surf globally, eat locally
September 10, 2012

Gail Simmons Masters Food… Especially Dessert
By Marcia Frost

If ever there was proof that a woman could have it all its in Gail Simmons. She has managed to put together her love of food into a career as a writer, chef and television personality.

Simmons is a judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and the host of Top Chef: Just Desserts. In between, the Canadian manages to also write for and direct special projects for Food & Wine Magazine (including the Aspen Food & Wine Classic), appear frequently on the Today Show and Good Morning America, and live a “normal” life in New York City with husband Jeremy.

It’s not just desserts that Gail Simmons supports. She is active in many children’s causes. She recently lent her time to the Taste of Tennis event for the NYJTL and works with Common Threads, an organization that helps teach wholesome, affordable cooking to low income children.

Gail’s latest project is a new book, Talking With My Mouth Full She was more than happy to share her views on food, wine and travel, the Aspen Food & Wine Classic and how the book came about, with me for Cocktails and Joints.

Marcia Frost: Why did you decide to write " Talking with My Mouth Full?"
Gail Simmons: I found myself answering the same 20 questions from Top Chef fans and journalists alike over the last several years. When I set out to write my first book, it just felt appropriate to tell the full story of my journey in the food world in the form of a memoir, which would allow me to expand on all those questions and give people a more well-rounded view of who I am and how I got to do what I do every day.

My position in the media is unique in that it didn't really exist until a few years ago, but I realize in hindsight that I've been preparing for it my whole life (through travel, culinary school, working as a cook, researcher and recipe tester, writer and event marketer), but everyday still feels surprising and serendipitous. I wanted to help inspire people to follow their dreams, to know that hard work and determination can pay off, in so many unconventional ways.

MF: What do you feel makes the Aspen Food & Wine Classic stand out from the other food festivals?
GS: The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has had 30 years to perfect its formula, and our expertise shows. Due to the magazine's authority in the food industry, and the intimacy and stunning setting of the city of Aspen, the event draws the very best talent in eating, drinking and everything they encompass, year after year. I think because of this, the guests who attend are even more passionate and excited to be with us. Being there always feels a little magical, like I found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it’s located at 8,000 feet above sea level, high in the Rocky Mountains!

MF: The Late Night Dessert Bash at the Classic was incredible. Whose idea was that? What was your favorite thing there?
GS: The Late Night "Last Bite" Dessert party I hosted this year was the brainchild of the event directors at Food & Wine magazine. As it was festival's 30th Anniversary, and due to the success of Top Chef Just Desserts, they wanted to do something extra special and extra fun to mark the milestone that involved me, Pastry Chef and show co-judge Johnny Iuzzini, and America's obsession with dessert! It became the highlight of my entire weekend - over 500 guests eating decadent sweets, dancing and laughing long into the night. It was an incredible celebration! My favorite bite was definitely Johnny's strawberry salad.

MF: What is your favorite "feel good" dish to make?
GS: Cooking anything from scratch to feed family and friends makes me feel good, but some of my favorites include desserts like a classic lemon tart or Pear Tart Tatin, to my mom's recipe for brisket or decadent seafood pasta.

MF: How does the food scene in New York differ from Montreal?
GS: I don't think there is any way to compare them. New York is fast-paced, driven more by trends and fine dining. Montreal is much more of a European city in its pace and cultural influences. It’s also much smaller and less competitive. Their food reflects this. That said, both are extremely exciting places to eat right now, both edgy in their own ways and both deeply delicious. 

MF: What's your favorite cocktail?
GS: These days I tend towards more savory drinks with lots of fresh herbs and bitters. But I'll always hold a special place in my heart for the perfect dry martini, with olives. 

MF: Do you have a favorite wine?
GS: It totally depends on my mood, the occasion and what I'm eating. With Asian or spicy food, I love bright, acidic Rieslings; in the heat of summer a Rose from Bandol, and with a hearty winter meal, or perhaps a bold Spanish red from Rioja.

MF: Which travel destinations to you associate with great food?
GS: Too many to count, but some of my favorite travel/food memories are from Tokyo, Barcelona, Singapore, New Orleans, Austin, Vancouver Island, Saigon, Paris and Cape Town. 

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