Food critic Gail Simmons
Photo: Michael Lavine
When I was 6 years old, we made our first trip back to South Africa to visit my father's family. One day, we went to a beautiful winery outside of Cape Town. My parents decided to try to teach me how to taste wine. I got my little, 1-ounce pour of wine, and they told me just to stick my tongue in it. They didn't want me swigging back wine, but of course, I wasn't listening. I started swigging back all this wine, and apparently, I don't have a memory of this completely, but I giggled and laughed for about two hours. Then, I passed out for about eight hours.

But, when I woke up, I asked my parents for more wine. That probably scared them to death—they thought they'd created a monster. It definitely made me realize wine was the way to go…and food is too, certainly.

Years later, I started writing restaurant reviews for my college paper, never knowing it was an actual career. I really did it because I thought it was fun, and I loved to cook. Plus, it was an excuse to eat out and discover restaurants in the town where I went to school.

I remember one Peruvian restaurant I ate at…I had never eaten Peruvian food. The first time I tasted what I later realized was a ceviche, I was pretty blown away. I thought: "Wow. This is a pretty good gig. There are people who do this for a living. Maybe I should look into that."

Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I figured out a way to make that work.

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