the bite: Gail Simmons

By Natalie Goel 

Photography by Johnny Miller

It’s always exciting to see an entirely different, and more intimate, side of someone you’ve long respected. Thanks to her new cookbook Bringing It Home, that’s exactly the window we get into Top Chef judge Gail Simmons who is not only a friend of Athena’s but also her neighbor. Instead of portraying the cocktail dress-clad, culinary critique-giving Gail we’ve come to know and trust on the show, the book reveals a behind-the-scenes peek into the food expert’s very own kitchen and creations, all influenced by her worldwide travels.

While the personal recipes of a woman who has worked for Chef Daniel Boulud and who routinely evaluates some of the, well, top chefs across the country, might seem intimidating — they’re really not. In fact, making delicious recipes using accessible ingredients was one of Gail’s express goals of the tome. Read on to learn the (somewhat surprising!) ingredients Gail couldn’t live without, the reasons she actually appreciates mundane tasks like chopping, peeling, and washing dishes, the recipe for her party-ready Chocolate Honeycomb Crunch dish from Bringing It Home, and more.


NAME: Gail Simmons

PROFESSION: Eater, writer, traveler, cook, TV host, producer, and all-around food enthusiast!

PHILOSOPHY ON FOOD? Keep it simple and not fussy, but cook it with care. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be delicious and satisfying. And above all else, just keep cooking.

THREE INGREDIENTS YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT? Parmesan, citrus, dark chocolate!

HOW DID BRINGING IT HOME COME ABOUT? I had been thinking of writing a cookbook for several years but couldn’t work up the courage or energy. All the while I filled up notebooks with inspirations, recipes, flavors and ideas from my life in the kitchen and my world travels. About 2.5 years ago I finally decided to go through these notes and see what was in them. I realized there were so many ideas for recipes and kitchen lessons that I loved and wanted to share, and they became the impetus for Bringing It Home.


ESSENTIAL KITCHEN TOOL? A rasp grater and a rubber spatula!

COOKING ADVICE YOU MOST OFTEN GIVE TO CONTESTS ON TOP CHEF? Slow down and pare down. You will be more focused and successful if you simplify your ideas and take time to be organized in their execution.

MIDNIGHT SNACK? Any kind of spicy Asian noodle and warm chocolate chip cookies, (but not together).

THEY SAY YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. WHAT ARE YOU? A perfectly poached egg.

I CAN NEVER RESIST… Spicy chicken wings or salt & vinegar chips!

SOUNDTRACK IN YOUR KITCHEN? These days it’s a mix between Chance the Rapper, Arcade Fire, The XX, The War on Drugs, Coeur de Pirate, and Broken Social Scene, (with a side of Moana or Free to be You and Me for my daughter). Although sometimes I love nothing more than total and complete silence. It’s a rare luxury right now.


QUIRKY FOOD HABITS? If I had my way I would put mustard and pickles on almost anything, (except dessert!).

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY YOU WANT READERS OF BRINGING IT HOME TO HAVE? That cooking isn’t something you are born knowing how to do. It must be learned and practiced, but anyone can be a great cook! Being able to cook for and feed yourself and your loved ones wholesome, crave-able food is by far the most rewarding and useful life skill you can master. It builds camaraderie, confidence, and community, expands your worldview, and allows for an infinite array of delicious adventures in the kitchen.

BIGGEST SINGLE INFLUENCE ON YOUR COOKING STYLE? Time spent in professional kitchens in my 20s. The pressures and repetitive nature of being a line cook taught me infinite patience, efficiency, organization and appreciate for simple tasks in the kitchen which most people find monotonous. Chopping, peeling, and washing dishes clears my head and helps me focus and think through my process which makes my cooking stronger, easier and ultimately more successful.

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Chocolate Honeycomb Crunch

Gail Simmons

  • Ingredients

      • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut chips (or flakes if easier to find) 
      • Nonstick cooking spray 
      • 11/2 cups salted mini pretzels, each broken into 3 or 4 pieces 
      • 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped 
      • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 11/3 cups sugar 
      • 1/2 cup light corn syrup 
      • 12 ounces bittersweet 
      • chocolate (70%), coarsely chopped (about 21/2 cups) 

      Special equipment: candy thermometer 

  • Method

    • In a large, dry skillet over medium heat, gently toast the coconut chips, stirring frequently until they begin to brown and dry out, 3 to 5 minutes. remove from the heat and allow to cool.  

      Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle the cooled toasted coconut, pretzels, and peanuts on top of the parchment in a mostly single layer and oval shape, leaving a 11/2- to 2-inch border. Set the baking sheet on a wire rack.

      In a small bowl, stir together the baking soda and salt. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a 5- to 7-quart heavy bottomed saucepan so its base is submerged in the sugar mixture but not touching the bottom of the pan. Add the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/3 cup water and gently stir until all of the sugar is wet. Cook over medium-high heat without stirring until the mixture is light to medium amber in color and reaches 300ºF on the candy thermometer (the hard-crack stage), about 10 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and carefully whisk in the baking soda mixture (sugar mixture will foam up significantly), then quickly pour the mixture over the pretzel mix in an even layer. Let cool completely on the wire rack, about 30 minutes. (See note about cleaning the pot.)

      Meanwhile, in a medium microwaveable bowl, microwave the chopped chocolate in 20- to 30-second increments, stirring between each, until melted. Let cool to room temperature.

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