An ex-CIA agent, lunchlady, teacher and more varying professions will be seen in the Top Chef kitchen in the show’s new spinoff Top Chef Amateurs (airing on Bravo Thursdays at 9pm ET/PT). After 18 seasons of Top Chef, 24 longtime superfans finally have their chance to compete head-to-head with assistance from fan-favorite Top Chef alums.
After months of at-home cooking, we will see if these amateurs have what it takes to create delicious meals in an unfamiliar environment. There will be tears, laughter, chaos and exciting flavors all within a 30-minute episode. Top Chef host and judge Gail Simmons, revealed the emotions behind this particular season and her favorite dishes, plus shared some fun facts about herself.
I read a headline where you said there were numerous times you burst into tears while shooting. Could you tell us about the emotional side of this experience?
Gail Simmons: Most of those times were joyful. I wasn’t bursting into tears because I was angry or sad. There’s a sadness to this year, and I think the crew was kind of getting teary-eyed on a number of occasions because the stories of these amateurs were so powerful. When we shot this back in the fall, most of them hadn’t left their homes in eight months. The first time they came out of quarantine was walking into the kitchen and spending the day with us on Top Chef. Hearing their stories, their backgrounds, what they had been through in the year and then watching them cook and succeed was emotional because really this show is not about criticizing, it’s about cheerleading.
If you were to pick three of your favorite dishes, what would they be?
If I could choose, regardless of how ridiculous they are, sea urchin pasta with chilies. Sort of a Sicilian classic. Or even just clam pasta, like pasta vongole. Butterscotch pudding is my ultimate comfort dessert. Also, corn grilled lightly on the cob and just a giant watermelon in peak summer. I don’t really need anything else.
Can you tell me about a time you were starstruck?
Oh, wow. I’ve been starstruck a lot. Part of the journey of Top Chef has been seeing how many people it resonates with, and we’ve been lucky enough to be nominated for an Emmy I think 14 years of the 15 we’ve been making the show. Every year at the Emmy’s there’s always a moment where someone comes up to talk to me about food. Peter Dinklage was a moment I remember. Both Sterling K. Brown and Regina King at different times the same year walked past me at the Emmy’s and said, “Anytime I see you, it makes me hungry.” They were like, “When I see you, I just associate you with food and it makes me want to eat something.” I thought that’s the best possible reaction to meeting someone.
What were your three favorite shows as a kid?
I guess it depends on what age. Some of my three favorite shows were The Facts of Life, Family Ties and The Cosby Show. I know that these days The Cosby Show doesn’t necessarily translate how it used to, but it was a beautiful show when it was on the air. I’ll give a different one now. I just saw that this show is making a reboot, Punky Brewster. Michael J. Fox in every single stage of his career, including now, has been an idol of mine and so anything he touches turns to gold pretty much.
What is a movie you never get tired of watching?
Oh my goodness. So many. Going back Michael J. Fox, Back To The Future 1 and 2. They are my two favorite movies of all time, but also, a movie I love and could watch over and over is The Princess Bride.