Substance Over Style

Substance Over Style

Gail Simmons explains that good food will always trump gimmicky food. What was it like having your join you for the Quickfire?
Gail Simmons: It was wonderful and a terrifying all at once! This was my mom’s first time in New Orleans, and certainly her first time being on camera with me. She’s been on the set once before, during Top Chef: Just Desserts, but spending a full day with us, and actually being part of a Quickfire was really fun. I was very nervous about the idea when the producers first suggested it to us. But Padma and I decided to just hold hands and dive into it together, sort of like, “Well, if you’ll do it, I’ll do it. And we have each other to lean on if things get really scary.” It ended up being great. Thankfully everyone on our crew is so warm and welcoming, and the chefs were really excited. My mom had a blast, and I think that it was a creative, exciting challenge. Did she have a good time? Was she nervous?
GS: She actually wasn’t very nervous at all. She may have been a little anxious when they first explained what she was going to be doing, which we weren’t totally clear on before she arrived. I didn’t realize they were going to have my mother running around with a shopping cart, which I was a little worried for since she’s my mother and – number one – I didn’t know if she’d be up for it, and  -- number two -- if she really want to do it. But she got into it! She was impressed with the chefs and happy to be there, so it ended up being great. She wasn’t nervous about being on camera; she was calm about that. She got along really well with Padma’s mom too, and the four of us had a lot of fun together. What did you think about your mom’s critique? Reading your book, we know that you grew up in your mom’s kitchen.
GS: My mom knows a lot about food. And I guess that’s how I know about food too at my foundation. She is a really great cook, exceptional actually. She’s always been very discerning, loves creative food, and loves all things to do with cooking. I think it was easy for her, in that way; it was very natural for her to be talking to the chefs about their dishes, and tasting the the food, giving her thoughts. I thought everything she said was really accurate and smart, but I never doubted it would be. How did the chefs do?
GS: I thought all the food was delicious. I was amazed at what they all were able to come up with, with such a varied and outrageous selection of ingredients on both sides. And from the fact that they didn’t have simple things like whisks, or other integral equipment. How could our mothers have known to get what they needed to make specific dishes? The fact that Carrie made a sabayon, the fact that Nina put together that soup that had 40 disparate ingredients and that all ended up actually tasting OK… it was miraculous! In the end, we based our decision on which dishes tasted the best and which incorporated the shopping cart ingredients in the most organic, natural way. We loved what both teams did. But there was something a little more cohesive about the three dishes from Team Lakshmi, a little more What was your take on the Elimination Challenge as a viewer?
GS: It seemed like no one was that creative with what they chose to make for this challenge. As if the chefs got caught up in the fact that it had to be spooky and cheesy as opposed to just taste good. For a challenge that was supposed to be vegetarian, they clung on to a few key words Lea used and because of that, so much of what they all made was so similar. I mean three arancini, two gnocchi, and everyone kinda dumping cheese into everything -- which I understand because Lea did make a really good point of saying she loves cheese -- but there just didn’t seem to be the same diversity of ideas that there usually is for a challenge. Of course, when there are similarities, we’re always going to compare them.  So I understand how it became easier for the judges to say, “OK, there are three arancini -- which one do we like the best? Which one do we like the least?” I think the chefs got caught up in the semantics of the challenge, instead of just cooking great food for our guest.

On the opposite side, I noticed that Nick and Patti were concerned that they weren’t doing something spooky enough. But then they were one of the top teams, so it just proves again that the best tasting food is always going to win. Your dish has to make sense in the challenge, but at the end of the day, if you cook something that tastes great, that’s what’s going to stand out to us and be more important than something that is really mediocre but looks like an eyeball. We’re going to go for substance over gimmick every time. And I think that’s what happened here.

It seemed that both Nicholas and Patti, and Carlos and Travis made really tasty, beautiful food. Carlos and Travis chose to do it with a Mexican bent so they called it Dia De Los Muertos, and that’s great. Some people were able to create a Halloween appropriate story and make good food, like Louis and Shirley for example. On the other end of the spectrum, Michael and Nina, Brian and Bene  lost sight of the challenge itself and were misguided in what they chose to prepare.

Michael… well, he did seem to be a bit annoying. Although his relationship with Nina and the fact that he went home aren’t related. He wasn’t judged on the fact that he called her ‘”sweetie” or “boo boo” or whatever he was calling her. But if I was Nina, I would be so completely frustrated with that, too. If his partner was a man that night I guarantee he wouldn’t be calling him those things. It’s condescending and shows a lack of respect for his teammate, especially when that teammate is carrying him through, which he admitted several times to her face. It certainly turned me off from a personality standpoint. BUT NOTE: if he had made great food, it wouldn’t have mattered. The fact is he didn’t. He made the least appetizing of the three arancini. The bottom line is that we as judges don’t care what you claim to be able to do, if you can’t prove it, you’re not going to get very far. Are you doing anything for Halloween?
GS: I am! I’m going to a masquerade ball and I’m psyched about it! It’s just formal attire and masks; people aren’t wearing costumes, which gives me great relief. I’m going to wear one of the few dresses that still fit me (in my pregnancy) and a special face-paint mask! Happy Halloween! 

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