Bravotv.com: What’s the hottest pepper you’ve ever eaten? Have you ever had a ghost?
Gail Simmons: I’ve never had a ghost pepper, but I’ve certainly had habanero peppers and a lot of Thai chilies. I love chilies, I love heat, although they need to be in balance. Heat is not a flavor.
Bravotv.com: Were you surprised Paul cooked with the ghost pepper?
GS: I wasn’t surprised. I was hoping someone would use it because Top Chef is all about taking risks. I just feared for Padma, Susan, and Mary Sue having to eat it if the person didn’t know what they were doing! You just hope that if someone is taking that chance, they have some skill in handling peppers like that. I have fallen into the trap before of working with a hot pepper and then rubbing my eye or something and that can be very scary, and very painful.
Bravotv.com: So, about that bagel incident you alluded to. What happened?!
GS: When I was in 8th grade, I was late to catch a bus and I wanted to take a bagel sandwich on the road with me, so I was rushing and I did what any amateur cutting bagels does, which is holding the bagel in my hand and slicing it down towards my palm. I sliced through where my knuckle joint is, right where you bend your finger, right through the nerve. My mother had to take me to get stitches. I never regained full use of the very tip section of my left index finger, which I have to say makes it very difficult to use keys and open doors, turn bottle caps, and it’s why I will never be a star guitarist -- I can’t play bar chords very easily.
Bravotv.com: Wow! Mystery solved. Anyway, what do I like in a chili?
GS: I like heat and I like meat. I knew Texas chili didn’t have beans in it, and I’m OK with that. I do like beans in my chili sometimes, but I totally get that regionally chili is like Bolognese in Italy -- every area has their own way of doing it and even household to household they’ll have a different recipe which they believe is the only one that matters. I love that we were tasting the chef’s versions of “authentic Texas chili.” Overall they did a really good job. They were practically hallucinating from exhaustion. But the chili was pretty good, it was really fun and there was lots of cold Shiner Bock beer to wash it down.
Bravotv.com: A lot of the teams used brisket and short rib.
GS: Texas barbeque is mostly beef and Texas chili too. There aren’t that many cuts of beef that you want to use in chili. You actually don’t want to use tenderloin or sirloin -- it’s very expensive and because it has a lot of fat in it, it doesn’t braise the same way. Its all about the braise, it’s all about the slow cook in liquid, so you want to use chuck or brisket or short rib, cuts that lend themselves well to slow, long cook times.
Bravotv.com: You loved Heather’s teams pickled peaches!
GS: Her team did a great job but it wasn’t going to win us over 100% because it was really about the chili. It was really great that they did something different though. That’s why I love pickles so much, and why pickles go so well with barbeque, because of the vinegar and the acid. There are so many dark, warm flavors in chili, that slow saucy, rich, hot, pepper flavor, it’s great to have some vinegar and some crunch to contrast against it. Having pickles and especially pickled peaches was inspired and added another layer of flavor to the dish.
Bravotv.com: How did you feel about the big “second chance” twist?
GS: I feel so guilty that we had to do this because they really were so tired and wiped out. The reason we did it was that we ate one dish made by all three of them on the team, and because its chili, it’s a stew, it’s a melting pot, it’s very difficult to differentiate by eating it who did what. There’s really no way to know exactly who contributed in what way and we wanted to make sure that how we chose the chef to be eliminated was fair. We know they all worked hard, we know they all stayed up late. We knew that the Black Team’s chili was our least favorite. That’s not to say it wasn’t good -- there were good attributes to it, but it just wasn’t as flavorful or complex. It was interesting, but it was just a bit muddled. So the only way we felt we could fairly eliminate someone was to have them cook something else and then judge it alone.Bravotv.com: Beverly seemed to clearly take the lead this time.
GS: Despite her total exhaustion, Beverly was able to use the chili flavors and all the sauce from the chili and do something creative with it, something fresh and light. She seared tuna and used the creamed corn and the sauce from the chili, then add this beautiful tuna which was basically raw to counterbalance it. Nyesha’s shrimp was tasty, it was Frito-encrusted, which I thought was fun, but it did need sauce. It became kind of dry, but it had flavor, which is why it wasn’t the very bottom, although it definitely needed something more to make it great. And then poor, sweet Richie Rich! He was beyond exhausted. We all know that Richie is an extraordinary young chef and he can do so much more than this, but he was running on very little sleep. That said, to be fair, all three of them were cooking under the same circumstances which is why we can’t feel too bad for him. Beverly managed to actually make a beautiful dish. We asked them to dig deep inside themselves, and I think Richie, just in this moment, panicked, and just did not deliver. He had a really smart idea. On paper it sounded delicious, but he didn’t execute it well. It was heavy, the pork tenderloin was not very flavorful. The good news is, little did he know, but Richie is gets another chance in our Last Chance Kitchen online, so we’ll see how that goes. He is a great chef when he has time, he can focus, he has a plan, and isn’t under extreme circumstances. Some people strive on this adrenaline rush and some chefs are a little more methodical. And we’ve seen it with lots of contesntants on Top Chef over the years, chefs who we know are outstanding, they but don’t necessarily excel when they’re cooking under pressure.
Bravotv.com: Next week is Dallas!
GS: Next week we’re in Dallas, which will be fun! But first, I thought I’d share some pics from an amazing Southern BBQ festival I hosted, the 2011 Music to Your Mouth Festival, this past weekend in South Carolina. I got to hang out with Top Chef’s Kevin Gillespie, and other awesome Southern chefs including Commander’s Palace’s Tory McPhail and McCrady’s Sean Brock. YUM!
Editor’s Note: Check out Gail’s pics from the Music to Your Mouth Festival HERE.