Bravotv.com: During episode 7's elimination challenge you mentioned that during the first season of Top Chef the chefs had a budget of $20...
Gail Simmons: Yes, for the very first elimination challenge their shopping budget was $20, but they only had to cook for four people – the judges -- and it was also before we knew to make a separate beauty plate to shoot. The set up is a lot different now, but back then they had to make four dishes for $20, which means they had $5 per dish of ingredients to make us their signature dish.
Bravotv.com: Have there been other significant ways the show has evolved over the last 10 years?
Gail: Oh many! First of all if you look back at that first season (and I don't really suggest you do because my hair is terrible), we sat across from the chefs at judges' table, we all sat down together, with them on one side and us on the other. We tasted the food and had a conversation. It was awkward and far less interesting to watch so we changed that set up beginning with our first season finale.
Obviously budget has changed a lot, but also our crew has grown tenfold too. I'm not sure how many people worked on the show during our first season, but we're about 150 people now including cast and crew. We're like a three ringed circus, which I love, especially because so many of our crew have been with us for so many years. The growth in size is natural, we've gotten much more complicated, bigger and better every year, so it's awesome that we can employ so many talented people...thanks for that Bravo!
Other things that stand out? There's a lot of production pieces that you don't necessarily see when you're watching, like that beauty plate the chefs always make. For every quantity that we say they need to make for each challenge, they always make one additional, that viewers don't see, which gets swept away as the beauty plate we photograph up close for that food porn shot we always show. Oh also, our judges' table back in the early years took HOURS, we did several lighting changes, we first deliberated ourselves, then we brought the top three chefs in, we heard from them and questioned them, then they left, then we talked about it, then we brought in the bottom chefs, questioned them, we talked about it and then they left and we deliberated again and then we brought them all back again. It was exhausting. Our judges' tables sometimes lasted six to ten hours long! Now they last about three to four hours, which is a massive production improvement. As a show, we've gotten tighter and smarter. Another big change is that in our first season the chefs were very mixed in terms of their experience, there was a culinary student, there was a mom that taught cooking classes out of her home, there were some line cooks, some caterers, some private chefs. Now our chefs are all sous chefs, Chefs de cuisine, or they're chef-owners. It speaks to what our viewers want from the show and how smart our viewers are. Top Chef is about talented professionals and the life of real restaurant chefs. Ten years in the making, we are very proud of that.