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Gail Simmons Can't Count How Many Times She "Burst Into Tears" Filming Top Chef Amateurs

The longtime Bravo's Top Chef judge previews the joyfully moving new culinary competition series.

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For 18 seasons of Bravo's Top Chef, Gail Simmons has critiqued the dishes of some of the most talented culinary minds in America. Now, the judge will be welcoming a new kind of competitor to the illustrious Top Chef kitchen as the host of Bravo's newest culinary competition series Top Chef Amateurs, premiering Thursday, July 1 at 9/8c.

In each 30-minute episode of Top Chef Amateurs, which aired a special sneak peek on Bravo on May 27, two home cooks go head-to-head as they try their hand at iconic Top Chef challenges, such as the mise-en-place race, blind taste test, and creating a dish inspired by one of the seven deadly sins. They'll each be paired with a past Top Chef finalist, frontrunner, or fan favorite, who will help them make their dish a reality. The amateur who wows the Judges' Table the most will go home with $5,000.

Gail told The Daily Dish during an interview in March that this new competition is going to give participants a taste of what "a day in the life of Top Chef" is really like. "It sort of cherry-picks some of the best, most exciting moments of every episode on Top Chef and lets home cooks — you know, really talented, enthusiastic Top Chef mega-fans who are great cooks — really strut their stuff and experience what it’s like to cook in the Top Chef kitchen," Gail explained.

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With many turning to cooking out of necessity as well as entertainment during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Gail said that this seemed like the right time to shine a spotlight on all of the skilled home cooks out there. "I think the show was really borne out of how impressive home cooks have been over the course of the last year in the pandemic when we were all forced to cook at home so much. We saw the level of home cooking in this country just skyrocket. There was so much interest, because all of a sudden we all had to eat three meals a day at home in our own kitchens, and even people who never cooked before got into the game," she said. "Yes, Top Chef has always been about professionals, but it just seemed like the right time to give some home cooks that experience."

Because of the times in which this season of Top Chef Amateurs was filmed, everyone involved in the production definitely wanted to make sure the experience was as special as possible for these superfans. "It’s very positive because a lot of these people come to the show, you know, they had been at home. Some of them are like frontline workers, teachers, you know, parents who’ve been homeschooling their children for months on end. They hadn’t left their houses in eight months, they isolated and quarantined and flew across the country to spend one single day with us in the Top Chef kitchen," Gail said. "And we just wanted to give them the best possible experience. And I think at this juncture in the universe, that’s what we all needed." 

The contestants weren't the only ones whose hearts were full while filming the season. "It kinda became therapy for everyone," Gail shared. "I can’t even tell you the number of times I burst into tears while shooting Top Chef Amateurs because I was just, like, so moved by these people."

The home cooks themselves are just as integral to the series as the cuisine, according to Gail. "It’s not necessarily just about amazing cooking; it’s about showing the world like little windows into the home cook experience and giving them sort of this wish fulfillment, to come and cook with us in the kitchen.  And we bring so many of our All Stars back to cook with them, to be their sous chefs, to judge them at Judges’ Table," Gail said. "It’s just a really fun sort of mega-fan Top Chef playdate. And I hope it resonates with everyone as much as it did with us making it, because we really had a blast."

Even though there is a cash prize of $5,000 on the line, Gail said that she believes all of the contestants came away from the experience with something even more valuable. "It was just fun and positive and sweet and meaningful, and I know that all of the home cooks who we brought on really had a great time, win or lose. Like, it was not about that, right? It was just about being in the kitchen and just showing the power of what cooking together can bring to people," Gail shared. "It brings joy and light and learning and togetherness. And more than anything, that’s what we all could use right now."

Top Chef Amateurs officially premieres Thursday, July 1 at 9/8c immediately following the Top Chef Season 18 finale in Portland. For now, you can check out new episodes of Top Chef on Thursdays at 8/7c or catch up on the Bravo app.

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