Starting next Wednesday, September 15, we’ll be watching longtime Top Chef judge Gail Simmons step into Padma’s shoes as both host and judge of Top Chef: Just Desserts. Gail admits doing double duty is a lot more work. “I’ve had it easy up until now,” she tells us in a conference call arranged by Bravo. “All I’ve had to do on Top Chef is show up, eat, talk about it, and leave. The hours were about double this time. And I’ve never had to learn lines before!” Below, a few more bits of insight from Gail about why pastry is inherently more awesome than savory food, and how she has the hots for fellow judges Hubert Keller and Johnny Iuzzini.
On her new role as host: Top Chef has been a pretty good gig, I’m not gonna lie. But for the new show, the hours were about double for shooting. Being the host really forces you to take a different role. You’re the person who needs to deliver all the business and make the plot go forward. I’m not an actor, and it was a huge challenge for me… to sound natural, learn lines… no one’s ever told me what to say before.
On the personality quirks of pastry chefs: There’s a massive difference in the personalities of pastry chefs versus savory chefs. Pastry chefs are much more exacting, more A-type, and that really comes out on the show.
On why pastry is more interesting: Pastries are so fragile and volatile, but also inherently so much more colorful, and sculptural, and gorgeous to look at than savory dishes. It added an extraordinary amount of tension to the challenges, and the before and after difference was so extraordinary. Something goes in the oven looking like soup, and it comes out looking like something else entirely.
These chefs are much closer to the line of being artists. They’re sensitive, volatile creatures, and pastry’s an art form that requires an enormous amount of patience. You’d be surprised, most of them are very calm, focused people. They’re driven, and passionate, and much calmer under pressure than savory chefs.
On the other judges: Hubert is just a dreamboat, first of all. He grew up living upstairs from a bakery, around pastry, and later he became a savory chef. So he knows both angles. And Johnny Iuzzini is without a doubt one of the great, most talented, young pastry chefs working right now. He’s at the cutting edge of modern pastry. He’s young, he doesn’t have as many years in the kitchen as Tom Colicchio does, but as head judge he has such an amazing understanding of butter and sugar and all the processes involved – he brings all the technical and skill knowledge that we need. He’s also super attractive and stylish, so that’s nice too.
Why savory chefs can’t do pastry: The whole reason we did this show was because for so long when we asked savory chefs on Top Chef to do desserts they couldn’t do it — it was just, like, completely foreign to them. In general, pastry chefs can cook savory food better than savory chefs can do pastry, because in order to cook pastry you have to understand the fundamentals of cooking.
On eating so much butter and sugar: I never got sick of it. I thought I would, that was certainly a concern. When I was shooting Top Chef, I would sometimes skip lunch or whatever because I knew I’d be eating plenty that day. But on Just Desserts I definitely needed to control calories. The calories I was ingesting in large quantities were empty. … There were days when I’d go eight or ten hours without eating anything nutritious, just like eleven ice cream sundaes, and all I wanted afterward was a cheeseburger and french fries and that’s not healthy either.
On the worst dish she’s ever had:There’ve been so many! On the show, I’ve had to eat some really kooky, ridiculous things and combinations, like geoduck, and rattlesnake, and peanut butter with snails, which I don’t recommend. I’ve only ever spit something out once, and that was in Season 2, and it was only because it was so incredibly salty. But one thing that I think is a miracle of the show, is that after all these years, I’ve never been made physically ill by a single dish.
On which cuisines, besides the French, have the best desserts:At the moment there’s a tie in my head between Spain — because they really know how to fry their desserts and they’re so incredibly liberal in the way they approach food — and America. When I think of comforting foods, I think of classic American desserts. There’s nothing better than a fresh peach pie at the height of the season, or a really beautiful slice of moist chocolate cake.
Earlier: Meet Yigit Pura, Sure to Be Dubbed ‘The Hot One’ on Top Chef: Just Desserts [Grub Street]
Gail Simmons’s All-Butter, All-Sugar Top Chef Diet [Grub Street]