“I read Talking with My Mouth Full this past March while I was working in advertising and living my most miserable life,” I say to Gail Simmons (iconic judge on Top Chef, Food & Wine special projects director, and food writer) as I sit in my living room wearing pajamas on a cold and rainy Chicago Monday. “Three weeks later, I quit my job.”
Gail doesn’t know whether to be sorry or to offer congratulations. I assure her that the latter is the way to go. Talking with My Mouth Full, her memoir about life as a “Professional Eater”, was one of the final pushes for me to take the very risky plunge to quit my job in search of making my own name in the food writing space. Seven months later, here I am interviewing the woman herself.
“That makes me really happy,” Gail sighs when I explain. “I wrote that book to let people know there are so many opportunities out there and that when you’re passionate about something, it’s worth pursuing. When I started out, I had no idea where I was headed or what it was going to lead to but I trusted myself and here I am…another book down.”
This other book Gail refers to is her first cookbook, Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating, which goes on sale today. While it is a cookbook, “it feels just as personal” as Talking with My Mouth Full because each recipe is carefully handpicked and inspired by “trips I’ve taken, chefs I’ve worked with, and meals I’ve cooked with my family.”
While all the recipes are ultimately easy to execute for the home cook, thanks to years of Gail’s experimenting and perfecting, some were harder for her to develop than others. “They were difficult for me to create because I had an idea of what I wanted to do but it took a long time for me to figure out the best way to do them. My cardamom upside down cake is one…I love the recipe so much and the idea of perfecting that caramel and banana top. It took some time.”
The best part about Bringing It Home is that it has one of the most useful and practical sections I’ve ever read (my experience with cookbooks is vast) on how to be a better cook. Gail introduces readers to her favorite pantry items and kitchen equipment, not as a laundry list of every single thing a home chef needs but to introduce them to tools that she herself leans on in the kitchen. “They are things I think will make you feel more organized and give you more of an advantage in the kitchen.”
Gail also details “Chef Lessons Worth Bringing Home”, which are a collection of tips inspired by over 20 years of working in professional kitchens. “So many are lessons that reoccur on Top Chef but we don’t make the connection of how they apply to the home kitchen.” But they do. And they are really useful to know.
“Most people see me in a cocktail dress analyzing food and constructively criticizing chefs but that’s not what I do in the day to day of my life,” Gail comments about her work as a judge on Top Chef. “There’s a lot more to my passion and my food that people don’t get to see. I like to get my hands dirty and you don’t get to see me with my hands dirty on TV.”
Lucky for us Chicagoans, we do get a chance to experience Gail IRL. This Thursday, October 26th, Gail will be co-hosting a dinner with Williams Sonoma and Top Chef finalist Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde for a sold-out dinner at Monteverde’s brand new private dining loft space. The two women became good friends after filming season 9 of Top Chef and have collaborated with each other on smaller projects.
“Most of the dishes will be from my book," Gail continues. "It will be family style and there will be a broad range, so we will have pasta, but don’t expect everything to have an Italian bent.” The dinner will be
“I’ve been planning this for so long,” Gail enthuses. “I can’t wait to just get out there and celebrate.”
Bringing It Home is certainly worthy of celebration. Primarily, the celebration of adventure and reward that Gail's writing inspires both inside, and (in my case) out, of the kitchen.
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Filed under: Featured Chefs