Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gail Simmons
Between the sugary show pieces and high-drama cheftestants, Bravo's Top Chef Just Desserts (premiering Wednesday at 10 PM) never fails to satisfy our sweet tooth and entertain. We chatted with the show's host, Gail Simmons, about her sweet eating habits, favorite things to bake at home and what we can expect this season.
There seem to be quite a few big personalities on Top Chef: Just Desserts. How do the cheftestants differ from those on Top Chef?
These are highly skilled professional pastry chefs who work with a whole set of different ingredients than savory chefs. The ingredients themselves are temperamental – flour, sugar, butter– and the contestants are too! The dessert cheftestants differ from chefs on Top Chef because they need to have an incredible amount of patience and precision to do their jobs.
While filming TCJD do your cravings run sweet or savory? And how to you satisfy them?
Well, when I shoot the show, I’m eating up to 15 desserts a day, every day, so I certainly don’t crave any other sugar. I try to counterbalance by eating no sugar in the rest of my diet during that time. I definitely crave salt when I’m shooting.
I’ll go a whole day and realize I didn’t have any substantial nutrients, so I try to start every day with a really balanced breakfast that is always very savory. It usually consists of poached eggs over sautéed spinach and other vegetables with hot sauce, or poached eggs over whole wheat toast with sliced avocado. And every day I drink a 16-ounce green juice – no fruit, all veggies like kale, spinach, celery, cucumber – to make sure I get my vegetables before the sugar binge begins. When we finish shooting each evening, I do often crave a cheeseburger, but I try not to succumb to it every night.
What are your favorite things to bake at home?
At home I like to keep things simple when I make desserts, using fruit that’s in season. Right now I’m on a big stone fruit kick, so I have been making a lot of peach pies and tarts (Get Gail's tips for perfect pie crust!), my mom’s famous plum cake, fruit crumbles. I also make a great lemon tart with fresh curd. I also love things like maple syrup and caramel, so I love to drizzle them on top of everything – especially roasted fruit and ice cream.
Tell us about the most mind-blowing dessert you've ever had the pleasure of eating?
Several years ago I ate at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. He has a dessert called Le Grand Dessert Pierre Gagnaire. It’s a dessert that, in and of itself, has seven courses to it. It was so beautiful and delicious that I burst into tears when I ate it!
Who's your favorite pastry chef?
As for favorite pastry chef, Johnny Iuzzini, of course! He’s the head judge of our show and the executive pastry chef at Jean Georges. He really is amazingly talented and has accomplished so much considering how young he is.
Lots of folks like to say that you're either a born cook or a born baker but never both. Do you think it's possible to excel at both?
I do think it’s possible. I think it has to do with how much patience you have as a person. Most people I know are usually one or the other, though there are some chefs I know who do both. Hubert Keller, who is one of our judges on Top Chef: Just Desserts, is a great example of this. He grew up in a family of bakers, but he went on to become a great savory chef. He has a great knowledge of both. Also, Jordan Kahn at Red Medicine in Los Angeles or Alex Stupak at Empellon in New York are both examples of pastry chefs who opened restaurants and do both the savory food and the desserts really well.
Some of the desserts on TCJD are pretty out there, have there been any that were just too much to handle?
No, with desserts, you can never have too much! It’s all about imagination and being over the top, creating magic and fantasy. Sometimes they don’t work, but if a dessert is made well, it can never be too big, too sweet or too much.
Can you give us a sneak peak at some of the things we can look forward this season?
We have an incredible cast of cheftestants this season who were able to create for us, not only beautiful desserts, but true works of art. It was amazing to see what they’d come up with every day, and we really put their skills to the test - not to just make traditional desserts on the plate, but also to build sculptures and statues and push them to their limits. The results are really stunning, and delicious.
I’m also excited about a lot of the guests we have this season. Of course, some of the greatest pastry chefs and dessert artisans in the country make appearances, but we also have surprise visits from incredible personalities in the worlds of music and movies such as Adam “AdRock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, the original cast of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, as well as more!