Top Chef judge Gail Simmons visited Austin this past weekend as the headliner at Lake Austin Spa Resort’s Culinary Experience, a monthly week-long program that allows guests to learn from award-winning chefs and other experts. Eater Austin got a front row seat at her cooking demo as she shared Austin recommendations, Top Chef insights, and tastes of her favorite summer recipes.
During her visit, sharing Franklin Barbecue with friends at Hotel Saint Cecilia made for the "warmest, tastiest, happiest Texas welcome," she described. (Thank goodness for preordering, right?) A tipster also spotted her at Emmer & Rye.
When asked about her favorite Austin restaurants, Simmons rattled off a handful with ease including: Dai Due; Emmer & Rye ("Kevin [Fink] is amazing"); Franklin Barbecue; La Barbecue; La Condesa; Foreign & Domestic; Barley Swine; and Olamaie ("those biscuits and cocktails"). She went on to praise Uchi and Uchiko, and the talents and "genius" of both Tyson Cole and Paul Qui, a Top Chef winner who is set to close his namesake restaurant next month. As for which restaurant she’d move to New York City though, Franklin Barbecue earned that spot.
During Simmon’s two-hour cooking demo open to resort guests on Saturday, she made three summer-centric recipes, told stories, and chatted with the audience. The menu included heirloom panzanella salad with herbed yogurt dressing, grilled fish tacos with corn and cucumber salsa, and peach cobbler with honey-chili biscuits—put crushed red pepper flakes in the dough, y’all.
Simmons revealed that season 11 of Top Chef, which took place in New Orleans, was her favorite from a food and culture perspective. However, season 6 in Las Vegas had a "magic mix of talent," making it her favorite season in terms of the contestants. Incidentally that season received a Primetime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Reality Competition Program."
Simmons is also a food writer and the special projects director at Food & Wine, which makes her a regular at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Over the years, she has become well-versed in the Austin food scene. She is slated to be part of the judges’ table for the next season of the show in Charleston, which is currently in production.