11 Questions with Top Chef's Gail Simmons

Whenever Food & Wine's Gail Simmons returns to judge an episode of Top Chef instead of British curmudgeon Toby Young, we always breathe a sigh of relief—as do many of the cheftestants. We asked her to dish about the contents of her fridge, her splurge ingredient, and which of this season's cheftestants she would want to cook her holiday meal (hint: he has a pig tattoo).

1. What’s the one holiday dish you would love to eat all year round?

For Thanksgiving, it would definitely be leftovers of all kinds. For me, nothing is better than eating it all again the next day. It just tastes better. My favorite treat is making fried eggs over shredded turkey and stuffing hash for breakfast the next morning. For Hanukkah, definitely latkes, preferably my mom’s! Here’s the recipe.

2. What’s the best food or kitchen-related gift you've been given?

A handheld, two-in-one citrus juicer. I am obsessed with getting out every last drop, and this really does the trick.

3. What was the dish or food you hated to eat the most as a kid?

Mushrooms—I despised the texture until I was well into college. Now I count them among my favorite foods.

4. What three things are always in your fridge?

Mustard. Eggs. A big hunk of Parmesan cheese.

5. What’s the one food that always cheers you up?

Chocolate milkshakes!

6. Do you have a foolproof dish for picky kids, or advice for moms feeding a picky kid?

Not being a mom (yet), I see how hard it is for my friends and family to make sure their kids are eating right and trying new things. I have no foolproof, magical trick or tips. However, I do believe in setting a rule once children are old enough to understand it—that they have to try everything once. If they do not like it, they will not have to have it again, but at least you know they are learning to explore and keep an open mind about new flavors and new experiences.

7. What’s the one thing in your pantry you can never have too much of?

Chili sauce or dried chilies. Also, good quality dried beans and grains (cannellini, cranberry and pinto beans; quinoa, faro, brown rice).

8. What's the one ingredient you'd always splurge on?

Really good quality olive oil and vinegars. Oh, and caviar on very special occasions! I absolutely love caviar…it’s such a decadent treat!

9. Which of this season’s cheftestants would you want to cook your holiday meal, and why?

I would have to say Kevin. His food is so soulful and comforting. He has a way of rethinking traditional dishes in such a way that they become even more thoughtful, creative and delicious.

10. What's the best thing about Vegas?

The best thing about Las Vegas was the quality of the food we ate both on and off the show. We were, of course, so thrilled with how talented our chefs were this season, and how well they all rose to the challenges we presented. In addition, it was inspiring and exciting to have enough time to actually explore the city beyond the lights and action of the strip. There are so many interesting and exceptional restaurants and ethnic pockets that no tourist gets to see in the usual three-day gambling trip or short vacation.

11. What would be your dream Elimination Challenge to judge? Who would be competing, what would it entail, and who else would be judging?

I already had my dream Elimination Challenge—it was the Top Chef Masters finale [with Rick Bayless, Hubert Keller and Michael Chiarello competing]! You cannot really get better than that. And I am thrilled that I will be part of it once again for season 2.

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