Gail Simmons has a lot on her plate, so to speak. She's just added author to her already insane resume as Top Chef judge, Top Chef:Just Desserts host, and special projects director for Food & Wine magazine.
Gail's memoir, Talking With My Mouth Full: My Life As a Professional Eater was just released this week ($26.99, but we found it on Amazon.com for $17.81 with free supersaver shipping).
Simmons is also in town for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, where she'll team up with Josh Wesson for the Bank of America Lifestyle Seminar: Talking With My Mouth Full on Sunday, February 26 at 1 p.m. at the Miami Beach Convention Center. At the moment, tickets are still available ($85).
We caught up with Gail to chat about her book, Top Chef, and why there aren't more women at the helm of America's greatest restaurants.
New Times: First of all, let's get this out of the way. Top Chef is in it's ninth season and it's as big as ever. It was one of the first reality shows on television. So how did you get the Top Chef gig in the first place?
I don't want to give too much away because it's all in the book. The reason why I wrote the book is that everyone including their dog wanted to know the answer to that exact same question.
It was actually Food & Wine that put me up for the Top Chef job
because nobody knew at the time that it was even going to work. We
just put out trust in Bravo.
I think we're very different than a lot of shows on Bravo and all the
shows on Food Network. Top Chef has a loyalty to the life and skills of a hard core professional chef.
So is Talking With My Mouth Full a Hollywood starlet-type tell all? Are you going to dish dirt?
It's definitely not a tell-all. I think there's a lot of great juicy meat to coin a phrase. But, I have no drug addiction, I have no sex addiction, I've been with the same person, my husband, for 11 years, long before I was on television. I've been working with Food & Wine for seven years and they are my home and my family, so no dirt.
You're a woman who's worked in a few of the most famous kitchens in New York. Why do you think there aren't as many top female chefs as male chefs?
That's certainly the reality of the professional kitchen. Even if you knew the New York dining scene as well as I do, you'd be hard pressed to name more than five female chefs in New York City who have more than five restaurants and you'd be able to name a dozen men who have seven or more restaurants.
It takes about ten years before you can really call yourself a chef. When you graduate culinary school you're not a chef. You're a cook, if you can even call yourself that. So to be a chef like a Michelle Bernstein, you need at least ten years of working every station, and paying your dues and then you may rise in your field. So you're probably 30 when you get there.
So let's talk about what we need, as women, to do with our lives at that time. We don't need to have a family, but if we want one, that's the time to do it. And what does a family require? A lot of time, attention, and physical presence. And what does being a chef at a restaurant require? It requires being there evenings, weekends, holidays, and it's very difficult. I am not saying women chefs can't succeed, because there are so many incredibly talented women. Michelle [Bernstein] being a very close friend of mine is a constant source of inspiration and guidance in this area. And she just had a child, but she is the exception to the rule. And she's made a lot of sacrifices to get here.
I just think women face a different set of challenges than men face. This is not a feminist issue. I believe the kitchen is a meritocracy. It's based on your talent and your drive, but I think at some point women face different challenges than men face.
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You're hosting an event directly based on your book. What's in store for the people attending?
The South Beach Wine & Food Festival is always a highlight of my year and this year my book comes out, so I'm excited to showcase it to the world. I'm hosting a seminar with wine and food pairings. Each dish correlates to an important part of my life, so we'll just eat and reminisce.
I'm also judging Burger Bash this year so I'm really excited about that. I'm preparing my stomach for eating 25 burgers.
If you could host an event, like Burger Bash, what would you dream up?
I would love to do an egg focused party, like an eggstravaganza. I just made that up as I was saying it. But it's good, isn't it?