With a prominent role on Top Chef, a new cookbook on the shelves, and a four-year-old daughter at home, Gail Simmons’ plate is full. Working her way from magazine intern to popular TV personality, Simmons has travelled the world, cooked in some of the finest NYC restaurants and launched her own female-focused production company, Bumble Pie Productions. Her cookbook, Bringing it Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating (Grand Central Publishing, 2017), is a collection of recipes inspired by her experiences mixed in with twists on Jewish classics from her childhood.
Recently, Simmons spoke with Lilith about Latke Reubens, raising an adventurous eater and how the #MeToo movement is affecting a male dominated food industry.
In Bringing it Home , you mention that some of the best Top Chef moments come from contestants tapping into their roots. Can you talk about how your Jewish heritage influenced your love of food and cooking?
GS: Food is such a huge part of all cultures, I think. So much of my Jewish background is from a childhood celebrating holidays around the table. I spent a lot of time learning to make (and eating!) those great dishes that were passed from my grandmother to my mother and my mother to me; things like matzo ball soup and brisket and latkes and my mom’s chopped liver, traditional Eastern European food. When my grandmother and great-grandmother were making these dishes fifty or one hundred years ago, they didn’t necessarily have access to good quality food. The brisket was used because it was a cheap cut of meat—that was the way to cook back in the shtetel. But now I can get really incredible cuts of meat, access really great technique, and make sure the version I make is the best possible one. I try to preserve the integrity of the food, but I take liberties. For example, taking the classic latke, making it the exact same way that my mom made it for me growing up, but making it into a Latke Reuben, adding a great sour cream sauce, a fresh apple slaw and some slices of pastrami because I think it’s really fun.