Monday, January 15, 2007

What the Fuck Is Wrong With Gail Simmons?

I realize that I’ve developed a reputation with my regular readers for titling my blog posts with chunks of words that don’t readily seem to have anything to do with the content of the posts themselves. Know this: The title to this post has everything to do with what I’m writing. No room for being allusive or name-checking some obscure bit of pop culture here, because I’m writing with purpose today.

So I’ve taken to following this season of “Top Chef,” the Bravo reality show in which cooks of various levels of training compete in culinary challenges in hopes escaping elimination and, ultimately, making a name for themselves in the restaurant world. The show includes a preliminary task, the Quickfire Challenge, and then the main event, the Elimination Challenge, after which the results are eaten and then judged by a panel of foodies. While one spot on the panel is filled by a guest chef, the other three include the following:
  • Padma Lakshmi, a model who looks like she couldn’t possibly enjoy food but purportedly does and can evidence this feat with the fact she won the Best Book by a First-Time Author at the 1999 World Cookbook Awards. She also is the wife of author Salman Rushdie, so perhaps the dread of being shot to death helps her keep the weight off. There’s a title for her next book: Thin-Wa: How to Beat Fat With a Fatwa.
  • Tom Colicchio, the founder of former head chef at Gramercy Tavern in New York. He’s the kind of guy who means business more than his jovial appearances lets on. He’s also an accomplished cook who, in the food world, gets to act like he’s important. And he does. And I’m okay with that. Colicchio also has started a side project to his small successful restaurant chain Craft — a sandwich only place he dubbed ‘Wichcraft. And I have to admit that’s a clever enough name.
  • And then there’s Gail. An editor at Food & Wine magazine, Gail fulfills the position of critic in a way that some would say has reduced her to the Simon Cowell role. Looking like the evil twin of Kristin Veitch, Simmons projects expressions of boredom, disgust and occasional delight from behind the judge’s table and makes the harshest comments about the contestants’ food. Often, she does a bang-up job of making me angry.
top_chef

Here’s the best picture I could find illustrating the three regular judges: Padma looking genuinely amazed by something, Tom looking slightly perturbed and Gail making a face I call "Jan Brady seeing Marcia win an award for being extra super."

You’d think if I were to gripe about any of the “Top Chef” judges, it would be Lakshmi, a newcomer to this season who replaced the rather wooden Katie Lee Joel, who hosted the show’s first run. One could easily make the argument that Lakshmi is window dressing and doesn’t deserve a chance to weigh in at the judges’ table, but I think she does a good job of being the show’s face — both to the contestants and to viewers — and still having a working knowledge of food. She does, after all, have that cookbook. (Yes, her relationship to Rushie complicates that matter somewhat, him being a major literary player and all. I have not read her book and therefore cannot say with any certainty whether her husband helped her or not.)

That’s not to say that Gail can’t talk food with the same level of competence than anyone else can. She just can’t seem to do it without coming off like she’s settling a score — with the person who killed her dog and was also mean to her in grade school.

When Gail dislikes a dish, she reacts as if it were a personal affront to her. (“I’m Gail Simmons. I’m respected in very specific circles. My name is in a magazine.”) For example, she seemed genuinely insulted in the end of last week’s episode, “Unhappy Customers,” in which she told contestant Sam what she thought of his dessert. “It made me nauseous,” she said. Granted, the dish in question was a watermelon gnocchi in a creamy cheese sauce, but still, when everybody else is hedging their criticism in polite terms, Gail's comments came off as spiteful. Did she necessarily overstep the limits of what a critic should do? Probably not. But did the method she chose to do it make her seem harsher than her colleagues? Yes. Tom, for example, makes the same complaint against the Sam’s sin against God by simply saying, “The dish didn’t taste very good to most.” No venom, no icy death stare.

As if to further her point, Gail proceeds to read a comment card from one of the volunteer diners who ate the dinner. The card Gail chooses to read: “Was the chef on crack?” She follows that up with “All of us were amazed by these comments because they were the exact same comments we had as well.” This is especially mean-spirited — and confusing, given that not one of the judges mentions the possibility of crack in the discussion as viewers saw it.

On Gail’s blog, she actually seems to respond to some criticism she’s received for her role on the show.
First off, I have been asked why they have a food expert as a judge on the show instead of having another pro chef. Well, having more than one chef on a show like this does not give viewers a very diverse perspective. (You know the saying: too many cooks spoil the broth). My place on “Top Chef” is as the critic, a diner who does not see what goes on in the kitchen, but who understands America’s palate and brings that knowledge to the table. I would not claim to do much better at some of these challenges than our contestants, but that is not what I am there to do.

Just as a film critic reports on actors and directors, without being one himself, I report on the contestants’ food, attempting to give viewers as clear a picture as I can of what it tastes like, if it is well-prepared, and if I want to eat more of it. Some of the food is not very good. Some of it is tremendous. But all criticism is by nature somewhat subjective, and therein lies its greatest flaw. Nevertheless, I try to give you the most honest and insightful commentary I can.
For what it’s worth, Gail does this. Unfortunately, she doesn’t address here what I’m certain she’s also heard from “Top Chef” devotees: Her attitude sucks, or at least appears to. The judges had in the past chastised contestant Michael — who, incidentally, was eliminated at the end of the last show in spite of not being responsible for the vomit-inducing watermelon dish — for seeming like he didn’t care, wasn’t trying and could give a damn about whether he stayed on the show. In the same vein, Gail seems strangely bored on the show, at least from what footage that airs.

A reader of Gail’s blog makes an interesting point. Addressing Gail directly, he writes,
I feel that Padma’s presence has actually marginalized you as “the other woman.” Something about Padma's presence seems just stuck on like an awkward appendage. She makes less sense than Heidi Klum on “Project Runway,” whose presence actually makes sense there but who also does have the demeanor of a host. They also let Tom act like a host; they interview him more often than you. I just find the setup awkward and slightly demeaning.
This raises the notion that, in comparison to the perkier Padma, Gail seems like a wet blanket. I have to wonder if Gail is perhaps the victim of calculated editing of the hours of footage that any installment of “Top Chef” might be comprised of.

On her blog, she touches on this issue:
What viewers see is but a tiny fraction of what actually transpires. Trust me, you would be bored to death if you watched it all! As result, our comments can at times come across as harsh or negative. The brilliant producers and editors on our show work with hundreds of hours of footage as if they were putting together a delicate quilt. They sew and stitch the intricate pieces just so; forming what they believe is the most interesting story. That is what entertainment is all about!
Compliments to the show’s editors aside, what I take away from this that the final product may not be completely representative of what actually happened. (You know, like with every reality show.) Either the producers are judiciously editing out the really mean stuff Gail says — “Your food made me vomit uncontrollably, in every direction, and all over Padma’s pretty, pretty hair.” — or they’ve purposefully made her out to be the show’s bitch. Every reality show has one, and maybe the “Top Chef” directors decided to contrast Padma’s cheeriness by molding an already assertive and acerbic critic into a woman who seems just generally critical of everything — in short, she may have been edited into the bitch that every reality show seems to need.

I think there’s some truth to this. Just looking at Bravo’s “Top Chef” site, you can see a clear difference in how the network is presenting these two women. Look at the mug shots Bravo uses for Padma’s blog and bio pages.

padma_laksmhi_blog

padma_laksmhi_bio

Now compare then to Gail’s.

gail_simmons_blog

gail_simmons_bio

It goes without saying that Padma is a model and Gail a journalist and critic who has, perhaps, less experience in front of a camera. But I find it hard to believe that the above two images represent the best photos they could take. (Also, notably, Padma gets two pretty outfits, while Gail only gets one.) I think there's a good argument here that Padma and Gail are being packaged in a way that's influencing how people perceive them. If this is true, then Bravo is guilty of perpetuating those awful pretty-girl-is-nice, smart-girl-is-a-not stereotypes.

Whether her own doing or not, Gail’s presence on the show frustrates me, hence the above post title. For a show like “Big Brother” or something else in which the contestants don’t need actual talent, I’m fine with people criticizing them as harshly as they feel necessary. For “Top Chef,” however, the cast has had to work pretty hard just to be there. And I couldn’t imagine dealing with the pressures the show’s cooking challenges would create. Thus, I feel Gail oversteps a boundary when rebukes them for whatever culinary sin she thinks they’ve committed. On the other hand, if she’s the victim of the that typical reality show distortion, then the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is “lousy editing.” It sucks to be cast as the bitch, especially when Gail’s expertise and work experience would have snagged her the judge position in the first place. She needs to have words with whoever is patching together bits of footage because they’re making her look like the villain on a show that should be too smart to employ those tactics.

“Top Chef,” after all, is one of the few truly respectable reality shows on TV. Best yet: The episode airing January 17, “Seduction in Santa Barbara,” features Epiphany, the very restaurant I had a night cap at last night. From what I remember, it was good, and I’m interested to see how the remaining chefs regard the Santa Barbara food scene.

36 comments:

  1. Not only does Padma get more pretty outfits per show, but she also ALMOST ALWAYS wears a vest-shirt of some kind, and never covers her lovely, nicely toned arms. She is sexy. Gail is frumpy by comparison.

    Another fashion-related difference in the way the women are packaged is where the clothes come from. I can never identify on sight where Padma's clothes come from (esp. the vest-shirts), but I can tell you with one look that Gail's clothes come from a mixture of Ann Taylor and Express. This is not a bad look (my wardrobe comes from both of those stores), but Gail isn't wearing the clothes, those clothes are wearing her. And its obvious to the viewer that she is being dressed down in identifiable retail chains, where as Padma, most likely, is getting to wear more high-end, couture peices. As you say, she is a model. Gail is not. Models wear couture. The average woman shops at Ann Taylor.

    Really, the woman isn't being packaged as someone who belongs on TV. And the bitchy comments, the editing, etc. contributes to that.

    But she IS the EIC at Food & Wine. And I want her job.

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  2. You make a good point, though it still doesn't settle for me the problem of whether it's Padma and Gail's actual personalities or the ones they're forced to take on for the show.

    On the topic of Padma's bared arms, I've noticed that she seems to prefer them despite the rather large scare she has on her right arm. It's healthy, I guess. And she still looks pretty. But you'd think a spokesmodel type like that would dress to conceal that. I wonder where that scar came from.

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  3. OMG.

    I wonder about said scar EVERY week.

    I am hoping that they do a reunion show and some viewer writes in asking where Padma got her crazy-ass scar.

    We should take bets. My guess is mauled by a dog as a small child.

    Cooked-related knife fight would be my second favorite.

    As far as personaility and the realness thereof goes . . . I would guess that, much like dear Melrose on the latest season of Top Model, Padma doesn't actually have a personality. She feels much more contrived to me than Gail does (or Melrose's counterpart, CariDee). And something about Padma's lack of personality strikes me in her carefully articulated language. It always feels like she's reading cue cards, even when she is raving about/hating on food. There's something a little more genuine in Gail's reaction to the watermelon cheese concoction, albeit heavily overmean. (I, for one, would like to try watermelon and cream. Could be like the beginnings of a sorbet, perhaps.)

    So, like her "real woman" clothes, Gail also speaks in a realistic manner. (Maybe Tarrantino hyper-real, at times, but real nonetheless.) But we're comfortable with Padma reading off cue cards because this a country that likes contrivances. We okay with automaton-like women who fit a certain mold and are put off by women who, like Gail, don't.

    Another angle not yet addressed: shouldn't Gail be overly critical because the winning chef gets to cook at HER magazine's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and is featured in HER magazine as a prize? Maybe Gail is just defending her good name. Padma and Tom have nothing they need to defend of themselves in this competition. Gail, however, has her entire reputation running on the person the judges choose to crown as Top Chef.

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    1. Anonymous6:20 PM

      If you simply google it, you'll find interviews where Padma talks about her scar.

      And how can you be so callous as to say someone has no personality. That would be almost as bad as me assuming you'd say something like that out of spite and jealousy. We are all people, and we all have quirks and foibles.

      As for my opinion, both women are extremely beautiful and given the amount of pressure on women and how they look these days, I think it's admirable for Gail to continue to be on the show while pregnant. It says more about her character than people on the internet taking pot-shots at her looks without knowing her.

      But opinions are like assholes, everyone's got one and most of them stink.

      Delete
  4. Steetzie, you're too smart for your own good.
    This reminds me of the time I tried to analyze the character of Dusty Gozangas on Aqua Teen from a feminist viewpoint.

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  5. Brooke11:18 PM

    They already have the story about her scar on bravotv.com in an interview she did. Check it out, its interesting. And by the way, do you think she married Salman Rushdie for the money, or the intellect?

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  6. Anonymous10:12 PM

    your comments are inane and, well...trite and strange. Padma is mere padding for the show, and she'll need it following the divorce from rushdie. she has no insight into the food or prep quality.

    Gail, on the other hand, not only has insight, but her buxom body and wicked curves make her the much more attractive one on the show. her apparent "snarkiness", or rather cuisine gravitas as such would be required on such a show to make it legit, is awesome.

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  7. Anonymous8:10 PM

    I agree, Gail is by far the hotter of the two. Wicked curves indeed.

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  8. Anonymous1:05 AM

    Stevi, you are so obviously gay when you try to trash the babe known as Gail Simmons. This woman is HOT. She's beautiful (reminiscent of Teri Hatcher) and has PERFECT breasts and creamy pale skin and fills out a dress perfectly. Padme, while beautiful, looks almost plain next to her. Unlike Padme, Gail is a real food critic and if you've read any of her work you'd know she's a great writer as well as a great judge of taste. Your need to write and entire 'smack' blog about her shows you are clearly craving some Colicchio buns from his personal sandwich shop.

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  9. Thanks for your comment...? I think you may have targeted Stevi, who's a girl, when you meant me, who wrote the original post. Perhaps my meaning got lost somewhere between my head and the words on the screen or perhaps retrospect has changed my opinion, but my whole take on Gail is that she's not inherently awful but is portrayed by Bravo in a less-than-flattering way, especially in comparison to Padma. I believe this was an effort on Bravo's part to cast Gail in the role of bitchy, negative panelist, even though she doesn't really fit that.

    This trend has tapered off a bit, I should also note. I wrote this original post in the midst of the second season, but the show now seems to be edited to be less hard on Gail.

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  10. Also: Teri Hatcher is WAY HOT... if you're watching Tango & Cash. Otherwise, not so much.

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  11. Anonymous10:10 AM

    Bottom line...
    Padama looks skanky and greasy..Skinny is not always sexy, that is for sure in this case. Padama also speaks monotone and sloppy.
    Gail is healthy and energetic..Lots of great colors in her cheeks and eyes. Her personality has spunk and energy.
    Padama has no specific food knowledge or credentials and is unappealing in every way.

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  12. Anonymous2:10 PM

    Gail is a fat little piggy with devilish eyes that resemble an animated villain. She was put there to fit the "bitch" role b/c she looks and acts the part. Just a plus that she actually has the credentials to back it up. I worked in television, and this is how things go... Good cop bad cop sort of thing.

    Aside from that heinous curmudgeon-- it's absurd to trash Padma in trying to defend the lard's reputation. Padma is there to look good while eating, and she does so.
    Piggy needs to learn to eat with her mouth closed and not squint those ugly little eyes any more than they already are.

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  13. Anonymous: You're entitled to your opinion, of course. Your take on it really underscores how widely Top Chef fans seem to disagree on this subject. And it's interesting that you mention that you've done TV work, because I do honestly wonder whether the judges' reactions are prompted.

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  14. Anonymous9:39 PM

    I like Gail, but I feel your comment are fair. Or were for Season 2. In the episodes since, Gail has grown into a more appealing person, I think. Perhaps the editors have chosen to be kinder to her. Perhaps someone read this post.

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  15. Anonymous12:42 AM

    Gail's about a million times hotter than Padma. Just wanted to clear that up.

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    1. Anonymous1:26 PM

      INDEED!!! AMEN TO THAT BRO!!!

      Delete
  16. And that would be another point for Gail. One day we'll tally the results.

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  17. Anonymous1:38 PM

    Gail's rack has gotten increasingly more huge - is it her post baby state or something more enhanced? Either way - I dont need top chef to trigger my porn addiction thank you very little..

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  18. Anonymous12:31 PM

    Are you kiddin' me? I LOVE Gail, I think she's quite honest and knowledgeable... I really don't like Padme at all, she's neither pretty nor a foodie, but I believe Gail makes everything better :)

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  19. Anonymous8:22 PM

    Gail better watch her sampling...she is filling up the screen...she gets angry if the food isnt good because she wants TO EAT!! She isnt happy when the food isnt good.
    I know Padma used to be a model but she is doing a good job of packing the food away too and it shows.

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  20. Anonymous11:11 AM

    Wouldn't it be hilarious if one of the contestants snapped and put that fat bitch, I mean Gail Simmons in her rightful place?!

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  21. Anonymous9:33 AM

    youre blog is well written and funny, though to me, neither girl is really pretty, padma has presence but gail has sensuality yum. besides, its all a put on, you cant tell what they are like from tv. i personally think tom is the jerk, his eyes dont smile, but i could be wrong

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  22. Anonymous1:43 PM

    Gail Simmons = Babe-o-licious, nuff said.

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  23. Anonymous11:14 PM

    I guarantee you that people who think Gail is hot, especially hotter than Padma, are all ugly and are bitchy themselves. No one in their right mind or that knows anything about aesthetics would prefer Gail over Padma, and this is coming from someone who doesn't particularly favor or like Padma. If you like Gail, it's most likely because you can relate with her or because your ugliness makes you think you'd have a better chance at getting together with her. The episodes where Gail is absent are the best episodes.

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  24. Rivethead7:04 PM

    I know this is an old post but I'll comment just the same 'cause like most people who do, I'm in love with my own ideas.

    Gail is beautiful and sexy. Seriously hot. My guess is that you're a gay man if you don't think so (not that it matters.) She's also seriously skilled, has an impeccable cooking background and knows what she's talking about and how to present it.

    Padma, on the other hand, is not as skilled or knowledgeable, but certainly has some cooking talent, knows food by eating at the finer establishments in the world and is so beautiful and graceful that she may have to be taken off the planet to be with more of her own kind. Coupled with the fact that she's no fool and can speak with real charm and wit, and this is the woman I have to marry, despite the fact that Salmon Rushdie was there first.

    I'm hard-pressed to think of another show with two such beautiful, intelligent, talented, charming, smoking hot women on it.

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  25. Anonymous5:20 PM

    Her problem is she is not qualified to judge chef recipes and she knows she is just eye candy for fat couch potatoes.

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  26. Anonymous5:57 PM

    Ok. So I was soo happy when I saw the advertised show for spinning off of top chef, but when I saw that gail was the host, I was beyond annoyed! Seriously, gail? A host? In tjose hideous outfits and that friggin hair!?!? Weirdly enough, on this show, her hair is now thicker, who knows, maybe plugs? Dont tell me hormones, please. She is probably one of thee most annoying people on tv, to me. I lose it when people say shes beautiful. Shes as useful as tits on a nun. Padmas pretty, but the way she talks is enough to make your skin fall off. Its like a "swuuuuggggggg" and when shes introducing guests, the tones of her drunkin slur voice is agonizing. I would love it top chef revamped, that would be a dream come true.

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  27. Anonymous10:30 PM

    The only reason I read all this nonsense is because Gail is hot as hell and makes perfect sense in all her comments. If you ever went to culinary school,as many of these contestants have, her comments are not unusual or meant to be hurtful. They are comments a chef might actually make. Not everything has to be sugar coated especially for interesting tv.

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  28. Anonymous6:38 PM

    This blog was written 4 years ago (!!) but I have to comment anyway... Yes, it seem that poor Gail is getting larger every season. I read that Padma gains 10-15 pounds every season, but I guess she loses it all and then gains it back, because she always looks thin to me. Gail is okay, but not "super hot", please.

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  29. Anonymous8:56 PM

    I think Gail is smoking hot. She makes my weiner feel weird.

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  30. Anonymous9:46 PM

    Gail is fat and annoying.

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  31. Anonymous1:26 PM

    I don't know really if Gail is "the Simon Cowell" of Top Chef, in my opinion besides Tom C. she has good insight on the food, but I don't think of her as "mean". However, I must say this: GAIL IS FREAKING HOT!!! "The evil twin of Kristin Veitch"??? Come on!!! Gail is just sexy as hell!!! I like her smile, her boobies and her curves. Damn!!! Forget about Padma (sexy as well but too skinny). Gail is DA BOMB!!!

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    Replies
    1. Gail is presented in a much more flattering light now. Season 2-era Gail, however, was not.

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  32. Anonymous10:43 PM

    Gail got stale really quick. Get new blood.

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  33. It’s definitely opinion on who is hotter or whatever..but for me there’s no comparison Padma has nothing on Gail. I’ve had a giant schoolboy crush on Gail since the first time I’ve seen her.

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