Gail Simmons Reveals the Top Chef Judging Mandate Fans Don’t Understand — And It Explains a Lot

Gail Simmons Reveals the Top Chef Judging Mandate Fans Don’t Understand — And It Explains a Lot

Bravo's Top Chef judge Gail Simmons explains a behind-the-scenes facet of the competition.

By Alesandra Dubin
Top Chef Judge Gail Simmons

After Bravo's Top Chef Season 16 wrapped, winner Kelsey Barnard Clark and finalists Eric Adjepong and Sara Bradley shared their behind-the-scenes takes on the competition with The Feast. For one thing, they revealed something fans of the show just don't get about what actually happens behind the scenes of the competition — and their answers contained some warm-and-fuzzy details that would be heartening for fans of the show and its personalities. In short, Chef Eric pointed out how close the contestants really get when cameras aren't rolling, forming lifelong bonds over "family" meals together.

And now, we're getting perspective on what fans get wrong about the show — from the judging standpoint. The Feast caught up with Gail on April 16 in Los Angeles, on the red carpet for an Emmys panel featuring Top Chef as well as Project Runway. Padma Lakshmi, as well as Season 16's five finalists, were also in attendance.

"The conundrum we have on the show is that the fans get very invested in the personalities, but when we’re judging, if they’re nice or if they’re not doesn’t really play into how we judge their food," Gail told The Feast. "And so that’s the great tension that I think makes the show so fun to watch is that we just care about the food."

"And because you can’t taste the food, you just care about the people," Gail added. "That’s what makes it exciting but also makes it hard as a judge. We don’t want to let the nice people go, but it’s our job to just pick the food that tastes the best."

Is it hard, The Feast asked Gail, to separate the personalities from the food during the judging? Actually, it's not. Gail explained: "We don’t know about their personalities. We don’t spend time watching all the stuff that once it’s edited you see at home: their interviews, them back at the house, them in the kitchen. We just see them before us for the challenge and for judging. So we get a little bit of a sense from their food and of course we see their dynamics between each other. Yes, of course it’s a little bit hard to separate and stay as objective as possible — but our job is to judge the food and we’ve known that from the start."

And now fans — who may not have realized it before — know it too.

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