Gail Simmons is thrilled that Top Chef viewers are going to learn a lot more about the real her through her very first cookbook, Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating, due out on October 24.
"Most people from Top Chef know a very edited version of me," she told The Feast. "They know the TV Gail, they know the cocktail dress, hair, and makeup sitting behind a judges' table Gail. And there have definitely been moments on the show where you've been able to see, I think, my sense of humor and my connection with the chefs. Over 12 years of making the show, I think it's become clear what all of our roles are and most people's reactions of me, who I meet and are fans of the show, explain that they really do get my personality and they think that I am constructive, and that I really do care about the chefs and the criticism."
She added, "We break things down for people who are watching in a really unique way, which allows them to understand what we're doing and why we're doing it on the show."
Bringing It Home begins with practical lessons learned from being with Top Chef from the very beginning, but then delves into her life's body of knowledge, which includes growing up with a mother who's a food writer and cooking teacher.
"Specifically, I love that this book has given me a chance to show [the Top Chef side], but also to tell my stories and let people get to know me in the kitchen. Because that's such a massive side of me you never get to see on the show."
Her memoir, Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater, was published in 2012, but Gail's life has changed significantly since. She gave birth to daughter Dahlia in 2014. She's got years of professional kitchen experience, but her cookbook is for everyone, including busy moms.
"The whole point of my book is that it is a home cook book," she says. "This is not a chefy-chef book, it's really about what the title says, Bringing It Home. I am not reproducing recipes from when I was a line cook, I'm not reproducing recipes that chefs would make in their kitchens, although a lot of the technique is founded in professional training. It's about cooking at home, and no one is going out to get a bunch of ingredients on a random Tuesday when they have 45 minutes to make dinner for their family. On the other hand, these are not recipes that are like four ingredients, 30 seconds or less, for leftover meatloaf. They are recipes that take thought and are meaningful and I think are elevated."
Overall, she draws inspiration from all over the world, but the book crafts a universal rhythm of cooking and eating.
"Every recipe is based in the familiar in some way, so there is nothing so out there it intimidates — but everything has its own twist," she explained. "So they're not exactly the same old meatballs you've always eaten and everyone else has. It's not a simple roast chicken, it's a great roast chicken. Every cookbook in the world has a roast chicken — mine takes influences from my travels to South Africa and the flavors in it might be a little unusual, so try it this way and see what you think."
The recipes look so good that they might kind of compete for your attention as to what you might want to try first, but what's also special about Gail's book is that she's helping to teach how to be a great instinctual chef even beyond the recipes. She shares all sorts of techniques and kitchen secrets to arm you for whatever you decide to make.
"Once you understand the actual knowledge and aren't just following a recipe, you can then gain confidence and really start to understand the methodology of cooking," she said. "And that's when you become a great home cook yourself."
Tune in for Top Chef's Season 15 premiere on Thursday, December 7 at 10 pm PT/ET!
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