As a professional eater on TV, ‘Top Chef’ judge Gail Simmons juggles the worlds of food and fashion
- Last Updated: 1:11 PM, March 5, 2012
- Posted: 11:04 PM, March 4, 2012
If you had told “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons back in 2004 that she would one day be prepping for a fashion shoot at her then place of employment, the Upper East Side’s four-star restaurant Daniel, she would have thought you were crazy.
“It never entered my mind that this would be the path that I would take,” she says.
“So it’s humbling and wonderful but also sort of embarrassing — all the chefs in the kitchen are going to make fun of me!”
But, truth be told, they seem smitten with her girl-next-store good looks — as does former boss Daniel Boulud as he warmly greets her in the restaurant’s gleaming kitchen.
Off-camera, Simmons, 35, exudes the same generous spirit that has made her so popular with her TV audience, prompting Bravo to make her the host of a sweet spinoff, “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” now heading into its third season.
And she knows food. Her new memoir, “Talking With My Mouth Full,” recounts the often grueling, doubt-filled years she spent sweating in the kitchens of Le Cirque 2000 and Vong, slaving away as the assistant to demanding Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten and managing special events for chef Boulud before landing a gig at Food & Wine magazine and, soon after, a spot on “Top Chef.”
Needless to say, for most of that stretch, fashion had been the furthest thing from her mind.
“I’ve been wrenched into a knowledge of fashion against my own will. It’s not that I don’t want to know about fashion — I love beautiful clothes — it was just the antithesis of the world I lived in,” she says.
In the book, she recounts attending a Vogue meeting with Anna Wintour while wearing a T-shirt stained with goose fat (she had been testing cooking methods for an upcoming article).
“And it was an Old Navy T-shirt at that!” she laughs. But then the cameras started rolling, prompting a drastic wardrobe overhaul.
“I had to learn more about myself — not only my personal style but my understanding of what looks good on my body and what doesn’t.”
“I’m not a size 2 — have never been, probably never will be,” says Simmons, who alternates between a size 6 and 8. “But I also eat for a living — and I eat carefully and healthfully, and I exercise a lot.”
Simmons now favors deep, saturated jewel tones to offset her pale complexion, structured waistlines to balance her bust (“otherwise I look like I have a shelf on my body”) and designs that reveal a little leg (“I try to show them off to deter people from looking at my top!”).
“I’m stuck in this weird crossroads of the food world, which is about eating, and the entertainment world, which is about living up to stereotypes and standards that are sometimes unrealistic for women and the source of a lot of pressure and stress,” she says.
When she steps onto the red carpet, designers are only too happy to send her dresses — in sample sizes. “You try on 60 dresses and you don’t fit into any of them, and then you feel like crap because you can’t do them up,” says Simmons.
“But that’s OK, because I’ve managed to find one every time.” At last year’s Emmy Awards ceremony, she turned heads with a glamorous one-shouldered J. Mendel gown with a long slit up the side. “I’ve learned to be good with it — that I’m not going to look like the people photographed in Vogue magazine,” she says. “But I still managed to find a husband who loves me and I still manage to get dressed every morning — even though sometimes it’s a struggle.”
On Wednesday at 7 p.m., Simmons will discuss her new book, “Talking With My Mouth Full,” with chef Tom Colicchio at Barnes & Noble, 150 E. 86th St.