The Medium Rules: The Rise of Food Media, with Gail Simmons
The past 15 years have seen the cooking show move from niche, daytime and educational “good for you” programming to the center of mainstream American entertainment. This has fueled the rise of the celebrity chef and, it’s cousin, the rise of the TV chef. The beating heart of this explosion is the food competition show, principally among them “Top Chef”, but also “Hell’s Kitchen”, “Iron Chef”, “Masterchef” and a host of others which have proliferated on network and cable television dials at a dizzying pace. Enter the streaming services, and this trend has only accelerated with shows like “Nailed It” and “Sugar Rush”. And this says nothing of the kids competition shows, chief among them “Masterchef Junior”. At the same time, food media has taken a life of its own on social media, from Instagramming cooking and dining, to “maker” videos on YouTube, to food and restaurant blogs, and on and on. In a nutshell, food and cooking are pretty much everywhere at all times, everyone is a critic, and everyone is a chef.
On this episode of The Medium Rules, host Alan Baldachin is joined by Gail Simmons, who as a judge on Bravo’s Top Chef throughout its fifteen season run (and still going strong) has become a household name in both the United States and her native Canada. Gail and Alan discuss the origins of Gail’s interest in cooking, her background as a trained chef and food writer, her stint working for Daniel Boulud, and of course her tenure on Top Chef where she continues to reign alongside Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio. We also discuss how the proliferation of food media has changed the way people think about the culinary arts, and how cooking and eating have themselves been transformed.
We hope you tune in, listen and watch this chatty and informative episode with Gail.
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Alan BALDACHIN: From the HBA podcast studio in New York City, welcome to The Medium Rules. I am Alan Baldachin.
Gail SIMMONS: But otherwise, food TV was very much just what we kind of refer to as dump and stir, like standing behind the stove teaching cooking.
SIMMONS: And they thought, let’s create a real competition show about real life professional chefs, the world behind the kitchen door, and not about aspiring chefs, but about the real life of young cooks and finding the next great young chefs in America.
BALDACHIN: How did you get picked as the editor to do? Did stick your hand in the air?
SIMMONS: No, I didn’t even know it was an option. I didn’t even think about it. It had never crossed my mind. I heard nothing for a month, I kind of didn’t even think about it. I went on with my job. And a month later Bravo called Food & Wine and said, “Tell Gail, we’re shooting in San Francisco in a week from now and…”
BALDACHIN: Here’s your contract.
SIMMONS: Here’s your contract for doing it. And that’s where you can, Alan.
BALDACHIN: Okay, so I’m very excited to welcome my close friend, GailSimmons into the HBA podcast studio today. Gail has become a household name, as one of the original judges on Bravo’s Emmy Award winning monster hit series, Top Chef since the show’s inception in 2006. But beyond Top Chef,Gail is a multi-talented professional, who is a trained culinary expert, a food writer and author and an active philanthropist. In addition to our Top Chefduties, Gail host Iron Chef Canada, hosted Top Desserts for Bravo for two seasons and was the cohost of The Feed. Gail published her memoir in 2012Talking With My Mouthful, and recently published her first cookbook, which was nominated for an ICP Award for best general cookbook, featuring recipes inspired by Gail’s world travels. Not to mention Gail co-founded Bumble Pie Productions, an original content company dedicated to discovering and promoting new female voices in the food and lifestyle space. So, a lot going on, Gail.
BALDACHIN: Thanks for coming in.
SIMMONS: Thank you.
BALDACHIN: Looking forward to a great conversation.
SIMMONS: Me too.
BALDACHIN: So I want to talk about a lot of things with you today, including your take on the food, TV food media category, but let’s back up and very quickly just tell me a little bit about what sort of is the spark and the germ for your interest, not just in cooking, but also in food as a lifestyle event for you and as a critic. And so what drew you into this and what keeps you there?
SIMMONS: Many things that drew me and you know, you sort of don’t see them until you’re in front of them years later. Hindsight always enables you, of course, to see that path you took without knowing at the time that you were on it. Food always featured in my life in a big way. My mother, as you know, Alan, was a great cook growing up and ran a cooking school out of our home. She also grew up in Toronto, Canada, and she had a column in the Globe and Mail. Do you know about that?
BALDACHIN: I do. I would have said it was the Star.
SIMMONS: No, it was the Globe, you know, biggest national newspaper in Canada. She was one of the first people to write about food. And it’s one of those situations where 20 years after she wrote that column, when I graduated college and announced that I wanted to go to cooking school and write and become a food writer, all of her friends were so proud saying, “Oh, you’re just like your mother.” And of course, I like cried and ran out of the room. Because who wants to be told at 22 that you’re just like your mother? But I’ve gotten over it.
SIMMONS: And it works out.
BALDACHIN: In your case that’s a high compliment.
SIMMONS: It is a high compliment.
BALDACHIN: As you know, I love your mom.
SIMMONS: Thank you. Well, and interestingly, my mother just wanted me to be a lawyer, still does.
BALDACHIN: Mine wanted me to be a doctor.
SIMMONS: You can’t win. Either way, food played a huge role in my life growing up, my mom was a great cook. We traveled a lot, my father being from South Africa and my mother from Montreal. Her parents were first generation from Eastern Europe. And my parents, you know, didn’t spend their money on things that at the time, I wanted them to, like driving a nicer car to pick me up from school. They spend their money on travel, and we were really fortunate to do a lot of great travel growing up. And food was how they showed us the world. That was the lens through which my mother always saw the world, and my father too. He was a great eater and had a real passion for great food. He could not cook to save his life, still can’t. But he really appreciates great food. And so that’s sort of…
BALDACHIN: He would have had to in that…
SIMMONS: Yeah, exactly. And I think you know, the joke in my house is that his mother was such a horrible cook, that when he met my mother, he was just so overwhelmed and overjoyed by the fact that someone could cook great food and that he could finally eat well, that, you know, it became this life passion.
Years later, I went to college and in college, I started writing for the school newspaper, I started writing a restaurant column, reviewing restaurants on my own time, you know, cheap, cheerful places for students around school. I went to school in Montreal at McGill University. And I did it not because I had aspirations to be a writer at the time, but really because no one else was doing it and I thought how fun would it be, it sounded really glamorous and it was like a great side gig and it was cool and it gave me credibility.
But really my interests at University, my majors were anthropology and Spanish language. And at the time, I did not connect either of those things to food. Again, looking back, I realized how connected they all really are. I ended up taking four years of Spanish and Spanish literature and moving to Spain for a year of school. And, you know, spending a lot of time in Spain in Europe, and really honing in on the idea of anthropology and culture and the role that food plays in connecting us as humans, connecting us as being civilized animals. I mean really, the invention of fire and our ability to cook meat for food and nourishment is what allowed our brains to grow and evolution to happen. And that’s sort of like anthropology in a nutshell.
And I realized in that process that food was sort of the key to understanding culture, understanding global politics, understanding so many ways that we see the world and that we interact. Obviously, it plays a major role in religion, too. And so it was only after I graduated that I realized that these things could really all come together and that working in the food world was a way to use all of those skills.
BALDACHIN: In your house, was the culinary experience there a Jewish Ashkenazi culinary experience?
BALDACHIN: Or was it a French, sort of Julia Child? Or was it more world? What was the…?
SIMMONS: It was a little bit of everything. So my mother, definitely, you know, is from Russia and Poland, Polish Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, her parents moved after world war two, raised her in Montreal in a pretty traditional conservative Jewish household. And her mother was actually a great cook too, they entertain a lot. And so the observance and kind of cooking in that style was very, very present, especially on holidays. And my most visceral memories of my mother cooking are those recipes. And those recipes show up again, and again in my food, too. In my cookbook, I have her brisket that I’ve tweaked a little. I have her chopped liver, I have her months of balls in her chicken soup. You just kind of can’t hide from it, because it’s really in my blood, the use of dill and the use of beats and all of those Eastern European flavors, pickles, all these you know, preservation methods that I now realize, again, in an anthropological way, was the way of preserving food back before refrigeration, and that were passed on in this like Eastern European tradition. So you know, curing meats and curing fish, all those things.
So, yes, those are the flavors of my childhood. However, because my parents traveled a lot and my father’s Deep South African roots, there was a lot of that influence to. And then my mother was like a real Trailblazer. We grew up in Toronto, which is an incredibly diverse city, as you obviously well know from your childhood to. And it has such an interesting population, especially Asian population, the biggest population of Chinese immigrants outside of China, forat this point, different China towns all over Toronto. And my mother was really pioneering in that she would not do all of her grocery shopping at the local supermarket, she would go to Chinatown, Kensington Market, which is kind of the immigrant market in Toronto, and my fridge was full of bok choy, and leek cheese, and all of these things that in 1982 were very foreign and were not ineveryone else’s refrigerator for sure.
We have a running joke in my family to that the irony is that we were never invited to anyone’s house for lunch growing up, back in the day that you would go home for lunch from school. And because all of my friends’ parents thought that my mother was very fancy, and that we as children only ate fancy things so I was never invited to friends’ houses for lunch. Meanwhile, all I wanted was like mac and cheese and hotdog.
BALDACHIN: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the celery sticks and…
SIMMONS: And the stuff that…And we did get this always sticks and the peanut butter jelly sandwiches, but we didn’t necessarily get the like, box mac and cheese and the can of alpha doodles or whatever.
BALDACHIN: Like triangular Lola juice thing…?
SIMMONS: Right. Yeah, exactly. That was our cool. Actually want to bring those back. So we didn’t get that, you know, the kind of really processed foods and that’s all I wanted. Flash forward 30 years and history repeats itself. And I often don’t get invited places for dinner because no one wants to cook for me. When really like all I want is a bowl of spaghetti. I don’t care. Like, I am actually the least picky eater. That’s part of, I think, my success in my job is that I embrace— there’s almost nothing I won’t eat if it’s cooked with love and care. I don’t want to eat crap.
BALDACHIN: In fact, I would say you’re not a precious eater at all.
SIMMONS: No, at all.
BALDACHIN: Yeah. Do you think that’s true of your kind of colleagues?
SIMMONS: Not all of them. I think it’s easy to fetishize food these days, and to lose sight of the role that you play when you work in the food world. Restaurant critics, specifically... So I’m not a restaurant critic. I have done restaurant criticism, sort of in the early years of my career. I call myself a food critic because I am a critic in the large sense where I commentate on food…
BALDACHIN: And write about it.
SIMMONS: And write about food, exactly. But I don’t go into restaurants and honestly mislead and critique them. But being a restaurant critic specifically, is a very slippery slope to not over fetishize food and forget that your role as the critic is not to bring people down or be pretentious about food, your role is to promote, explain, and champion or make clear if restaurants are good or not for the public, for the larger public who wouldn’t necessarily know about this food,know about these restaurants. So really, you want to be very democratic. And sometimes I think over the years because of the way fine dining has moved and media, food critics…First of all, the term food critic can mean 1000 things these days, a Yelp or a blogger is now you know, thinks of themselves as a food critic. But also, it’s very easy to forget that you’re speaking not just about what you like, and what makes food fancy and special, but just what makes food good or not. I think that’s a discussion I have with my colleagues all the time.
BALDACHIN: That’s an interesting… I mean, not to go too wide on that, but I think there’s a temptation, and certainly in restaurant critics, to just be snarky.
BALDACHIN: And entertaining them way as opposed to what you…
SIMMONS: Right, serve the purpose.
BALDACHIN: To serve the purpose and be entertaining.
BALDACHIN: I always loved William Grimes. He’s a model food critic, restaurant critic of all time—bring him back.
SIMMONS: He was a beautiful writer. I would agree. William Grimes was a beautiful writer.
BALDACHIN: So you came to New York right around the time that I moved to New York right around the time that I moved to New York in sort of the mid-90s.
SIMMONS: That’s right. I came in the late 90s…
BALDACHIN: Maybe it was a couple years after ….
SIMMONS: A couple years are you.
BALDACHIN: Right. And you came to what was then the French Culinary Institute?
SIMMONS: No, what was then its competitor it was Peter Kumps New York Cooking School which now is ICE, which was called ICE, Institute of Culinary Education.
BALDACHIN: So at that time were you thinking I just want to get this under my belt or you thinking I want to maybe open a restaurant?
SIMMONS: No, never wanted to open a restaurant, still don’t .
SIMMONS: Confirmed that fact [chuckle] many times over. I came because I want to be food writer. I had graduated McGill and gone back to Toronto having no idea what to do. My mother wanted me to stay at McGill and go to law school. My uncle is a judge on the appeal quarter Quebec Emeritus and he always said he could get me in, you know, even if I couldn’t get myself in [Laughs].
BALDACHIN: I’m sure you wouldn’t have any trouble getting into law school.
SIMMONS: It was all above board with college admissions. But, you know, I came home; all my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do. They wanted to be lawyers, doctors, get an MBA, get a Masters in art history, or whatever they wanted to do. I had no idea but I loved food and cooking and I love writing. And I finally found my way by first landing an internship at TorontoLife Magazine, which is sort of like New York Magazine, you know, the city magazine, an award winning excellent magazine still is, and I did an internship there for the summer.
And then I moved to the launch of the National Post. If you remember, in 1998, Conrad Black launched the National Post, and he had a ton of money to do it with. And it was this big, glossy, full color newspaper. I mean, you don’t see newspapers like that anymore. And I got a job as an editorial assistant working for a brilliant woman who was running the weekend section, which was sort of like the magazine section: entertainment, food, lifestyle, travel. And I worked there for about six months and found in both jobs, all I did was follow the food critic around and the food editor and begged them for work, and they gave me little things to do. I did some restaurant, you know, $25 and under restaurant stuff, I did some taste testing, they let me go out for dinner with them.
And when I realized that’s what I wanted to do, I went to my food editor and said, “This is it. I’ve like found my beat, I’ve confirmed that I want to be a food writer.” But in Canada, there were very few positions, because most of the media we consumed at the time was American, you know, food, magazines, gourmet food and wine, Bon Appetite, they’re all out of New York. There was food content in the newspapers, but it was small. And the people in those jobs were never leaving them. There was some food content at the back of women’s magazines. But that was really it. And I was 22. And my editor said in no uncertain terms, “That’s great, Gail, but you actually don’t know anything about food.” And I always think about this advice that has sort of fallen away I think in the age of everyone’s critic, is the fact that he explained to me, “Look, if you want to be a war reporter, you can’t do it from your couch, you’ve got to go to the front lines, you’ve got to go to the golf,” or wherever it was the time,still is. “If you want to be a political reporter, you can’t do it from here; you’vegot to go to the capital. And if you want to be a food critic, if you want to be a really serious food writer, and really speak the language of food, you need to learn how to cook.” And that was sort of it. I quit my job moved to New York and enrolled in culinary school, always with the purpose of becoming a food writer eventually, but not knowing how to get there.
BALDACHIN: And then you worked in a couple kitchens.
SIMMONS: Yes. So when I graduated, I did like an eight month program. And then you needed to complete the program and officially graduate, you need to do an apprenticeship in a kitchen. And my thought originally was, “Oh, I’m just going to go to like the Food & Wine test kitchen or the gourmet magazine test kitchen, and that‘ll be my way into food writing and then I’ll have done it. And that will be that and then I can go back to Canada, which was my intention. And I can become a food writer.” And my kind of career counselor at culinary school explained to me that just because I’d gone to school doesn’t mean I know how to cook. I’ve done everything once. It’s sort of like graduating law school and thinking you can like do a…
BALDACHIN: Do a trial.
SIMMONS: Do a trial, stand up and be a litigator.
SIMMONS: And that is obviously not true. There’s a reason that when you go to law school, you then spend a year clerking or whatever that you do, and paying your dues. And the same applies in every job, you can’t do open heart surgery your first day of medical school. So he convinced me that the best thing to do was to go into a kitchen, and I was very dubious. I just wanted to get on with it and be a food writer. But I knew that he was right. So I decided to take on some very big kitchens because I had the confidence to do it at the time and felt really great and loved cooking school so much.
So I stayed in New York and I ended up going to two really big kitchens in New York, both of which don’t really exist anymore, Lucero 2000, when it was at the Palace Hotel, and I worked there for a few months—hardest job of my life. And then I went to Von, which was Jean George Vongerichten’s Thai, French sort of influenced restaurant, really, the first of its kind.
BALDACHIN: It was a big deal at the time.
SIMMONS: It was an amazing restaurant. And I worked there for a while too. Loved that kitchen, have a really fond memories of the hard work and the team in that kitchen. And then it was only after I felt that rhythm and had worked out a couple of stations in that kitchen, and felt like I had my skills up, but also came to realize that I wasn’t really using my mind. Because when you’re working in a kitchen, at the lowest rungs on the ladder, because it’s very much a hierarchy, you’re not creating, you’re executing someone else’s creations, right? You’re not the chef, you’re the line cook or the co-me, as they call it.
And so it was only then I had been reading a lot because I would get home at night. I was working very long, odd hours. And most of my friends in New York, were working much more normal hours than I so I would get up at 11 in the morning, go to work at noon and work until midnight. And all my friends were asleep when I got home and were gone to work when I got up. So I would just read at night while all the line cooks were going out and doing other things, you know, it was a different.
So I did a lot of reading. And I was inspired to get back to writing. And so it was only then that I realized, okay, it’s time I feel like I have put in my dues, I’ve paid my dues, I’ve put in my time and I want to get back this idea of food writing. And I found my way to working for the food critic at Vogue Magazine, and never looked back, never moved home. I have been in New York ever since. That was 20 years ago.
BALDACHIN: So that was Jeffrey Scott Stein garden seminal experience for you.
SIMMONS: Life changing.
BALDACHIN: We’ll maybe come back to that. But I want to skip forward to, your then at Food & Wine Magazine, and you get approached to participate in Top Chef.
SIMMONS: Right. So several years later, I worked for Jeffrey for a few years, then I went to work for Daniel Blue for a few years. And it was through Danielthat I connected with Food & Wine Magazine and they offered me a job. And I didn’t really know what the job was going to be, but that was my sort of eureka moment. I could finally put together all that I had hoped, I could go work for a publication I admired in food media, writing and doing all kinds of things for this food magazine.
And what food media meant then still was very different than it is today. You know, this was about 15 years ago and of course, there was the internet and there was sort of the beginning of blogs, the beginning of social media, but not really…And food TV was still getting figured out, There was the Food Network, but at the time even on the Food Network, there was no food competition. Iron Chef Japan existed in its original form Japanese version that had just come to the States. But otherwise food TV was very much just what we kind of refer to as dump and stir, like standing behind the stove teachingand cooking.
BALDACHIN: Yeah, galloping gourmet.
SIMMONS: Galloping gourmet, sure, Julia Child and then Emeril Lagasse, who was kind of…
BALDACHIN: No one did it with the panache like the galloping gourmet, say that…
SIMMONS: They’ve actually just found a cookbook of his, a vintage cookbook of his and it’s…
BALDACHIN: I mean, it wouldn’t fly with today’s…
SIMMONS: It wouldn’t fly for so many reasons…
BALDACHIN: Boy, he was…
SIMMONS: Yeah, he liked a martini.
BALDACHIN: He loved his drink.
SIMMONS: Yeah. So I went to Food and Wine. And what I discovered when I got there was that I was actually managing part of the marketing department. And about a year into the job, I took over directing the events for the magazine, which sort of put together the stuff I’d been doing with Danielle and all of my culinary skills, and some writing and working with all the editors. And I started directing our biggest event of the year, which is the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. And I was in charge of this massive event, obviously, there was a big team under me and a big team in Aspen that I worked alongside, and it was this huge, all-encompassing job.
And at that exact same time, bravo had just come off its two really big hits that sort of transformed the network. The first was Queer Eye, the second was Project Runway. So Queer Eye, not that I want to get too deep into the Bravo sort of history of television programming, but Queer Eye had been such a seminal show for Bravo for a lot of reasons, and so much of it really resonated with this audience and they realized they were onto something.
So they decided to change the network at that time, so that almost every show they did foot fell under the five categories of the fabulous five. And that was fashion, culture, design, beauty and food, right? Each of the five guys in Queer Eye. And those became the pillars of Bravo at the time. And every show for the next several years fell into one of those categories. And so their first big hit in fashion was Project Runway, the first of its kind fashion design competition. And they created this incredible genre using real up and coming, aspiring fashion designers, and it took off. And they realized this is an amazing format, let’s spin it off. And they spun it off.
The next category they wanted to hit was food. And they thought; let’s create a real competition show about real life professional chefs, the world behind the kitchen door, and not about aspiring chefs, but about the real life of young cooks and finding the next great young chefs in America. So they came to Food & Wine and said, “We have this idea for a show.” They explained the idea. Tom Colicchio was on board, who was a good friend of the magazines and who I actually knew from my days working with Jeffrey Stein Garden. And they said, “We have this idea for the show but we don’t really know anything about food. So if you teach us about food, give us that sort of in in the industry credibility, teach us who the players are, and how to kind of structure the show, we will not only allow you to be part of the prize package, send the winner to the Classic in Aspen, but put one of your editors on the judging panel to represent you on the show.
BALDACHIN: And there was…Because really, I mean, in Runway, did Runway precede Tom [inaudible 24:00]?
SIMMONS: Yes, by one season.
BALDACHIN: Because Nina Garcia…
SIMMONS: And it was the Nina Garcia model.
BALDACHIN: So that was a similar kind of a model, and she’s still obviouslyon that.
SIMMONS: She’s still on it. And ironically, Project Runway has gone there and back again. It left Bravo for many years and it premieres tomorrow night back on Bravo.
BALDACHIN: Post Weinstein.
SIMMONS: Post Weinstein. And that’s a huge, amazing sort of full circle situation for Project Runway. And they use the same producers that produced Project Runway and who are still producing my show. They didn’t produce Project Runway for many years in those years…
BALDACHIN: But they’re back.
SIMMONS: And Magicals are back producing Project Runway again. So that’s kind of exciting, and it’s an interesting fold. But Nina is the one person who has stuck with the show the whole time, and she’s back. And she’s obviously amazing. And I don’t know her that well, personally, but I love that, yes, it was her role. And what’s interesting about that in terms of the world of media, was that her role was the first time that magazines were given, like a real spotlight on TV. So magazines until that point had tried so hard to translate to television and couldn’t figure out how to do it because the audiences were different. Television is obviously much more broad based much more…
BALDACHIN: High quality.
SIMMONS:Yeah, high concept magazines, you know, magazines, audiences are much more niche, especially at the level of kind of fine dining or high fashion. But putting Nina on the judging panel gave that show so much credibility, it linked them to the magazine. And everyone knew the magazine she was working on at the, Elle, I think it was originally.
BALDACHIN: And she’s back at Elle.
SIMMONS: Oh, she is?
BALDACHIN: She’s back at Elle and has been for a while.
BALDACHIN: I didn’t even know. Yeah, I don’t keep up with that. That’s amazing. So she left, she went to Marie Claire for years. I don’t even know. That’s amazing. She’s back Elle. That’s an incredible full circle again.
mm. But it was the first time that magazines saw a successful and quantifiable way to expand their reach to this huge audience. I mean, if you think about the fact that like the reader of Food & Wine Magazine back then was maybe, like the entire consumer with maybe 5 or 6 million people. But Project Runway and TV shows like this were hitting 3 million people or 4 million people at their peak every week, as opposed to once a month with one issue. I mean, it’s a totally different model of reach, right?
So this really intrigued Food and Wine. Our editor was skeptical, as was everyone. Reality TV had a bad name at the time. Reality TV besides Project Runway, really meant Big Brother, Survivor, Fear Factor, all the things that we did not want to associate Food & Wine Magazine with. But the fact that Tom Colicchio was behind it, the fact that it was the team from Bravo, we trusted them, we knew that they had great intention to really talk about talent, and that was their Mo.
So Food & Wine took…Our publisher, I have to give her credit, took the leap and said, “Let’s just do this, what’s the worst can happen? We do one season and it’s a failure, we go back to our jobs and we move on.” And they sent me for a screen test at Bravo. And I didn’t even know what a screen test was. I had been doing a little bit of television for the magazine.
BALDACHIN: How did you get picked as the editor to do screen tests? Like, did you stick your hand in the air?
SIMMONS: No, I didn’t even know it was an option. I didn’t even think about it. It had never crossed my mind. What happened was the person whose job I had taken when I first took the job at Food & Wine had been doing a little bit of television for the magazine. He also had cooking skills and was verycharismatic, great guy, I’m still friendly with him. And he left and there was that hole. There weren’t a lot of people to magazine who wanted to be on TV and who had the cooking skills and the talking skills to do that.
I had been working for Danielle Blue and had been doing his PR so I had been behind the scenes, helping Danielle with all his PR segments and all his TV segments. And so I knew the players, I knew how to do it. So it was sort of subconsciously. I had done a lot of acting in my childhood that I didn’t really connect with. Public speaking, I wasn’t afraid of public speaking it all. And I knew and understood how to cook and talk at the same time, which is still a rare talent for chefs. It’s only in the last few years that that’s had to be a skill. Usually chefs are behind the door. So this was a new development.
And so because I could do that, they said, “Well, we have this hole, will you try and do it for us?” And the first year, long before Top Chef came along, that role really was just doing, you know, three or four minute segments on morning TV, going on the Today Show or New York one, talking about food trends, doing cooking demos of like spring recipes that were running in the current issue. And you know, just talking about trends, that kind of thing representing the show on little food segments. So I’ve done a few of those.
But there are a few other people in the magazine who also did a little TV. And when Bravo asked to send a few editors they sent me and they sent a few other people who also had a little bit of TV experience. And they put us in a room with a camera and the man who came to be our executive producer, the director of programming... There were two directors of programming at the time. One of them was Andy Cohen, and the other sort of person under him was a guy named Dave Sarawak. So Dave and I were in a room with a camera much like this. And he turned it on and asked me a bunch of questions about food. And I heard nothing for a month. I kind of didn’t even think about it. I went on with my job. And a month later Bravo called Food & Wine and said, “Tell Gail, we’re shooting in San Francisco in a week from now,” and this is it.
BALDACHIN: Here’s your contract.
SIMMONS: Here’s your contract. You’re doing it. And that’s where you camein, Alan.
BALDACHIN: That was a lot of fun.
SIMMONS: Oh, that was a sticky few months.
BALDACHIN: We lived that on this podcast, but…
SIMMONS: We still relive it every year.
BALDACHIN: So fast forward 15 years later, how many Emmys?
SIMMONS: We’ve had more than 12 nominations. We’ve been nominated every year for 12 years. We’ve been shooting the show for…
BALDACHIN: For best reality show.
SIMMONS: Best outstanding reality show. We’ve also had nominations for editing, for sound editing, for our digital show, Last Chance Kitchen, which was the sort of transmedia show where we were really the first people to do a sideshow of the contestants who got voted off, then do an online digital only competition and one of them gets back into the main show. So it kind of went between those two.
BALDACHIN: It’s like relegation promotion.
SIMMONS: Correct. Yes. Similar? And so we’ve been nominated for Last Chance Kitchen. In total, I’m not quite sure, we probably have about 15 or 18 nominations. We have had one win for outstanding competition series, which was a huge upset. It was in 2011, I believe. Amazing Race had one every year for as long as the category had been in existence. And then we won, which was a massive surprise to us. We still feel like maybe a bunch of the people from Amazing Race forgot to vote that year. We don’t know what happened.
Either way, it was sort of a game changer for us in the category for so many reasons. I mean, just the fact that our budgets and the scope of our show is nothing when you think about shows like The Amazing Race or The Voice that has won for so many years after us. But we’re still nominated. We’ve still been nominated every year since and we’ve won James Beard awards, we’ve won ICP awards, which is the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
We’ve taken the show around the world. The show airs in 35 or more countries around the world. And then there are spin off shows, there’s Top Chef France, Top Chef India, Top Chef Mexico. We’ve had four spin offs in America. I mean, the show has taken off and had legs in a way that let me assure you that we had never had any idea.
BALDACHIN: What has been your kind of impression or experience as you’ve that show really spawned this massive avalanche of imitators, maybe improvers…
SIMMONS: All of it.
BALDACHIN: All of it. What has sort of been, you know, what do you think is fueling that interest? What do you think keeps sort of…
SIMMONS: There’s a lot of things, and we talk about this a lot on the show, because our show has also had to evolve over the years and has had to adapt to the very educated consumer. I mean, the viewer has changed enormously since our first season. And that has been interesting because we are challenged by them all the time. And we are now always fine tuning the show to keep up with their knowledge and their literal thirst for food and food content.
I think it’s been a confluence of many things. We hit a juggernaut at the moment when food was exploding in so many ways. So social media, the kind of world of food porn, you know, the beauty of food being discovered the way to share food as social status and as currency was something that was sort of only relegated to the expense accounts of the hood of bankers in New York for a long time. And with social media and being able to, in five minutes share a photograph of food all over the world. And that excitement…
BALDACHIN: For no money.
SIMMONS: Right for no money, you know, and to have followings based on the imagery of food. That is something that sort of all happened at the same time with us. And then I think what has been the success of our show compared to so many other food competitions that came after it—and there have been hundreds—is that our…
BALDACHIN: And they continue.
SIMMONS: And they continue. And many of them have been great, I have to say.
BALDACHIN: Yeah, they’re great.
SIMMONS: Is that our show has always been about professional chefs, not chefs who want to be, not chefs who are sort of at the beginning of their culinary careers. Our first season had some culinary students, had some home cooks who wanted to be chefs, had some private chefs, some caterers. Not anymore, we learned very quickly that our audience, first and foremost wanted to see professionals who are masters at their craft at the highest skill set, because that’s a world that no one ever knew before. And the world behind the kitchen door, you know, this all happened at the same time that Anthony Bourdain, for example, wrote Kitchen Confidential, you know, just two or three years later.
And so it was this intrigue, the glamour of the chef, the glamour of that sort of underbelly of the chef world, the language of food, and that social currency, I think all began to carry so much weight. And then just watching pros, I think, is what people are fascinated by. The idea that they’re doing something that you just can’t do at home, you know, the same with why The Voice or American Idol works so well, because these are, I mean, they’re not professionals, they’re sort of aspiring…but it’s talent and excellent. Same withfashion designers or makeup artists, whatever it is, I think that it’s incredible to watch people who would be doing this anyway, and who are completely passionate and dedicated to their craft.
BALDACHIN: And that obviously, you know, coincided with the massive rise in reality TV
BALDACHIN: In competition shows. And also, I think, in reality TV stars.
SIMMONS: For sure.
BALDACHIN: Right. So that all was happening at the same time, and that was very participatory.
BALDACHIN: And then social media really just blew that up.
SIMMONS: What’s amazing is to look back, and I try not to do this that often, but to look back at our first few seasons. And we were all figuring it out. It was not a given, this show, it was not a hit right off the bat. It took us a while after the first season aired and re-aired to gain traction. And there were so many seminal moments where I saw things turn. But one thing I’ll never forget is that the first few seasons was still in reality TV, if you remember, the judges is had to be characters. So there was the Paula and there was the Simon in every show. Do you remember how Paula was the nice sweet one? And Simon was the tell it like it is, cutthroat cynic.
SIMMONS: Exactly. And everyone kind of thought that you had to be that as a judge. And so they edited me to be a lot more stern, serious, biting than I was. I mean, yes, I said all those things but there was a lot of creative editing to cut off the nice things I said, to edit down all of us to sort of fit this mold, because we thought that’s what the audience wanted to see, what the viewers wanted to see.
But again, a big learning came when they realized that because they can’t taste the food, our readers, our viewers, excuse me, really relied on us to explain that experience and be the taste buds for the audience. And they needed to not—we needed the show to not be about the judges and not the judges personalities. But for us to be kind of the vehicle through which the viewers understood the food and the dishes and what was good and what wasn’t. And if you let us just have an honest real conversation about food, and if the audience liked us and trusted us, as opposed to making us into characters like villains. And same actually went for our contestants.
BALDACHIN: Contestants, for sure.
SIMMONS: There used to be always the villain, always a lot more focus on the romances and the reality at the house. We’ve cut all of that down. And when you let us just be who we were, the audience trusted us and then trusted our opinions about food so much more. And that’s when the conversation really got interesting and when the show really took off.
Kl, That’s really interesting. Much more sophisticated.
BALDACHIN: What do you think of the kids cooking and baking shows? Do you watch any?
SIMMONS: I do. I watched I mean, you know, Top Chef Junior came amazingly how Top Chef was the first cooking reality competition show really, but Junior was the last of the juniors. You know, there was Master Chef Juniorand Chopped Junior long before Top Chef jumped on that bandwagon for various reasons.
BALDACHIN: There’s baking championship.
SIMMONS: Right. There are so many kids cooking and baking shows. I think it’s extraordinary. I think it’s a game changer, for so many reasons. The biggest, most satisfying sort of side—or not side, it’s now really main part of what I do, the most incredible thing that I get out of doing the show is when people tell me…And this was something I didn’t realize, I didn’t realize what a family show it was. Yes, there’s sometimes a swear word that’s bleeped out. And there’s some dynamics, but the fact that we created a show that people could watch together and root for people together and learn from, and it happened really quickly. All of a sudden, I started getting stopped in the grocery store,stopped in restaurants. And the best thing people could tell me and still tell me is I watch this show with my kids, and now my kids want to cook with me. They want to eat foods that they otherwise would never try. All of a sudden my child who only ate mac and cheese and hamburgers wants to make broccoli rob. I mean, that is a line I never thought I would hear people say.
SIMMONS: And so whether they like it or not is another story. but the fact that when they go to restaurants, they read a menu differently. And kids want to be engaged in the cooking process. And now, I mean, this is a thing you never heard 10 years ago, when I grew up, I want to be a chef. People didn’t say that, because that was considered a job that was sort of for like, people who couldn’t go to college or you know? Until really the last 20 years, that was not something that people really aspired to be it was a vocational avenue asopposed to maybe professional avenue. And so that, to me, is the most rewarding piece of what I do.
So the fact that now it’s even been taken to the next level, where you see these kids who not unlike singers and athletes, and you know, these kids who have natural skill and who are engaged and want to—whether they do it in their professional life, in the end, it doesn’t even matter. It’s about that connection, it’s about all the things you learn in a kitchen. And I just love that now, the kids can do it at such a sophisticated level. And I actually have more fun watching the kids’ versions of these shows because these kids not only are adorable, charming and so talented, like it blows your mind at what they can do. But a lot of the stuff that as adults we harness: our negativity, our jadedness, our reluctance to be team players, all the things that come out in professional cooking and in competition shows aren’t there with the kids cooking shows.
What I’ve loved about being on Top Chef Junior was just seeing their pure cheerleading for each other and how close they get. I mean, that happens on the regular show, too. I think what comes across I hope, but really is an amazing eye opener to all our contestants, adults especially, is how you live through this experience with these people who you would otherwise never be in a kitchen with, let alone living in a bedroom with for a month. And it’s unlike any experience you can imagine. It’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life, putting yourself out there. It’s way harder than it looks on TV. And all our contestants come away with very deep respect and deep relationships with their fellow contestants, you know, there is a bonding that happens. It’s like going on a camping trip in the woods for a month together. And it’s even more like that with children.
I remember the first time I did Top Chef Junior, and a mother wrote me a letter after her son was told to pack his bags. And it was very traumatic for him of course, he was an amazing, lovely boy. But his mom wrote me a handwritten note. And one thing she said was that what was the best part experience for him was that he had always been sort of the kid who when all his friends were outside playing soccer and baseball, he just want to be in the kitchen. And so he didn’t have shared interests with a lot of the kids in his class. And he came to Top Chef Junior and met an entire class of kids just like him. And they didn’t know where to find those kids before, and it open to this amazing world for him and validated him in so many ways. So that’s the reason you do the job.
BALDACHIN: And they take care, obviously, that the kids have a great experience.
SIMMONS: Yes, and there’s lots of help along the way and support and their parents are there with them every step of the way. And we have on site psychologists and teachers. But it definitely takes a strong person, I mean, and with adults, it’s difficult to be under that microscope, and it’s difficult, rejection, failure, all of these lessons are magnified times 10. Your children, all you want to do is protect them from those things. And even if they don’t fully understand that moment, while it’s happening, it very much happens. There is rejection and there is failure, if you are voted off the show, or even if you’re just in the bottom three of a challenge, even if you make it through. Because there are very rare and few moments in life where you are standing in front of a panel of people and they are judging you, critiquing you and telling you what you did wrong and you have to answer to them. And as a child, I mean, that’s a very difficult thing.
BALDACHIN: That’s rough.
SIMMONS: We’re nice. We’re much nicer to the juniors…
BALDACHIN: I couldn’t handle getting cut from my baseball team when I was in six grade.
SIMMONS:, For sure. And me, when I didn’t make it in the school play, like those are moments I’ll never forget. But they’re also character building.
BALDACHIN: Clearly I never forgot.
BALDACHIN: What do you sort of, when you look at the media landscapenow, obviously, with the dominance of the streaming services and the proliferation there of cooking shows and travel in every genre of food…
SIMMONS: Yes, yes, so much to consume.
BALDACHIN: Do you guys…? Are you looking at doing different things? How are you thinking about the next, let’s say, 5 to 10 years of your career in terms of…
SIMMONS: Million dollar question. Yeah, billion dollar question. You know, the proliferation of food TV is amazing. And there’s obviously pros and cons to that. There’s very little that hasn’t been done. So it’s really hard to figure out what viewers want. And there’s so many different kinds of viewers, you know, the way you’re served, the different shows that you’re served when you go on your Netflix, you know, screen and see what they’re offering you and what shows they’re making. And the same with if you look at the programming oftraditional network television and cable TV, there’s a lot but there’s still I think a lot of holes too in bigger pictures that people maybe don’t see.
At this very moment, I see a lot of…I don’t know the right word for it. There’s a lot of sort of very basic cooking shows that are like cupcake challenges that are very kind of in the studio, follow that mold of baking competition that you can sort of churn out many episodes in…It’s sort of like the next iteration of the dump and stir, but it’s in the competition genre.
SIMMONS: And then there’s the very, very highbrow with the polar opposite and very, very highbrow level of food and culture and travel show, like, you know…
BALDACHIN: Parts Unknown.
SIMMONS: Parts Unknown was and lead the way for Chef’s Table, Salt Fat Acid Heat, you know? And there are those shows that are a lot more esoteric, and a lot aimed at a different viewer, for sure, a lot more sort of intellectualized about food. And I think there’s still very little in between. There used to be more, and I think Top Chef is in between. Top Chef is a little bit of that competition that down in dirtiness, it’s very mass appeal for cable.
BALDACHIN: Industry in a cool way, not a dumb way.
SIMMONS: Exactly, it doesn’t dumb it down. We are on the road, we go to different places, we discover food culture, that’s I think a big piece of what makes our show different than the other food competition shows, is the travel element of our show, and how that informs every season differently.
SIMMONS: So we have both things. And we sit in the middle, which is I think, part of our appeal. But there, I don’t think are a lot of shows that sit in that middle ground and why not? That’s the thing I can’t figure out. There are still almost no food shows on prime network television. Zero. I mean, there is the Master Chef, Hell’s Kitchen for the Fox Group. And I don’t know…Right now, there’s a couple that are about to come out. There’s a food show, I think on ABC that’s coming out soon. But they’ve tried many that have failed. So many have failed. You know, one season of a very expensive…And they’re very expensive, that’s part of it. In the world of reality TV, food reality TV is more expensive than a lot of others because we’re dealing with something perishable. And so that is a thing that I think we’re all trying to crack. That’s the nut that we’re all trying to crack. What do people want? And how do you make it in a smart way but that is a mass appeal.
BALDACHIN: Be interesting again to get inside the mind of whoever thinks about this for Netflix.
BALDACHIN: But how are they…?
SIMMONS: I know there’s people that think about it for Netflix, actually my executive many years at Top Chef went to Netflix to do all of the programming. Yeah.
BALDACHIN: And how do they set up? How do they sort of segment?
SIMMONS: Well, you know, I can’t certainly speak for them because they have algorithms and minds at work that I have no idea about. But you know, I see what have been hits for them. I mean, Magical Elves who makes our show also makes Nailed It.
BALDACHIN: And Nailed It, you never would have thought would never.
SIMMONS: Exactly, the Magical Elves... I was on set doing a…
BALDACHIN: And it’s a fun show.
SIMMONS: Definitely. They told me about Nailed It, and I looked at them like they were crazy. But I also looked at them like they were crazy when they told me about Top Chef. So Nailed It and the other one, Sugar Rush is also a Magical Elves show for Netflix. And they both follow that very traditional food competition. It’s both baking. That’s another thing. They’re both baking shows that have been hugely successful for Netflix in the food space.
BALDACHIN: Baking seems to somehow do better.
SIMMONS: Do you why? Because it’s beautiful.
SIMMONS: Because savory cooking…
BALDACHIN: Because it’s harder too in some ways.
SIMMONS: It is harder, it’s much more complicated.
BALDACHIN: It’s like a high wire act.
SIMMONS: It really is. It’s chemistry. You know, it’s absolutely, it’s not…
BALDACHIN: And you’ve got to be very precise.
SIMMONS: Yeah. Very little room for failure or very little, you know, movingin either direction. But I also think that visually baking is, you know, it’s a feast for the eyes. It is gorgeous and sparkly. It’s like a unicorn, you know, it’s a rainbow unicorn with glitter on top. And so even when it fails, that’s also the interesting thing about things like these baking competition shows…
BALDACHIN: Yeah, like Spring Paint, Tempted.
BALDACHIN: They almost want the thing to topple. At least one cake show topples.
SIMMONS: And some of them do, I mean, Nailed It is all about toppling. Nailed It is specifically about failing, which is amazing. But they do it with such sort of like fun and comedy. And I love that about it. You know, the only other show I can think of that really nailed it in that middle ground was the Great British Bake Off.
BALDACHIN: I have not watched that one.
SIMMONS: It’s been a hugely successful show. And then they brought an American version here, too. And it was similar to Top Chef in that, I mean, it’s still was amateurs, but it was all baking but there was zero cutthroatness. And it followed contestants throughout instead of having different contestants every episode. And it was really about the loveliness of the judges and the grace and determination and camaraderie of the contestants. And I think they did a really great job.
Interestingly, so here’s something that I find interesting is there’s so much more food television outside of the states that has been successful in those areas where we haven’t figured it out to translate.
BALDACHIN: Oh, that’s interesting.
SIMMONS: Asian, specifically Korean and Japanese food television, I mean, dozens of shows you never seen here. British food, television, you know, different audiences, smaller audiences and a different way that television works. But there are so many British cooking shows and Australian cooking shows that have been successful in ways that in America are just like, unbelievable. I mean, the things like Master Chef in Australia. Master Chef, I believe, was the number one Food Show in Australia, period. 20 million viewers or something in a country that probably has 40 million people.
BALDACHIN: If that.
SIMMONS: If that. And I’m not talking the best food show on television, I mean that there was a time and possibly it still exists when Master Chef in Australia, the original version was the number one biggest show in the country. It was musty TV, the world stopped and everybody tuned in, 20 million people. And you don’t get those numbers anywhere in America, not even on network TV for you know, I don’t know…
BALDACHIN: Other than the Super Bowl.
SIMMONS: Right. So that’s the interesting part that it’s…That’s what gives me hope because—not hope, but that’s what keeps me going and interested is that there’s so much I think we still haven’t done here in the States.
BALDACHIN: And you launched your own production company with a co-founder.
BALDACHIN: And do you guys have projects in development?
SIMMONS: We do. That is that that’s been really fun.
BALDACHIN: What type of stuff?
SIMMONS: A whole bunch of different things that we’re exploring. Our first show that we developed and produced and aired was on the Food Network, it was a show called Star Plates that aired in 2016. And that was an idea that we always thought was interesting. It came out of the idea that for me, what was really interesting about all of a sudden being recognizable, was how people want to talk to you about food. You know, everyone has an opinion about food, even if they say they’re not a “foodie,” everyone eats three times a day, everyone has an opinion, everyone.
And you realize that there’s this other segment of society that travels a ton and have to eat on the road. And that’s musicians and actors, right? They spend so much time on the road and traveling, that they have to eat out so much. And I would go to the Emmys or go to events all over the country, and it was these big actors and musicians, I mean, the biggest people in there, the biggest celebrities that were obsessed with food, love restaurants, supported restaurants, were writing cookbooks, wanted to talk about food, needed restaurant suggestions, were wanting to talk my ear off about their favorite restaurants all over the country, all over the world, where to go when they were on tour, or when they were shooting in Belfast for a year, whatever they were doing.
So we decided, well, why don’t we put their money where their mouth is? And we gathered a really amazing group of very well-known personalities, and who were obsessed with food and likes to cook at home but had never spent time in a professional kitchen and sort of airdrop them into one of their favorite chefs restaurants for a day. And made them cook on the line in charge of a station and made them cook for dinner service that night and execute a dish unbeknownst to the to the…
SIMMONS: Patrons. And at the end, there was always like a big reveal that did you know that Dizzy Philips or you know, whoever it was, Mindy Kalan cooked your food? And it was so much fun. We loved making that show because it connected these two worlds that have a lot more in common than you think. And they were all really game to do the craziest things. And they worked hard. I mean, they all came out being like, “Wow, yeah, no, that’s hard. Being a chef is really, really hard.” And they had 24 hours. I mean, that was it.
BALDACHIN: And I’m sure so as being a producer, as you probably know.
SIMMONS: Oh gosh, for sure. The logistics of the making were amazing. So that was a really good show to make. And the programming, there was a lot of reasons why we didn’t make it again. I’m sad. And I still feel like it can have a life somewhere. So it’s not dead yet.
SIMMONS: And then we have two shows that are in development now. One is in Canada that I hope will be made there. And another show we’re working on here. So there’s, you know, that our intern of different stages waiting for the green light, so to speak.
SIMMONS: So the stuff we’re doing, you know, we are trying to find and discover young female talent specifically. We all know that the kitchen is a place that is still very underserved in terms of females at the highest levels. I believe that the statistic still lives somewhere around 15%. So 15% of kitchens are female. It’s a big disparity for many reasons. And I’m not whining and moaning about it, it makes perfect sense to me, and it’s changing, thankfully. And obviously, the tides have turned very drastically in the last couple years about understanding, recognizing and changing the way that kitchens are run, to make them more accommodating for women to succeed.
And so the same is still true on television in the food space. There are very few lead female voices, especially on primetime, almost none. If you can think of a primetime food show that is hosted by a woman, I would be very impressed.
BALDACHIN: I mean, you wouldn’t say Padma?
SIMMONS: Padma is one but we’re considered her ensemble. So yes, she is absolutely. But like, you know, that’s kind of it.
BALDACHIN: Yeah, few and far between.
SIMMONS: That’s it. There’s none. And that doesn’t make any sense to mebecause women are watching prime time, men enjoy watching women on prime time. There’s plenty now more of lead characters in scripted television on prime time. So why aren’t there women hosting food shows on prime time across any type of television? When now Netflix has created a few more shows that have women, thank you, as host, which is great.
BALDACHIN: Like Nailed It, I guess.
SIMMONS: Like Nailed It and like Salt Fat Acid Heat, but still we’re making progress. But there’s a lot of work to be done. So that’s where our interests lie.
BALDACHIN: Okay. Well, in the little bit of time we have left I wanted to… I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on all you’re doing philanthropically.
SIMMONS: Oh, thank you.
BALDACHIN: You’re really active in lot of different… Your hands are in a lot of different, very important and meaningful causes. Is there one you could sort of pick and talk about?
SIMMONS: Sure. I think that all of us who work in the food space feel very grateful to do so. And it’s easy to forget that we’re working in a space that we can take for granted in terms of just like access to food, right. And there aresome many people, not just in New York City alone, but all over the world, obviously that don’t know where their next meal comes from, let alone being able to go out for dinner every night of the week and eat to our heart’s content and eat these rarefied ingredients. I mean, sometimes it’s over the top.
So every chef and food professional I know works in the hunger space in some way. And I certainly do a lot of work in the hunger space. I sit on the board of City Harvest, I’ve done work for the food bank for New York City. And ourcommon threads is a charity for addressing underserved school, the school system.
BALDACHIN: In terms of school lunch program?
SIMMONS: In terms of school lunch, and also teaching children, not just making sure they have meals, but teaching them how to bring that back to their homes, because that’s often where the problems are. It’s one thing if they’re getting food but their parents aren’t necessarily getting food. And their parentshave to spend their little, little money on—the money they have on food, and how do you make that dollar stretch and actually keep it healthy, because in many places, and Apple costs four times more than a bag of chips.
And the obesity-hunger issues. There’s a huge obesity problem in this country, there’s a huge hunger gap in this country. But they are two sides of the same coin. They’re very, very connected. And so how do we approach that? So I do a lot of work in that space. And then the one sort of interesting project that I’ve really been thrilled to be involved with over the years is a very local organization called Hot Red Kitchen, which started as a bakery, a social enterprise that serves immigrant and underserved women. It’s based in Harlem, but it serves women all over the Tri State. It’s a bread baking collective, where all the recipes are from the countries where most of these women are from all over the world, and they bake bread and train women who otherwise would never have these opportunities for productive management positions in the food world. So we’re training them to go out and work in restaurants, in Whole Foods, in fast casual spaces, in every corner of the food space. And that education and training, it gives them English language classes, and money and financing classes and support that they need for childcare and for transportation, subsidized travel and subway, all those things that are otherwise the biggest obstacles to allowing them to provide for their family and literally and figuratively becoming breadwinners. So, I really love that.
BALDACHIN: That sounds like a great program. And how would somebody sort of get involved in that?
SIMMONS: So interestingly, Hot Bread Kitchen, you know, hotbreadkitchen.org, is their website. And there’s so many ways locally in New York to be involved. Specifically, we’re actually celebrating our 10 year anniversary this year. I’ve been involved in the organization for about eight years. And for the first time, we’re doing a big charity gala, which is on April 30. And so if anyone wants to be involved, there’s plenty of ways to volunteer and to be involved and to give and donate and take a tour of their really incredible food incubator and baking space in Harlem or to be part of this gala and support these women. So hotbreadkitchen.org/10 years, I think is the way to get all that info.
BALDACHIN: Okay. That’s great. Well, listen, on that note, Gail, that was a full conversation.
SIMMONS: Yes. Thank you. I ambled a lot. I hope you got it.
BALDACHIN: No, no, that was amazing.
SIMMONS: Thank you.
BALDACHIN: What a recap and what a career.
SIMMONS: So far so good.
BALDACHIN: So far so good, and only just beginning. So thank you so much for coming.
SIMMONS: Thank you, Alan. Always a pleasure.
Outro: That’s a wrap on this episode of The Medium Rules with Alan Baldachin. For more information, go to our website at www.hbllap.com. And you can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And don’t forget to rate us on Apple podcasts.