Photo: Justin Stephens
Oscar®-winning actress Kate Winslet told Harper's Bazaar she's obsessed. Neil Patrick Harris, Zooey Deschanel and the Foo Fighters couldn't stay away. Even Luisa Acevedo Vilá, the first lady of Puerto Rico, lent her palate.
The show that has everyone salivating is Bravo's hit reality series Top Chef . This culinary competition—now in its sixth season—challenges chefs to braise, roast and barbecue their way to the final showdown. To advance to the next round, competitors must please a panel of judges, which includes a rotating cast of accomplished chefs, celebrities, professional athletes and dignitaries.
Over the past five seasons, Gail Simmons, a culinary school grad, food critic and special projects manager for Food & Wine magazine, has become a fixture at the judges' table. Alongside host Padma Lakshmi , British food critic Toby Young and head judge Tom Colicchio, Gail has sampled everything from seared quail breast to soggy corn dogs.
To keep Top Chef fresh, Gail says each season is filmed in a different foodie destination—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, New York City and, most recently, Las Vegas. "The city always plays a role—its cuisine, its culture, its locations, and obviously, its guest judges," she says.
Vegas is no exception. Though Sin City isn't known for a specific cuisine, it has defining characteristics that Top Chef producers worked into the competition. "The element of gambling plays a huge role in the show, more than ever before," Gail says. "Not just that the chefs are taking a gamble by being on the show, but quite literally, there are moments when the chefs have to gamble, and there's a lot of money at stake. It's a twist on the show, which is really fun and definitely ups the ante…no pun intended."