my palm. I sliced through where my knuckle joint is, right where you bend your finger, right through the nerve. My mother had to take me to get stitches. I never regained full use of the very tip section of my left index finger, which I have to say makes it very difficult to use keys and open doors, turn bottle caps, and it’s why I will never be a star guitarist -- I can’t play bar chords very easily.
Bravotv.com: Wow! Mystery solved. Anyway, what do I like in a chili?
GS: I like heat and I like meat. I knew Texas chili didn’t have beans in it, and I’m OK with that. I do like beans in my chili sometimes, but I totally get that regionally chili is like Bolognese in Italy -- every area has their own way of doing it and even household to household they’ll have a different recipe which they believe is the only one that matters. I love that we were tasting the chef’s versions of “authentic Texas chili.” Overall they did a really good job. They were practically hallucinating from exhaustion. But the chili was pretty good, it was really fun and there was lots of cold Shiner Bock beer to wash it down.