As someone who grew up a foodie his entire life, primarily due to my mother being a big chef out on Long Island, I have always had a love for the culinary world and what it entails. My love for that has grown over the past couple of years as I have taken a ride into the journalism aspect of the industry, and have enjoyed every step of the way with each restaurant and chef I highlight. One person who has done an amazing job at both the culinary and journalism side is Gail Simmons, who has been a mainstay of Bravo’s “Top Chef” since its inception over a decade ago, as well as being a huge part of the best food magazine in the world, Food & Wine.
It has been an amazing journey for Gail to get to where she is now. From her humble beginnings in Canada to putting her nose to the grind in the culinary stratosphere and working under some of the biggest chefs in the world, and pioneering culinary journalism to a tee, she has the education and experience to qualify her as a Top Chef legend. Top Chef’s latest season premieres tonight on Bravo, and they are heading to the beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina. I spoke with Gail earlier this week who had this to say about her career, the new season, and so much more.
What inspired you to get into the world of food journalism?
My mother was a food writer and cooking teacher when I was growing up. I always loved cooking, writing and traveling. When I graduated college I had no idea what I wanted to be but I knew I loved those things. I realized my mom instilled in me a passion for fresh food, cooking and the world of restaurants. I was determined to find a way to combine them into a career. I worked for a magazine and then a newspaper in Canada before deciding to move to NYC and enroll in culinary school so I could truly learn the language of the kitchen and write about it.
How did you end up at Food & Wine Magazine?
I worked for Chef Daniel Boulud for 3 years and came to know the team at Food & Wine through him as he worked with the magazine so often. He was in the very first cohort of F&W Best New Chefs in 1988 and stayed close with the editors there. I had been a dedicated readers for many, many years already. At an event one day at restaurant DANIEL, one of them told me he was leaving his job and asked if I would be interested in interviewing for it. I jumped at the chance before I even knew exactly what he did. The rest is history.
What has been your favorite moment in working there over the past 12 years?
Too many to count! I would say a big highlight was when I was the director of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and seeing the festival come together every year. It’s a massive undertaking and I was always so proud to be part of the team that put it all together.
Do you plan on doing a follow up to your 2012 memoir “Talking With My Mouth Full”?
Yes! I’m in the middle of first cookbook collection of recipes that will be out sometime next year. The books inspiration comes from my whole life, especially in the past 20 years while cooking with some of the biggest chefs, my time with Food & Wine Magazine, Top Chef, and so much more.
Regarding Top Chef, do you have a favorite season or challenge?
There have been so many amazing moments from being part of this show, it has had 14 seasons. Season 6 was when we won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Series, and I remember when we were filming that season having this feeling that this is going to be our best.
What can you tell me about this upcoming season of Top Chef: Charleston?
What is great about this season is that even though there are returning chefs, that many of them have not worked together before in previous seasons so they aren’t familiar with how each of them operate. On top of that, we have nine new contestants that are accomplished in their own way. We have had so many chefs come on this show who go onto either win or be nominated for James Beard Awards and so many other accolades, so it should be exciting to see how the dynamics will be going forward.
For anyone trying to get into food journalism, what is the biggest piece of advice you can give them?
It is really simple- find what sets you apart. Have a huge respect for the chefs that are out there right now. Find a mentor like a chef that will help you with your culinary journalism and it will help mold you into the writer you want to be.