Gail Simmons

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Gail Simmons is a judge on the hit TV show Top Chef and the special projects director at Food and Wine Magazine. Her love of both food and music started as a young child and are intermingled in many ways. We hear about a sentimental favorite, a Canadian import and an inspired cover. The Top Chef: Seattle season finale airs tonight on Bravo.

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Track List

  1. Burn Down The Mission - Elton John
  2. Footsteps - Pearl Jam
  3. In the Sun (Gulf Coast Relief) [Featuring Chris Martin] - Michael Stipe & Chris Martin
  4. Comme des enfants - Coer de pirate
  5. Walking in Your Footsteps - Shout Out Louds


Eric: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with Gail Simmons. She’s a judge on the hit TV show Top Chef and is also the special projects director at Food and Wine Magazine. Today, we’re here to talk music -- specifically some of the songs that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Gail thanks so much for coming down.

Gail: I’m so happy to be here, thank you Eric.

Eric: Well what’s the first song you got for us?

Gail: The first song is “Burn Down the Mission” by Elton John. This song in particular is really a song of my childhood. My brother was a musician, my older brother,-- still IS, an incredibly talented one -- and my memories of being a child running around the house while my brother pounded away at the piano, and this song was a song that he would always play for me. You know, it’s just such a classic Elton John song and it just makes me happy to listen to and it always reminds me of my brother. 

Song -- “Burn Down the Mission” by Elton John

Eric: So obviously music was an important part of your childhood. Did food fit into that early as well?

Gail: It certainly did. Food has always been a big part of my life. My mother actually was a cooking teacher and she ran a small cooking school out of our home and she wrote a column. I grew up in Canada, in Toronto. and she wrote a column for The Globe and Mail which is Canada’s biggest newspaper. My mother is an incredible cook -- a spontaneous, intuitive cook--  and so we grew up around the table with incredible food. You know, she created a home where good food and good music were such a central part.

Eric: That was Elton John with “Burn Down the Mission”, selected by our guest Gail Simmons. Well, what’s the next song you got for us?

Gail: The next song is “Footsteps” by Pearl Jam. My high school years were certainly the peak of grunge and Seattle sound. Starting in high school, I can say I’ve been a devout fanatic. Many years later Pearl Jam is still very much in my life. The man I married is an insanely obsessed Pearl Jam fanatic too and interestingly there is sort of a food connection. In Seattle, Pearl Jam’s longtime manager Kelly Curtis owns a restaurant called the Madison Park Conservatory and the chef from there, Cormac Mahoney, is a Food and Wine best new chef. His restaurant was given an award this year from Food and Wine Magazine and I had the treat of eating there when I was in Seattle this summer shooting Top Chef and it really is one of the most wonderful restaurants, so I’m so thrilled to know that Pearl Jam has great taste in food, makes me very happy. 

Song -- “Footsteps” by Pearl Jam

Eric: Pearl Jam with “Footsteps”, as selected by our guest DJ Gail Simmons. What’s the next track you got for us?

Gail: The next track is “In the Sun” a song originally written and performed by Joseph Arthur. There’s been several covers of it. I just particularly like the Chris Martin, Michael Stipe version that I think they recorded right after Hurricane Katrina and it’s a sad sort of lonely song, to me at least, but whenever I hear it, it reminds me of that time.  I went to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina with Top Chef, actually we shot a finale there for Season Five. It was the first time I’d ever been to New Orleans and New Orleans really moved me, for a lot of reasons. Obviously Hurricane Katrina was so devastating, and it really, of course, impacted everyone living in that part of the world, but I had a connection to the chefs there -- chefs like Emeril Lagasse and John Besh and Sue Zemanick and so many of the chefs that had survived that storm and gone on to really be motivated to be advocates for their city. So this song is just a shout out to them and how proud I am of them and their influence on the rest of the country and how incredibly soulful their food is and so this song makes me feel that way. 

Song -- “In the Sun” by Chris Martin and Michael Stipe

Eric: That was Chris Martin and Michael Stipe with their cover of “In the Sun” as selected by our guest Gail Simmons. What’s the next track you got for us?

Gail: The next track is by an artist named Coeur de Pirate she’s a very young French Canadian artist and the song is called “Comme des enfants”. This song to me is just so great because it’s French Canadian and I think it’s really unique, the sound. Just as the French Canadian culture is so unique to Canada. 

Eric: Is there a specific Canadian cuisine?

Gail: Ten years ago I might have said no. There’s certainly a lot of indigenous ingredients and certain dishes that are indigenous to Canada, but only recently, am I able to say with confidence, yes there is. I think, especially out of Montreal, there’s a really amazing movement of young chefs who are using these indigenous ingredients that we’ve had in our country for so long, everything from the venison to the wild salmon, the maple syrup and the incredible cheeses and duck, you know, this sort of trapper, forager movement that’s happening everywhere is certainly alive and well in Canada and there’s a lot of great food that comes from it. In fact, the restaurant where Coeur de Pirate filmed this video is a converted diner that these young chefs took over and the thing they make there that I love so much for breakfast is called the lumberjack sandwich and it’s so Canadian. It’s two pancakes soaked in maple syrup and made into a sandwich so they are essentially the bread of the sandwich and in between the pancakes is a fried egg, some Canadian cheddar cheese, super sharp, and some bacon, so that to me is home.

Eric: That sounds like a home I’d like to visit myself.

Gail: (Laughs)

Song: “Comme des enfants” by Coeur de Pirate

Eric: That was Coeur de Pirate with “Comme des enfants” as selected by our guest Gail Simmons. What’s the last track you got for us?

Gail: The last track is “Walking in your Footsteps” by the Shout Out Louds. The label they’re on is called Merge Records and Merge is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and I’m friends with the founder of the label Mac. His wife is a chef and she owns and is the chef of a restaurant called Lantern, which is one of the best restaurants in America. She’s an incredibly talented woman, but what I think is great is that my husband sent me a link to an interview they had given while they were on tour and in the interview the journalist had asked them, “If you could collaborate with anyone in the world on an album who would you want to collaborate with” and their answer was Jay-Z and Gail Simmons.

Eric: Wow, wow!

Gail: Can you believe that? And literally I was like skipping for a week.

Eric: What is the connection between cooking and music, and dining and music?

Gail: That’s a great question, Eric. I think there’s a lot of a connection. First of all, I think that cooking is an art form like music complex, layered. Creating a great dish is sort of like laying down a great song. You know, laying down track after track to create the sum that is greater than its parts and I think cooking is very much that process. You know making a soup, for example, you start with the mirepoix. You start with those basic flavors of onion and carrot and celery and then you add in your garlic and then you layer in perhaps a deglaze of white wine and then when that reduces you add let’s say the barley and the tomatoes and all the vegetables and then you simmer it together and it becomes that soup. 

So I think music and cooking, that process of creation, is really similar and food is very tied to sense memory and I think music is the same way and so you know there are dishes you eat for comfort the same way there are songs you listen to for comfort and just inspiration. A great meal inspires me and so does great music.

Dining, atmosphere when you’re eating is so important too. I think that no matter what you’re eating if you’re in a restaurant and the music playing is totally conflicting, your experience changes. If the music really sets that mood and if the restaurant really pays attention to that music, I think that your dining experience is enhanced so much so there is that organicness to music and to food. 

Song: “Walking in your Footsteps” by the Shout Out Louds

Eric: That was the Shout Out Louds with “Walking in your Footsteps” as selected by our guest Gail Simmons. Gail, thank you so much for coming down and sharing your tunes with us. 

Gail: Thanks for having me. It’s been great. 

Eric: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.