The milestone Season 20 of Top Chef World All-Stars is in full swing. Former Top Chef winners and finalists from 11 countries around the world have gathered in London and Paris to battle it out and cook their hearts out. We sat down with permanent judge, food writer and culinary expert Gail Simmons to get the inside scoop on this historic season.
What to expect from this season of Top Chef World All-Stars
GS: It’s a unique season for us in many ways. There are a lot of firsts and a big anniversary. It’s our 20th season, which is a milestone I don’t think any of us ever imagined we would accomplish. We’re really, really proud of it. The show has changed a lot over the years and in honour of that 20th season, we did a number of things to make this season extra special.
We [filmed], for the first time, a complete season overseas in London and Paris, which was an absolute dream come true, as you can imagine. And instead of just having American contestants from across this country, we had contestants representing 11 of the 29 countries that have their own versions of Top Chef around the world, which means that they’d all competed before.
The Top Chef World All-Stars Contestants
GS: All of the contestants are either winners or finalists from past seasons. They’re all incredibly successful, both through their own versions of the show and in their own kitchens and in their own countries. So at the baseline, the cooking in the competition is higher because they know the routine to some extent. They’ve played the game!
What made it interesting [was] we’re talking about 11 countries. Something like eight or nine different languages [were being spoken] in the kitchen from all corners of the world. From Poland to the Middle East to Thailand and Brazil and everywhere in between. It made for a really fascinating competition, too, because the stakes are higher and they are all used to their own country’s version of Top Chef which is slightly different than ours. So as much as they’ve all played the game [before], it still felt completely new and different.
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I just hope that [people] love watching it as much as we loved making it.
Who to look out for on Top Chef World All-Stars
GS: Root for your home country! That’s what I say! I mean, it’s almost like the Top Chef Olympics. 11 different countries are competing, so get to know the chefs. They’re all really interesting. I think that a lot of them will really impress and surprise you. Not just what they’re cooking, but, [also] as leaders, and people. They have interesting stories to tell with their food. But at the same time, it’s like when the Canadian hockey team is in the Olympics, you’re not cheering for Poland, you’re cheering for your home, your home people! So Canada keep rooting for Nicole Gomes and Dale MacKay!
Top Chef in London and Paris
GS: Every season of Top Chef is always different because it’s never based in the same city season to season. We travel to different cities across America, and that’s how we really base the concept of every season. In the history, the geography, the ingredients and the story of the city that we’re in. So in that case, London is no different but because it was overseas, there was even more of a culture shock.
There was even more to uncover and understand living in London with just a totally different history and culture around food. There’s similarities! Sure, London is English speaking and you know for Canada it’s part of the Commonwealth But there are a lot of different nuances to the food culture and that was really interesting to discover and for the chefs to cook around.
Paris was a total dream. It’s obviously the capital of Western European cooking! It is where the Michelin guide started, it is where fine dining was invented by kind of codifying recipes and fine dining by Escoffier. But at the same time, over the last 20 seasons of our show, what’s interesting is that in many ways we’ve moved away from this very narrow view of what makes good fine dining. [The idea that] it has to be European and it has to be French.
I think that our show has done such an amazing job of focusing on all the other cuisines of the world and of America that are equally beautiful, delicious, vast and diverse. So, yes, we were in Paris. But what was fun for me at least, was to see all these chefs from around the world interpreting French cuisine in their own way, and using their own culinary backgrounds. I think that’s where great cooking really comes from.
I think that’s where great cooking really comes from.
Gail’s favourite moments from filming Top Chef World All-Stars
GS: There were some amazing moments. You know, we shot in some extraordinary locations. We shot at Highclere Castle, which is where Downton Abbey was filmed. We shot at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which is a brand new soccer stadium that is like the most modern and technologically advanced, beautiful stadium I’d ever seen. And we got to spend a day in that stadium alone. That was sort of wild. You know, “Football is life” as they say on Ted Lasso. So that was really cool.
I got to bring my family to London for a big round of [filming] and that was really special. I got to experience it with them, seeing it as a mom as well as a television judge. We really got to know the city and the neighbourhoods of London.
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What is Gail Simmons doing next?
GS: I’m in the middle of a bunch of different projects! I just signed on to be part of a big festival happening in P.E.I. this summer. It’s called Sommo Festival. It’s a music and food festival and the music lineup is incredible. I’ve never actually been to P.E.I. and always wanted to go, so when they asked me it was just a no brainer. So if anyone in Canada wants to hang out, I’ll be in PEI at Sommo Fest!
I’m doing a bunch of other events and travel this summer, too. I’m going to be back at the Food Wine Classic in Aspen. It’s their 40th anniversary and it’s Top Chef’s 20th. So we’re doing a really special series of events there in honour of those milestones. Lots more on the way!