Last week, I took part in a conference call with Gail Simmons, judge of Top Chef and host of Bravo’s new series, Top Chef: Just Desserts. As you can imagine, this was a total joy because despite what some people may think, I truly adore Ms. Simmons and everything she says. In fact, the call was rather amazing in that it afforded me thirty-five minutes of pure, unadulterated Gail. No surprise that she was articulate, engaging, and totally sweet. I could have stayed on for another hour or two.
Nevertheless, Gail answered questions from various members of the media, informing us on both the upcoming season of Just Desserts as well as some of her own personal foodie likes and dislikes. For instance, when asked about her favorite dessert, Gail noted that she couldn’t quite name one but that she was currently going through a pudding phase. She also made everyone on the call salivate as she described the simple perfection of a great cookie (seriously, I almost hung up and ran off to a bakery).
As far as Just Desserts is concerned, Gail seemed very excited about the show; although, she did admit a certain bias. The personalities of the contestants, she claimed, were totally different than what we’ve seen before: more bookish, fastidious, and kind of crazier. After all, to be a pastry chef requires a certain concentration that a fast-acting, improvising savory chef might not need. And oh yeah, none of these chefs could use recipes, and in the precision-based world of pastry, that’s no easy feat.
Needless to say, I certainly emerged from the call hungry and intrigued.
My three questions with Gail after the jump…
On Top Chef, the contestants fear making dessert because it can often send them home. Is there a similarly dreaded equivalent for Just Desserts?
GAIL: In general, pastry cooks can cook savory food better than savory chefs can cook pastry because in order to be a pastry chef, you still need to really understand the basic fundamentals of cooking, and that doesn’t apply the other way around, as we’ve seen on Top Chef. I don’t think there’s anything that stumps [the Just Desserts contestants] unanimously, but in the few moments when they do have to use savory ingredients, I think it really is a challenge for htem becuase it’s just not what they do every day; it’s not what they’re used to.
Are there certain ingredients that you just hate, and when they show up in a dish, how do you deal with that?
GAIL: You know, it never really becomes an issue because you’re always judging with a panel of people. If I don’t like an ingredient that certainly is never going to play into my judging, and just ’cause I don’t like it, you know, other people will set me straight… there’s no way for it to be compromised by a personal… like or dislike… There are very few things in the edible world that I will not eat.
A question from Twitter. From SouthOCgal, what is the worst dish you’ve ever had?
GAIL: Ever? In my life? Or on the show?
The worst dish I ever had… gosh there’s been so many! On desserts there weren’t that many total total failures to the caliber of having to throw things out because anything wiht butter and sugar always taste good, even if it’s raw. God, you know, that’s such a tough question. I might have to think on it for a second. Um, I’ve certainly… had to eat a lot of kooky, ridiculous things, you know, on Top Chef for sure. Combinations like peanut butter and snails — you know not great, not recommended for viewers at home. But, you know, things like geoduck and alligator and rattlesnake. Specific dishes? It’s hard to name one thing by one chef that i really detested.
ME: Do you sort of block them out?
GAIL: Yeah, I kind of do. It’s more just that at this point there’ve been so many, they all kind of run into each other, and it’s hard to differentiate ten seasons later.
ME: That’s probably a good thing though. It’s probably good that there’s not one dish that jumps right out at you.
GAIL: You know, I have to say one thing that I think is a miracle of the show, that of all my years of judging it and all the different things we’ve had to eat often at the same time, I have never once been physically ill from being on the show. There are certain things I wish I hadn’t had to put in my mouth and regretted; I’ve only spit something out once in the entire time I’ve been on Top Chef, and it was only because it was so incredibly salty, and it was in season two, but otherwise, you know, I’ve never been sick. And with all the factors of how they cook and their timing and where they’re cooking and the locations, I think that’s pretty incredible.
ME: I’d say so.
GAIL: I’m very thankful and very grateful every day.
To read more about this conference call, check out the coverage on Grub Street. (I’m clearly too lazy to transcribe anything but the questions I asked)