10 Thoughts: Gail Simmons

1. One thing you don’t know about me is that I worked in Israel on a chicken farm picking eggs for a summer when I was 18 years old. Also, I can tap dance.

2. I admire so many of the chefs I work with every day, especially our Top Chef contestants. But in terms of a chef who truly inspires and awes me, I would have to say the venerable Jacques Pepin—the original master, who parlayed his immaculate cooking skills to television, impacting generations of chefs and home cooks, and who has never once compromised his standards, integrity or technique along the way.

3. One of my most memorable meals was at a tiny sushi bar in Tokyo called Sushi-Sho. My husband and I were the only foreigners in the room and could not speak a word of Japanese. We put ourselves at the mercy of the sushi chef and his staff, and what followed was a four-hour parade of the finest quality sushi and sashimi I have ever known. Every bite was a revelation, and an incredible education.

4. If there were no dark chocolate or peaches, I’d have no reason to live.

5. My go-to drink is a dry martini with lots of olives.

6. If I were on death row my last meal would start with a mountain of Montreal smoked-meat sandwiches and pickles from Schwartz’s Deli, and also include Sicilian sea urchin pasta with chilies, a chargrilled bone-in rib eye steak (rare), sweet summer corn on the cob with butter and coarse salt, buttery roasted baby potatoes with fresh herbs, and for dessert a big bowl of butterscotch budino, with a few chewy gooey chocolate chip cookies on the side.

7. My worst culinary creation occurred in college with my roommates.We used to make this hash brown and broccoli casserole, complete with canned soup mix and frozen veggies, smothered in cheese. It was awful, but boy did it taste good at 2 a.m. after a night on the town, or at breakfast with a fried egg on top to feed a hangover.

8. If I could change one thing about me it would be the ability to set better boundaries with my work/Blackberry, be a little less “connected” and focus more on the present moment, instead of always thinking two steps ahead.

9. My favorite junk foods are salt and vinegar chips, dill pickle chips and beef jerky. But not together.

10. If I wasn’t a food/television personality, I’d love to be a primatologist working at a chimp or orangutan rehabilitation center. Seriously, I’m fascinated and slightly obsessed with monkeys.

Gail Simmons is a regular judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and the host of its spin-off show, Top Chef: Just Desserts. She’s also the author of a just-released memoir, Talking With My Mouth Full: My Life As A Professional Eater.