What better time than now to delve into a cookbook that focuses on bringing back interesting yet accessible recipes from bucket-list world travels?
Gail Simmons is not only a judge on Bravo’s Emmy-winning series Top Chef, now in its 17th season, but is also the author of Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating (Grand Central Publishing, 2017). As part of the No. 1 food show on cable television, Simmons also lends her culinary expertise to spin-offs of the franchise like Top Chef Masters and Top Chef: Just Desserts.
Early in her career, Simmons worked with Chef Daniel Boulud before becoming special projects director at Food and Wine. When the Canadian-born writer and TV personality is not at home with her husband and two children in New York City, she is on the road gathering inspiration to recreate simple recipes for successful family meals and entertaining.
CSQ spoke to Simmons while in quarantine to get her at-home insights on everything from guilty pleasures to favorite food blogs.
With everyone on lockdown and stuck at home, from where can we draw inspiration?
I was always a cook but because my work schedule took me out of the house many nights a week and also out of the city on travel so often, the silver lining is, because I’m home, I’m cooking nonstop. Sometimes it’s a little exhausting.
As much as we can’t go out to restaurants, we can bring new ingredients home. I was making a lot of soups and stews earlier in the year and into spring, but this summer, we are making artichokes and bright salads with lots of herbs. I recently made a big cherry salad that was really exciting and fresh. I’m having a moment with leeks and spring onions. I’ve been braising them in white wine and fennel in chicken stock. It’s a simple, French technique that is really comforting. Also, lots of one-bowl grain salads. We cook a bunch of different things individually so that we can put together meals really easily.
Any guilty pleasures?
We are also doing a lot of unhealthy things in a way that I have never done before. I used to eat out so much in restaurants that we kept the “adult food” for us at home really healthy. I got my fix of rich, decadent foods when I went out, but now that we are home all the time, I’m letting myself buy salt and vinegar chips—those are my kryptonite. And we are stashing the shelves with dark chocolate so we can take a square every night. I’ve always enjoyed baking with my daughter but now we are doing it two to three times a week. I’m decent, but by no means a pastry chef, but there is an onslaught of baked goods in our house (like everyone else). I’m not baking sourdough bread but I’m making quick breads, muffins, pound cake, and cookies. It’s been very satisfying.
Which cookbooks, apps, or Instagram accounts do you follow and gather inspiration from?
I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration in the Sababa cookbook by Adeena Sussman. She’s a New Yorker who moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, right near the Carmel Market. It includes simple and flavor-packed recipes that I’ve made during quarantine. She’s the one who made me crave roasted artichokes. She has a recipe for melted cabbage that became really big when her book came out. My father is vegan, and he’s made it several times. I did a big cooking evening on Zoom the other night with Adeena and Michael Solomonov and Einat Admony. Einat’s book Shouk (Hebrew word for market) is really great. Those flavors are just bright and fresh and I’ve been so excited by them recently.
On Instagram, Candace Nelson from Sprinkles in L.A. is great for baking with my daughter. It’s easy and approachable. Jamie Oliver has been making really good stuff. He has two new books out and he’s always very real on Instagram with his kids. Leah Cohen is a New York chef who I love. Her food makes me drool and gives me a lot of inspiration for Southeast Asian flavors. Pig & Khao [her restaurant] in New York is one of my favorites.
I love Molly Yeh. Her food is fun and sweet but gets me out of my own head. She does lots of baking. Her show is Girl Meets Farm on the Food Network but she’s also a blogger and does everything—great salads, beautiful bowls, well-produced, and fun ideas.
Any cookware go-to that is getting a workout in your kitchen these days?
I’m using my Le Creuset pots a lot, my KitchenAid standing mixer a ton, a food processor, and my Vitamix blender nonstop. For delicate foods like eggs and fish, I have a really good nonstick All-Clad that I’ve had forever. I also use mini silicone spatulas—I order six at a time. They get tons of use to get into all the nooks and crannies of things. I’m using simple tools too like my citrus juicer—it’s a one-hand squeezer that I use every day.
The Restaurants Simmons Most Looks Forward to Visiting Post-Quarantine
I really wanted to get to Golden Diner before the quarantine. I was really excited because my friends were raving about it. It’s the kind of food I want to eat for breakfast in N.Y.
For lunch I’m going to West-Bourne (a nod to 1960s L.A.), then Atla by Enrique Olvera. It’s always inspired with beautiful ceviche, duck carnitas, lamb barbacoa, mushrooms with poblano, and amazing aguas frescas with fresh juice. Also, King for pasta, simple fish, and seasonal veggies.
Once I can, I’m going Lilia in Brooklyn for dinner. I’m getting all of chef Missy Robbins’ little fishes, grilled clams, and cured sardines, plus chicken-liver crostini and little gem salad. Her mafaldini pasta is my favorite thing plus linguini with anchovies. You can get a tomahawk or big rib-eye steak on the grill if you get there early. Atoboy has a four-course, set menu that is constantly changing, so I always go with four people because I want everything. Also going to Dora, Olmsted, Sofreh, and Don Angie.
Breakfast treats: If I’ve got time, I’ll go to Sqirl and sit on the little side patio with jam and bowls of greens and grains. For a quick breakfast, I like Go Get Em Tiger. When we were shooting in L.A. this past season, I was living in Larchmont Village so that was my go-to. For a late breakfast, Kismet is quiet and delicious.
Favorites for lunch: Porridge and Puffs and Petit Trois for the omelet and beautiful vegetables. Guelaguetza is great for bringing my whole family or Gjusta for smoked fish and beautiful baked breads, pastries, and maybe a salad while sitting on the patio.
Dinner options: Alimento—Chef Zach Pollack’s older sister is one my best friends for 20 years here in New York. I’ve been cheering for Zach for a long time and remember him telling me that he wanted to be a chef. I’m just blown away by his commitment and talent. Felix—for all Evan Funke’s pastas. He’s just brilliant. All his rich meat sauces and focaccia. It’s just great and done so well. I discovered a Thai strip-mall place called Love2eat Thai Bistro and Kato, another strip-mall place, for Taiwanese.