RC: When did your interest in food begin?
Gail: My mother was a cooking teacher & a food writer. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen when I was younger & it was something I was passionate about. It never occurred to me that I could have a career in this. I never really thought I could do this for a living. When I was in college, I started writing restaurant reviews for my school paper. I thought to myself, “There’s something fun here!”
RC: How does someone go from just having an interest in food to being an expert in the field?
Gail: You do a lot of eating! That’s what you do! That’s the God’s honest truth. I love food, I love the industry of food, I love chefs, I love the history. My degree in college was anthropology. I read every cookbook & piece of food journalism I could find. When I finally decided this is what I wanted to do, I went to my editor at the magazine I interned for & I said, “How do I do this?” He said, “If you want to be a good journalist, you need to go out & learn your subject. If you want to be a war reporter, you have to go to the front lines”. I picked up & went to New York. I went to culinary school & went on the front lines, so to speak.
RC: You oversee the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen. What does the event entail?
Gail: Well, I’m actually calling you from Aspen & the event kicks off tomorrow. It’s the premiere culinary festival in America. It’s our 25th anniversary but let me assure you, I haven’t been working on it for 25 years. We bring with us the most extraordinary culinary superpowers from across the country & overseas as well. We have the most die hard culinary fans there as well. It’s 3 days of seminars, demonstrations, wine parties – the most amazing wines from around the world! It’s a chance for everyone in the industry to get together & play!
RC: How did you first become involved in Top Chef? Had you been approached previously about being on a tv show?
Gail: It’s my first one – I’ve done a lot of television for Food & Wine Magazine. When Bravo was looking to do a culinary show of this nature, they wanted to work with a magazine partner that they could learn from. They came to us because Food & Wine because it’s the #1 magazine in advertising & the leader in the epicurean category. We’re big in discovering talent, finding the new, young stars. It worked out perfectly.
RC: Do you have a favorite previous contestant of Top Chef?
Gail: It’s so tough, once the season is over & we can look back, we can really be proud of them. Harold, our season 1 winner, just opened his restaurant in New York. It’s a beautiful, small restaurant in the West Village and very fortunately, it’s right near my house. He’s doing exactly what I hoped he would do. Ilan, the season 2 winner, is actually coming to Aspen for the weekend. It was part of his prize to be part of the Food & Wine Magazine Classic. He’s a really young, eager passionate chef.
RC: What can we look forward to this season in Miami?
Gail: The fact that it’s in Miami is pretty hot. It’s a really sexy town. There’s a lot of good food – obviously seafood is so extraordinary there. What’s really exciting is the guest talent on the show keeps getting better & better and I get to sit besides my own idols & work alongside them. The talent & quality of the contestants are amazing – they are the most driven, hilarious, passionate people from all across the country.
RC: Ted Allen mentioned some standout chefs from this season we should keep our eyes on. Do you have any early favorites?
Gail: I have to say, the women this year were super awesome! I know from being on the other side of the table (I was a cook, too) it was the toughest job. There are certain challenges that affect women more than men. I was so impressed with the women on the show. There are a few really amazing standout women – Casey from Dallas, Lia from NY, all of them! I was really impressed with them all!
RC: Do you have any other projects in the works or do the show & the magazine keep you busy enough?
Gail: It keeps me busy enough! I’m doing as much as I can. I’m working on a lot of projects with Food & Wine that are really exciting. I play a big role in everything from organizing events to appearing at them to working on the magazine & working with the biggest chefs. I’m living my dream!
Season 3 of Bravo's Top Chef kicks off tonight at 10pm EST