When the new season of Bravo's Top Chef premieres Thursday, December 6 at 9/8c, we'll catch up with the judges we know and love, including Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Graham Elliot. However, one familiar face will be noticeably absent from all the Kentucky food and fun: longtime judge Gail Simmons.
Gail missed out on most of Season 16 of Top Chef because she was back home in New York City giving birth to her second child, son Kole Jack Abrams, on May 23. But Gail still made sure to give this season's batch of Cheftestants a warm welcome and a show of her beautiful baby bump in a video message "literally days away" from her son's arrival, which you can check out in the below trailer for Season 16 of Top Chef.
But have no fear, Top Chef fans! Gail teased that we will see her "a little bit" toward the end of the upcoming season when The Daily Dish caught up with her at Top Chef's PaleyFest NY event on October 18. "I wasn’t sure if I was gonna come back. We really were playing it by ear every step of the way. And our producer sort of said to me, ‘Look, if you’re feeling up to it and you want to come down at any point, we’re there,’" Gail said. "And I took several weeks to recover, and then the timing worked out that their very last episode in Kentucky before they left for the finale, I felt like, ‘You know what? I can do this. I’m gonna come for 24 hours, shoot one dinner."
Gail added that she felt like it was important to appear in Top Chef Season 16 for a couple of different reasons. "I felt like I had to do it for myself almost, number one, because I couldn’t imagine not being in a season that way at all and not meeting the contestants face-to-face and having at least a little bit of their food, but also for myself. Having a child can be very isolating and I was like, ‘You know what, I wanna go be with my other family right now and see them, and I know that it would really make me happy to get out and do this one thing for myself,'" she shared. "And I did and it was great, and then I went right back home and got back on the couch with my baby boy."
Of course, the entire Top Chef family missed not having Gail around as much this season, especially Padma. “I don’t think that anybody could ask for a better castmate than I have in Gail,” Padma recently told Us Weekly. “I think I really admire her, respect her, enjoy her company. I missed her terribly this season. Obviously, she also helps me deal with Tom because he can be crazy sometimes. She’s such a basic foundation of the show that it was kind of a bummer not to have her, but honestly, it was a really good cause, right?”
However, we will get to know Nilou Motamed even better as she joins Top Chef as a recurring judge in the new season, and we're definitely looking forward to it, as is Padma. “Nilou is so enthusiastic and excited,” Padma told Us Weekly. “It’s great to have a judge who is a great fan of the show and also very, very knowledgeable.”
See everything that's in store for the sizzling new season of Top Chef, below.