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Chatting with Gail Simmons - Part 2

Last week I brought you part one of our chat with Gail Simmons. We learned about her history and background so this week we're going to learn more about her life, especially in regards to everyone's favorite cooking reality show, Top Chef.

Part one of our interview left off with Gail talking about Food & Wine magazine. She's currently the Special Projects Manager, which means she's responsible for various projects, including the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. The Classic is her number one priority, which is why, due to the filming schedule, Ted Allen appears on Top Chef as her replacement.

When Bravo approached Food & Wine about participating in their new food reality show, Project Runway had already been on the air for a while. It was the same production company, so they knew it would be handled well.

"When Bravo came to us and said they wanted to do this show, it was just such a perfect fit. Because we [Food & Wine] are about finding young talent, and that's exactly what Bravo's franchise of reality competition shows are about."

So even though they knew it would be done well, was she receptive towards being on reality tv?

"Not that I was unreceptive, it's just that I didn't know what would happen. Even before Top Chef I did a lot of television and media work for the magazine: The Today Show, CBS, etc. When I found out I was going to be on a reality show, I knew it would be done tastefully and told my mom, 'Don't worry, I won't be tied to a tree eating maggots in a bikini.'"

To hear more from Gail, including how she feels about being the "mean" judge,

Even though she knew her future wouldn't involve bikinis and maggots, she probably didn't know that, when all was said and done, she was going to be "mean" judge. Not once during our two hour breakfast did she come across as cold, b*tchy or mean, so why is she like that on tv?

"At first I was a little shocked when I was told people thought I was the
"mean" judge. I now understand that the version people see of me on Top Chef is a very edited version and not what I am like in real life. I am in a way playing a character just like anyone else on any other TV show. I would like to think that everything you see me say on the show is true and honest. What is the point of it otherwise right? Besides, if we only gave compliments all the time, it would not be very interesting to watch.

"That being said, I always try to give constructive criticism to the contestants and commend them for a job well done. For better or worse, the sweet part of what I say does not always make the final cut. In the long run, I am happy to be perceived as "mean" as long as I am also perceived as relatively intelligent."

Now that Top Chef has been going strong for three seasons, and is already casting for season four, has her life changed any?

"Top Chef has definitely changed my life in so many ways. It has certainly forced me to eat things I would never otherwise get a chance to try or would want to for that matter. [Editor's note: When asked, Gail said she disliked both black beans and veal, so future Top Chef contestants, take note!]

"I have learned so much about television as well - I would never have imagined how many hours we shoot to create a 44 minute show every week! It has also obviously given me much more visibility in the food world and beyond, as well as a little less privacy in my every day life. Even though I have been in the industry for years, it has become harder to be anonymous at restaurants anymore. Or in line at the grocery store. For the most part people are so generous and enthusiastic about the show so being recognized on the street or subway is still a novelty and very flattering. "

"Top Chef has also made me realize how hungry the world is for this type of information about food. It validates what we try to do at Food & Wine every day. I am so proud of how many people tell me that Top Chef makes them want to eat, cook, try knew things! It is very exciting. So is knowing that I play a small part in discovering and fostering new, young talent."

So if she wasn't busy discovering new talent, what would she be doing instead?

"Hmm... I'd be a zoologist. I really like animals."

See? It must be the editing! After all, how could someone who loves animals enough to make them her second career choice be a cold-hearted b*tch?

Whether you love her or hate her, Gail says she returns to Top Chef soon and that the season gets really exciting. The winner will be announced live this year, so even if we could have coerced her into spilling the beans — and believe me, we tried! — she wouldn't have been able to tell us. Looks like we'll just have to tune in and, in the words of Bravo's marketing department, "watch what happens!"

Images Courtesy of NBC Universal Entertainment Group

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