She may be from Canada, but this Food & Wine editor is an integral part of American restaurant and food culture. Gail Simmons was born in Toronto in 1976. Her parents, Ivor and Renee, have three children, of which Gail is the youngest. Renee worked for a time as a food columnist for Globe and Mail, and even provided cooking classes in the family home. While attending McGill University, Simmons wrote restaurant reviews for the McGill Tribune, her college's student newspaper. Gail graduated from McGill University with double majors in anthropology and Spanish. When she landed a job as an editorial assistant at a newspaper, Simmons decided to follow the food editor on staff wherever he went. Her persistence led to the editor allowing her to write small pieces. Not long after these formative experiences, Simmons moved to New York City.
Notable figures in Simmons's early publishing career in America included food critic Jeffrey Steingarten, to whom she was an assistant for two years at Vogue, and Daniel Boulud, for whose restaurant empire Simmons worked as a special events manager. After attending the Peter Kump New York Cooking School (later renamed the Institute of Culinary Education), Simmons apprenticed at Le Cirque and Vong. She has written two books: a memoir titled Talking With My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater and Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating.
Like the Top Chef contestants she judges, Simmons has also spent time hosting a variety of food-centric programming. In 2014 she co-hosted The Feed on FYI. She has also been profiled by and made guest appearances in various forms of media, including NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America. New York magazine, Travel + Leisure, GQ, People, Los Angeles Times have featured Simmons in their pages. In addition to judging duties on the American edition of Top Chef, Simmons served as a judge on Top Chef Masters, has hosted Top Chef Amateurs, Iron Chef Canada, and Top Chef: Just Desserts. The latter, a spinoff of the original, premiered on Bravo in 2010, but lasted only for two years. Her current projects include: serving as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Babson College and as co-founder of Bumble Pie Productions. She is also the newest Global Ambassador for Children in Conflict, an international organization committed to "protecting, educating, and providing critical aid for the world's most vulnerable children affected by war." Simmons is also involved in New York City-area nonprofits, including Hot Bread Kitchen and City Harvest.
Gail Simmons and Top Chef
When the inaugural season of Top Chef was announced, Food & Wine magazine did not know what to make of it. When they heard acclaimed chef Tom Colicchio was joining the endeavor as a judge, the magazine provided Simmons, who had begun working at the publication in 2004 as special projects manager, as a second head judge. Since then, F&W has become a consistent component of each Top Chef season. Senior editors, including Nilou Motamed, Hunter Lewis, and Dana Cowin, have served as guest judges, and occasionally the magazine provides a full spread in its pages to the winner of a Quickfire or Elimination Challenge. Known for her dessert expertise, Simmons often prepares sweets for the finale competitors during the customary finale eve family meal, to which fellow judges Chef Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi also contribute.
Though she hasn't lived in Canada for many years, Simmons remembers her life there fondly. In an interview with New York, she catalogued the many foods of her childhood that aren't available in America, namely Jamaican meat patties and Smarties:
"Toronto has a huge Caribbean community, so a patty was actually my middle-school snack. Smarties are also Canadian, and they're kind of like the equivalent of M&Ms—candy-covered chocolates, but you can't get them [in the U.S.], so my friend visiting from Toronto brought me a container, and we cracked it open while we drank a bottle of Tempranillo rosé."
Other Canadian favorites included, she said, ketchup-flavored potato chips and Coffee Crisp, a coffee-flavored chocolate bar made from many layers of thin wafers. In an interview with Refinery29, Simmons named her mother-in-law's chicken and barley stew her favorite dish for when she's "cooking at home for just myself and my husband. It's hearty, easy, and satisfying. And it tastes even better the next day!" Her career may have focussed on complex restaurant desserts that involve multiple layers, components, and flavors, Simmons's own favorite sweet treat is quite simple: "My all-time favorite treat is simple butterscotch pudding or a chewy, chunky, chocolate-chip cookie, still warm from the oven. Total comfort food."
Gail Simmons' Personal Life
Simmons' 2008 wedding to Jeremy Abrams featured a farmers' market theme. Their children, a daughter named Dahlia Rae and a son named Kole Jack, were born 2013 and 2018, respectively. She lives with her family in an old converted church in Brooklyn. The church, she said in an interview with the Toronto Sun, which was likely built in the 1940s or '50s, was converted into condos in 2011. At first, Simmons and Abrams rented it while performing renovations. Her description of the space is idyllic: "The outside of the building still looks like a church, with stained glass windows along the sides and a garden courtyard in the center of it. What I love most about my specific unit is that it's at the back of the building and we have three walls of windows. We get a lot of natural light because we face the courtyard on two sides and our own back garden instead of the street." Simmons's net worth is estimated to be approximately $2.5 million.
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