The Dish On Gail Simmons

Top Chef judge steps into a new role.
Gail Simmons at home in Cobble Hill. Photo: Gregg Delman

By Abby Tegnelia 

Gail Simmons, beloved cookbook author and judge on Bravo’s Emmy-winning juggernaut Top Chef, is pumped for the new season, currently airing new episodes every Wednesday. Not only is it the first season with a new host—Top Chef: Seattle winner Kristen Kish, who replaces Padma Lakshmi—but it is also Simmons’ first as an executive producer. “I’ve always been relatively involved over 21 seasons—it’s a very collaborative show—but stepping up into an executive producer position, I definitely was able to play a larger role in the elimination challenges and the guest judge conversations,” she says. “This season is going to feel very different coming off our World All-Stars season in London and Paris—returning home to the Midwest was invigorating.”

For Simmons, this season was an exercise in making changes that were “just enough,” including the elimination of immunity from quickfire challenges. “It’s not about turning it upside down every season,” she says. “It’s about tweaking it just enough that the show evolves and feels relevant, and 21 seasons later, we’re not in the same stock studio space.”

Shouldering an enormous part of this season’s freshness is the new host, Kish. “She’s amazing,” Simmons says. “She’s part of the family; she grew up with us and on the set with us. She understood the position of the chefs, which is very different from the judges’ table in the past. She knows the questions to ask and how they’re feeling, and also when to push them.”

Even though work has been an exciting whirlwind of changes big and small, it hasn’t kept Simmons so busy that she stopped making homemade meals for her and her family, husband Jeremy Abrams and children Dahlia, 10, and Kole, 5. In the kitchen she designed herself in a stunning converted church in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, Simmons whips up wholesome meals, strategically.

“My kids are generally really good eaters,” she says. “But they’re still kids. I cook for them what I want to eat, but with one main dish that can be altered. Sometimes we make something simple—like meat sauce or pasta sauce—and I make it with spaghetti squash for me and with pasta for the kids. Or there’s an alteration—we’ll roast a ton of vegetables. My kids will eat it one way and I’ll eat it a different way. But at least we’ve big-batched the healthy stuff, so that we’re all eating that same thing and cooking only one meal.”

The food writer turned TV star is often asked how she gets her kids to eat their veggies. “I don’t make a big deal of it,” she says. “I just keep eating them myself, keep it on the table…they see it and after a while, they’ll just go for it. I often see my daughter reaching for the thing that I’ve tried to force her to eat five times, but when I’m not looking.”