20 Questions: Gail Simmons

Eat. Write. Travel. Cook. Four little words, an amuse-bouche in the great feast that is food for thought, if you will, that would lead Gail Simmons to her prestigious roles with Food & Wine Magazine, Top Chef and Top Chef: Just Desserts. Indeed, she has embraced these words and all their delicious meaning and set her creative appetite loose upon the world, serving not only as an icon in the popular realm of food culture to those who can dine at the best restaurants, but also as an advocate for those who don’t get the cloth napkins; bringing delicious, nutritious food to people who need it most.

Her most recent offering to the ravenous realm that is pop culture is her memoir, Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater (Hyperion, February 2012). Gail shares with PopMatters 20 Questions those four words and other key influences in her life. One wonders if, as college student, Gail pondered those words while gazing upon her poster of Captain Jean Luc Picard, and she heard him say to her, “Make it so.” And she did.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – both the book and the movie.

2. The fictional character most like you?

A cross between Cookie Monster and Dora the Explorer – perhaps obviously, because I have an insatiable appetite for cookies and am always up for an adventure with friends.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Urgh – way too hard to choose just one. My personal top few in no particular order:

The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Pearl Jam: Ten

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV

Elton John: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

That’s like choosing between parents. I was weaned on Star Wars but Star Trek (Next Generation!) basically got me through my teens. Seriously, I had a Star Wars: Return of the Jedi-themed comforter on my bed until I was 12, and a life-size blow up of Captain Jean Luc Picard in my dorm room. Now you know all my secrets.

5. Your ideal brain food?

The works of Gabriel García Márquez.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Actually finishing my first book – Talking With My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater (out February 21st!). If you had told me two years ago that I could do it, I wouldn’t have believed you. It seemed so completely daunting to sit down and write my life story in a way that anyone would want to read, and in a voice that felt authentic and true to myself. But I think I achieved it.

7. You want to be remembered for …?

As the girl with the highest hot sauce tolerance.

And as the head cheerleader and advocate for an industry that works tirelessly, and often thanklessly, every day to feed the hungry people of world. (See Common Threads.org and Food & Wine’s Grow for Good program, for example.)

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, MFK Fischer, and Sheila Lukins.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The immersion blender.

10. Your hidden talents …?

I can tap dance. True story.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

When I was 22 and had no idea what to do with my life, a close family friend told me to write down what I loved most in the world. I scribbled these four words: “Eat. Write. Travel. Cook.”

Within a year I had moved to New York and was attending culinary school. She changed my life.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

Most recently, borrowed: Season One of Friday Night Lights, from my friend Glen. Obsessed.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or …?

Contrary to popular belief, Levis. And black Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates. With Beyonce thrown in for good measure.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

France, 1770, the court of Marie Antoinette – the clothes, the Champagne, the cake…

Photo (partial) by © Melanie Dunea

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

None of the above. Rather, a beach vacation with a mountain of magazines, a mojito and my iPod.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or …?

Dark chocolate – preferably 70 percent cacao or above.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Country: The island of Bali (Indonesia), in an infinity pool overlooking the surf. It really lives up to every ridiculous, beautiful stereotype.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Keep hustling. Those dimwits have nothing on you.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Book tour! Coming soon to a city near you – check my Facebook Page for updates and please come say hi!