Gail Simmons blogs 'Top Chef All-Stars': Episode 2

Gail-SimmonsImage Credit: Kelsey McNeal/Bravo(As told to Archana Ram) The biggest challenge as a responsible adult cooking for kids is you want to make it nutritious and taste great, too. The problem is a child’s palate always wants the sweetest, junkiest foods and that can trip people up, which is what it did for many people in last night’s Quickfire. It was difficult for our chefs to separate what they were being asked to do: Cook something for the kids that would be chosen by the adults — at least for the first half of the challenge.

Joe Jonas — heartthrob, musician extraordinaire — narrowed it to the top two and we let the diners decide, and of course they went for the more sugary dessert, but it was also the most fun. There was no problem with Tiffani’s being sugary because we didn’t tell her not to make it sugary. That wasn’t the challenge at hand. It was supposed to be a fun decadent treat. Hers was fun and played to familiar flavors in a new form the kids probably hadn’t seen before.

Being the one who usually is the one who tastes things, I know there’s more to the dishes than I was able to get as a viewer. I always say, “You know why I know that I made the right decision? Because I was there.” Unfortunately, that’s the tricky part of our show. Our viewers don’t get to taste the food. They need us to be their taste buds. So I had to trust the taste buds of a certain teen heartthrob in this instance.

Actually, we’ve been quite amazed by the onslaught of love people in Hollywood have for the show. Tom and I met Joe at the White House Correspondents and at a party at the French Consulate. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was Joe Jonas! He was so excited to talk about the show and had all these great challenge ideas. I was like, are you trying to produce our show right now? But he was clearly an enthusiastic food lover and fan of the show. We traded restaurant recommendations and emails, and when we told our producers he was a fan, I guess they hooked it up.

I had spent a lot of time at the Natural History Museum just about a month before because my nephew had been in New York City for his 10th birthday. It’s an iconic place and sort of a fantasy world. Their food is run by a quite conscientious food and catering company, so they do a lot of good stuff in-house.

Overall, I think both teams did a pretty good job considering the limited nature of the two diets and how little sleep they were running on. To give you a sense: It was a little after midnight when Tom gave them the challenge, then there was time for lighting and set changes, and they must’ve gone to bed at 3 a.m. and got up at 4 to start making breakfast. We had to be finished with the challenge by the time the museum opened at 10.

The Brontosaurus team pushed themselves quite a bit. We were impressed with the flavor combination, the depth of flavor, and the diversity of what the Brontosaurus team did. There was an enormous amount of knife work and precision. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had terrible gnocchi on Top Chef. The only good gnocchi I can think of on Top Chef to date besides this episode was when Michael Chiarello made us gnocchi in the finale of Masters‘ first season. He had the luxury of a good night’s sleep, a sous chef, the Top Chef kitchen, and the fact that he’s been making gnocchi for 25 years.

Carla and Spike’s gazpacho had a ton of knife work and a great balance of flavors. It was fresh and bright. We could see all that went into the banana parfait. The fruit was cut beautifully in perfect proportions. The banana puree took skill; they didn’t just put it in a blender and call it a day. They roasted fruit. Each piece was perfectly placed. It was a beautiful plate of food and tasted the best of anything we ate that day. It was all just done well.

Without a doubt, there were more flaws on the T-Rex team. I know they had meat, eggs, and cheese, and meat requires more cooking than fruits and vegetables, but I don’t think they did anything more difficult than what the other team did. Tre’s sauce was over-reduced, which made it incredibly intense and salty. Antonia and Tiffany’s frittatas were inconsistent in their doneness. Tiffani and Dale’s steak and eggs were actually pretty great — unoriginal, but pretty great. The Hollandaise was nice, smooth, and unbroken.

And then there was Jen and Jamie’s braised pork belly and hard-boiled egg. Ultimately we thought all of the flaws made by Jen were greater than Tre’s sauce. As much as his dish was salty, I could still eat and understand it. But I couldn’t get through Jen’s braised pork belly. We all unanimously came to that decision. In its entirety, it wasn’t something we wanted to eat.

As for Fabio and Stephen’s gnocchi, it was no more or less appropriate than salmon with shrimp and bacon sauce. And actually potatoes, mushroom, and spinach — the components of their gnocchi — are pretty appropriate for me. I eat all of those with my breakfast all the time. The gnocchi was like a soft, pillowy hash brown — perfectly fine. The appropriateness of the breakfast dishes was never on the table for either team. Every dish everyone made was perfectly appropriate. I can’t say it enough, it’s about whether the dish tasted good. At the end of the day, again, did the gnocchi taste good? It tasted fantastic actually.

Jen’s didn’t. I know viewers are so disappointed. We all are. The truth is: We need to judge on what was the best and worst dish of the day. If it’s your first time at a restaurant and you have an incredible meal, you’re going to go back. But if you go and have a terrible meal on your first go, you’re never going back. Restaurants don’t get another chance when you’re a diner. Every single time has to be great. It’s actually very real to the world of restaurant reviewing. You can’t allow the chefs to rest on their laurels and say, “Well, Jen did a really good dish two episodes ago.” Then what’s the point of having new challenges if you’re allowed to base your conceptions on what they did in the past? The only way to make the show fair is to wipe the slate clean every week.

Jen’s dish wasn’t good and why do we know it? Because we were there and we tasted it. We always survey our diners to see what they think, but at the end of the day, for an Elimination challenge, we decide and often don’t agree with what they think. In this case, we all did. No one at the museum liked Jen’s dish. It was pretty unanimous. The pork belly was unappealing, overpowering, fell apart and had no textural counterpoints. The hard-boiled egg was totally forgettable. It wasn’t a good plate of food or something we would’ve ordered in the first place. And that’s what it comes down to: What dish do you want to eat again and what dish do you never want to see again?

When Jen defended her pork belly at judges’ table, the vibe was pretty tense, but not because we were angry. We just wished we could’ve sat down with her and explained it, but she was so convinced that her dish was good that there was nothing we could say that was going to convince her otherwise. If some of us liked it and some of us didn’t, perhaps her rant could’ve changed things, but no amount of yelling at us about how good her dish was was going to make us change our minds. Her dish, unfortunately, was the weakest dish of the day.

We understand. We don’t blame her. In fact we applaud [that she stood up for her food], as Tom said. We often wonder why our chefs don’t talk back. I think that’s partially because, in the beginning, they’re intimidated. But this time around, they all know us pretty well and they’re comfortable giving us a piece of their mind, which is great because it evokes better conversation.

In theory it may have been a brilliant dish, but this version wasn’t a success in the context of this challenge. That’s not to say she isn’t a great chef in her own right. I have no worries about Jen’s success in the future. And I think she knows that because I’ve spoken to her since. We were sitting in a quiet moment and she said, “I hope you know that I didn’t mean it personally when I got so angry at judges’ table.” And I said, “Jen, I cannot even imagine what you went through that night, and I know that it must have been amazingly hard because of what a fierce passionate person you are, and rest assured it wasn’t personal from us either.” And then we proceeded to have some cocktails and have a good night.

I know whenever we eliminate a woman, we’re called sexist. Whenever we eliminate an African-American, we’re called racist. I am neither American nor a man and I do not believe we’re either of those things. The professional restaurant industry is not an equal industry and that’s a fact. There are more men working in professional kitchens than women. On Top Chef, we purposefully start our season with an equal number of men versus women. That actually stacks the deck for women. So if you think about the fact that only one woman has won across our seasons, that’s actually pretty accurate to the industry, for better or worse. What I always say, sadly, is, can you name five women in New York City who own multiple restaurant empires? Can you name any men? Unfortunately, it’s an unfair reality. I think we’ve made incredible strides in the last few decades, and I’m a ferocious advocate for women in the restaurant world. So it’s upsetting, but it’s the truth.

Every week will be controversial and difficult to digest — pun intended. There are no good [eliminee] options. Every single member of the cast is talented and interesting, and we’re all invested in them. There’s never a good elimination this season.

What did you guys think of the episode? Sound off below – I want to hear what you think!

Read more:
Annie Barrett recaps ‘Top Chef’ Episode 2: Dinosaurus Wrecks
Gail Simmons blogs last week’s ‘Top Chef All-Stars’ premiere

Comments (154 total) Add your comment
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  • CLG

    Nicely said, Gail! I respect your decision!

    • sexyrosess

      I have to say that this is just another instance of Tom not wanting any woman to talk back to him at the judge’s table. After the comments about the raw food that two other chefs made

  • swoosie

    Can you say “SEXIST” judges? I think we know that Tom C. has a problem with women. I have to say that this is just another instance of Tom not wanting any woman to talk back to him at the judge’s table. After the comments about the raw food that two other chefs made, and the salty sauce that Tom said ruined the salmon dish, I was totally amazed at how the panel cut Jen. That was wrong, but i have to tell you that if you go back and watch episode after episode of top chef, the women are ALWAYS kicked off when it is close and here we go again. Sorry but you guys got it wrong. It was clear from your comments and how you framed them from the get go. Tom did not like Jen talking back. That is clear. I am so tired of this sort of backlash with the women chefs, as it is not fair. Please, please be more impartial and LESS SEXIST.

    • wolverine

      I don’t get the sense that Tom has a problem with women at all. Even if he did, if there was one female cheftestant that it’s clear he respects, it’s Jen. I was really disappointed to see Jen go because I was really rooting for her, but much like in her first season, she was her own worst enemy.

      • wolverine

        One other thing… Tom has gone on record (before this season) saying that Jen would likely have kicked some butt on any of the first five seasons.

    • cm

      Were you watching the same episode? It was pretty clear that Jen’s dish, even by sight, didn’t look appetizing. Tom was also pretty clear that her comments didn’t affect the outcome. Gail echoed the same two things here, several times. I’m really disappointed that Jen is gone, but oh well. It was pretty clear that the judges liked her dish LESS. Seriously – read the blog about Gail’s sexist comments as well. It’s like we live in alternate universes or something.

    • darclyte

      3 of the 4 judges in this round were women, and a woman got voted off…that’s sexist? The ONLY guy who was in ANY trouble was Tre, but they say that Jen’s dish was unanimously panned, including the diners (who have NO idea who made the dish.) Tom has said many times that he’s surprised that the Chefs don’t vocally defend their dishes, and said that Jen’s outburst didn’t bother him. In fact, I bet he was happy that someone FINALLY stood up so much to them. Jen was picked (by the judges) as a favorite to make the finals. Tom has said that Jen probably would have made the final on ANY season. This dish just seemed bad. Casey mentioned how it wasn’t right (but I’m betting that if she said that to Jen that Jen would have blown her off too.) Jen came in with a HUGE chip on her shoulder, believed her own hype, was told by the other contestants that she was a favorite for the finals, and all of that worked against her. She seems to be a great chef, but she just had a really bad day.

      • Pennagirl

        Tre was the only male on that team. If anyone was really in danger it would have been Tre because he was the only male. Sexist indeed?

      • JR

        Pennagirl, there were two men on the T-Rex team. Sure Dale’s gay, but he’s still a guy.

    • juju

      I would say Tom’s favorite chef across all the seasons seemed to be Tiffany (the blonde one). He gave her chance after chance when she deserved to go. I don’t think this is sexism at all, although I do wonder why Jamie and her finger got to stay instead of Jen.

      • JP

        True that!

      • marisa

        I think because Jen said that Jamie not being there didn’t make any difference as far as the dish was concerned.

      • Mary

        Do you mean Tiffani from Season 1 who is on this current season? Do you really see her hair as blonde? She looks like a total redhead to me…not trying to be snarky, just wondering!

    • Traci

      Even if Tom is sexist he was the ONLY MAN on the judging panel this week. I’m sure if the was wrong the other judges would not have voted for Jen.

    • Traci

      Even if Tom is sexist he was the ONLY MAN on the judging panel this week. I’m sure if the was wrong the other judges would not have voted for Jen.

  • TG

    As much as I love Top Chef I do agree there’s a level of sexism in the decisions. I think Gail may not realize it but they are harsher toward woman (and I’m a guy and I’ve noticed it).

    The first two episodes had a similar circumstance. Elia and Fabio in the bottom were similar to Jen and Tre. This time though the person who talked back to the judges was not appreciated. I’m sorry, but in the first episode I would have eliminated Fabio for his dumb little “no one makes fun of me” rant – and his food was ugly and tasted bad. Yet, he is ratings gold so they kept him over Elia who made a mistake but clearly was not at her best.

    Jen had a vision – and she defended her dish – but her dish had creativity, Tre oversalting his dish is a elementary mistake that has gotten people booted off in the past.

    Still love Top Chef, but they need to really get a handle on this.

  • TrickyD

    …judge these great Chef’s on their “cooking”, on equal footing. I hate challenges that make them work with one hand tied behind their back. dumb

    • Dorf

      If you can only produce good work in a hermetically sealed environment, you don’t deserve to win Top Chef. In the real world, most of us have days when we don’t get enough sleep, don’t have all the resources we want and we often must work with people we don’t like. All the contestants this season are excellent chefs. It’s the person who can roll with the punches and overcome adversity that deserves to come out on top.

  • Tom

    Unfortunately Top Chef All-Stars failed to conceptualize a good elimination process. We get it – judges are there to judge the food – but the judges are critiqing with an arrogance appropriate for the regular Top Chef seasons but not the now established All-Stars. Judges should treat even mistakes by these guys with some respect closer to how they treated the Top Chef Masters rather than bashing them like they would amateurs. I side with Jen & Fabio from episode 1 against judges attacking viciously. (I get it – they signed up for this, are competing for a lot of money, etc.) – but jeez Top Chef judges – show some care to your elite All-Stars. Last thing you want is all your best alumni hating on the show. (Personally besides showing more respect, I would’ve had no eliminations in the first 4 episodes, given star ratings & eliminated the bottom 4 by cumulative score after the first 4 episodes – that way no one gets pissed.)

    • Jack

      I like this idea.

  • Lee

    I still think it was baloney that Jen got eliminated. And I like how Gail wasn’t specific at all as to why Jen’s dish was the worst one of the challenge. She used words like: flawed, unappealing, overpowering, fell apart. Well, how exactly was it flawed? unappealing? overpowering? Can she be any more vague in her criticism? No wonder Jen got upset if this was the criticism the judges gave her. After this episode, the judges of Top Chef have gone down in my book.

    • Olive

      Everyone at the museum hated the dish including the judges. If that’s true, then Jen deserved to go home. Casey should have told her that her dish was crap and Jamie should have been there to taste it and also tell her it was flawed.

      • darclyte

        Casey probably DID tell her that it seemed off, they just didn’t show it. I’m betting that with that chip on Jen’s shoulder, she wouldn’t have listened to Casey anyway.

    • cm

      Seriously, people, WHAT were you all watching?? Who braises pork belly? It LOOKED gross. Casey said it tasted like wet bacon. Is Casey a bit of a primadonna, yes, but it was clearly edited in for a reason. No one said they liked it, so what magic are you privy to that allows you to see and taste a dish that was clearly not good??!?!

      • Mantonat

        Your comment is that of a blog reader and TV watcher, not a cook. Braising is a pretty common way of cooking pork belly, but many preparations also call for searing it after brasing it to give it a little textural appeal. Honestly I’d rather have pork belly that’s falling-apart tender than undercooked and tough. I just love how everyone has an opinion about food they haven’t tasted. My beef with this episode is that the judges’ comments as presented to us the viewers made it seem like Jen’s dish was bland but not necessarily bad, whereas they said Tre’s sauce “ruined” his team’s dish. If the judges are going to be the tasters for us, the show’s producers need to include enough commentary for us to get a sense of how good and bad the dishes actually are. Probably lots of footage edited out that would have made things more clear to the viewer.

      • DukeLaw

        If it tasted like wet bacon then (a) it obviously wasn’t seared and (b) sound slike it wasn’t fall apart tender either.

        Lots of chefs (Morimoto, David Chang’s Momofuku etc) are doing pork belly nowadays so you better be able to do it right (and it sounds like Jen wasn’t even close).

    • jon

      You can read all of the judges blogs (including Gail’s other blog) at bravotv.com for more insight

    • lesliemd

      “It was pretty unanimous. The pork belly was unappealing, overpowering, fell apart and had no textural counterpoints. The hard-boiled egg was totally forgettable. It wasn’t a good plate of foodm”

      That doesn’t sound vague to me. And unless you want the entire blog to be all about every teeny thing wrong with Jen’s dish, or the fact that NO ONE liked it, how much more can be said?

      I still think Jamie should have gone. Only 2 stitches? She couldn’t suck it up for that? If she had stayed, the dish might have turned out better, and Tre would be gone. Jamie failed.

    • Sheila G

      Lee – Gail could have said “it was gross.” Would you have understood that? She did say this, but in a classy-wordy way because she works for a MAGAZINE.

    • tt44

      Go read Tom’s blog on BravoTV.com. He clearly explains why Jen’s was the worst of the bunch.

  • Erik

    I find these blog posts fascinating but also think the “I know it because I was there” is a little bit of a lazy explanation. I would like more analysis of what about the food went wrong. I wasn’t there so explain in more detail about it. Still love these though, keep them coming!

  • Lyn

    I think Jamie should have got eliminated she didn’t make anything and this is a cooking competition. This is a great season, since we have seen the personalities evolve.

    • darclyte

      Jamie got a pass because she really didn’t have anything to judge, while Jen’s dish failed on all marks by everyone including the diners. If that was the worst dish, then they have to send home the person most responsible for it failing. Jamie not being there to help was a factor, but Jen did everything herself so it’s on her.

    • Traci

      I think when Jen said it made no difference if Jamie was there or not the dish would have been the same either way. Jen but the nail in her own coffin.

    • Meeghan

      I agree! Jamie wimped out. She obviously wasn’t going to bleed to death. She left for two stitches? Yeah right. She sabotaged Jen. Can’t wait for Jamie to go home, she is the least talented chef this season.

      • Meg Wiedlin

        I’ve eaten at Jamie’s old restaurant in San Francisco and the food was fearing amazing. She CAN cook.
        I think that its all about the current dish and not overall talent of the chef

    • ghjghj

      I wholeheartly agree with Meeghan. There’s plenty of precendents where chefs got elimiated for not doing anything or not even cooking (season 2 semi-finale). Plus, Jamie should’ve have told Jen it was crap. At that point, I got to assume Jamie felt threatened for not doing anything. So she probably let Jen’s dish go. But, Jen did seem over confident to the point of hubris. When you’re not being picked as best dishes, then you have to re-evaluate.

  • Jared

    I’m surprised to hear Gail say that she hasn’t liked any of the gnocchi. I may be wrong, but I thought that Tiffani made some date-stuffed gnocchi on season 1 that everyone just absolutely loved.

    • darclyte

      Was Gail part of the 1st season? If she was, was she one of the judges that week?

      • ashley

        yes and yes.
        but the gnocchi was foi gras stuffed and the judges weren’t crazy about it. they gave her props for taking a risk but it was gummy.

  • loumom

    I don’t know what your blog said because when you said “Joe Jonas-heartthrob and musician extraordinaire” I quit having any confidence in your taste in anything. Good grief.

  • J

    Does she mean African-American? Or is she Canadian or something?

    • UNO

      Yeah, she is Canadian. Shame, really…

      • darclyte

        Why is her being Canadian a shame? It’s more of a shame that’s she’s married and “off the market.”

      • Sugar Rae

        Last time I checked Canada was located in North America. Gail may not be a native of the US, but she is, techically an American. So, umm…does she have a green card? :-)

      • J

        Oh, okay. Thanks

      • HR

        um- sugar rae – you are deluded
        no canadian is an American
        The term American is not inclusive of Canadians and Mexicans. It’s frankly insulting to Canadians( and probably the Mexicans) that you think this

    • Julie

      I wonder why she is conflating not being American with not being racist. Is she attempting to insinuate that only Americans are racist? Because that is absolute nonsense.

      • Elli

        Agreed! I thought it was SO weird that her rebuttal for the accusation that the judges are racist was to say that she’s not American … so she can’t be racist? wtf

      • HR

        well, it’s not the issue in Canada that it clearly (hugely) is in America so it’s not really an issue
        that arises in making decisions (or you know in enslaving an entire race for 200 years or whatever…)

      • HR

        well, it’s primarily an American issue ( in North America) so in Canada it doesn’t really come up so much in hiring or making talent-based decisions ( or you know, in enslaving an entire race for 200 years or whatever..)

  • Corran

    You may not have liked Jen’s dish, but the fact of the matter is Tiffany and Antonia’s dish had a rotten egg. That would make one sick, and should be grounds for instant elimination. Plus, Angelo would have been penalized had he not competed in the finale last season due to his illness. yet, Jamie gets a free pass because of two stitches? It just does not seem fair at all!

    • cm

      Proof of rotten egg? If that was the case, that would have been splashed all over b/c that’s fairly serious. Y’all, Jen didn’t make it through the second day. It sucks, it did, but stop throwing people and the judges under the bus for insane reasons.

    • EC

      There was no rotten egg. Some of the eggs were undercooked. That’s not rotten. It’s the equivalent of the judges eating a poached egg. Runny eggs are OK on the show if that’s what it’s supposed to be, but a fritatta is not supposed to be runny.

  • Evan

    So tough for the judges on this one. Kind of feel like it should have been an automatic elimination for Jamie. Seems unfair to get injured in a way that every other contestant thought was so minor and then just take an entire challenge “off” without any consequences. Loved how passionate Jen was in defending her dish. I was rooting for her and was so sad to see her go.

  • SodaPop

    Wow, Gail’s a horrible writer! It took about a month to get through the first few paragraphs. Edit, Gail, edit!

    • Brigid

      Did you see the “as told to” byline at the bottom of the article?

    • l

      Whew, I agree, a bit long! Confused on the part “I am not American…”
      ?
      We get it, Jen’s dish sucked.
      Seriously, folks, this is the all stars. She had her main opportunity in her season, and she was not consistent after a few wins and could not go the distance. Someone has to go at some point in all stars, so it was her.
      I think it should be mentioned the women who have made it to the finals. Tiffani was, also Carla (and who’s dish was ruined due to listening to another woman, Casey), etc.
      Regarding Jen, wow, talk about the need to edit (although it did make for some interesting drama needed in the past few years of the franchise). Maybe this is her without sleep? Yowza.

      • HR

        why are you confused? she is Canadian. Jeez, use google; it’s very informative

  • V

    I agree with Corran. If no dish gets a pass, why cook? Someone could be sick every week and stay on the show. It really makes no sense that the chef who cut themself stays when the chef that made it through the cutting process and created a dish goes home. Thats like giving a “C” to the person who’s dog ate the homework and an “F” to the person who at least turned the homework in. I think the weakest dish of the day was the dish that never made it to the table.

    • Jay

      Agreed, V. Of course, I also cannot stand Jamie, so her getting the boot would make my day.

      • Meeghan

        Jamie’s the worst! It’s fun to see her make a fool of herself by thinking she’s so great then not being able to actually cook.

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