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Gail Simmons was 'horrified' by the perception that she was the 'mean, judgy one' on 'Top Chef'

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It's been 15 years since Bravo's cooking competition show, "Top Chef" premiered, and while a few things have changed over the years, the show is basically the same great cooking show it was in the beginning. Two people who were there from the beginning are judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons. Yahoo Entertainment's Kylie Mar chatted with Gail about that first season and how the show has evolved over the years.

Gail didn't think the show would go past Season 1, which is lucky for Padma Lakshimi, who didn't start hosting until the second season. The first season was hosted by Food Network's Katie Lee. Also, the contestants weren't all technically "chefs." That first season featured contestants with a wide range of kitchen experience, and since then the show has moved toward more high-level chefs. One other thing that was a little different in the beginning was how the judges were portrayed.

Gail said that they started out trying to fit into typical reality show judge personas like "the evil one, and the nice one." But it didn't take long for Gail and everyone else at the show to realize that they needed to do their own thing. "My friends would say to me that people they knew, who didn't know me, would ask if I was really that mean in person. And I would be so horrified," Gail continued, "that's not at all my persona." It became obvious to everyone, not just Gail, that something needed to change. And so it did. "After a while, our producers realized, Bravo realized, and we realized that our viewers aren't going to invest in the show unless they believe us and can trust us with our opinions," said Gail.

Video Transcript


GAIL SIMMONS: I heard a lot of excuses for why certain people chose to make certain desserts. I don't want to hear what didn't work. I want to hear what's sexy and even if it wasn't perfect, I want you to sell it to me. I want you to make it sexy or I don't want to taste it.

KYLIE MAR: It's been 15 years since Bravo premiered its cooking competition show "Top Chef." The Emmy winning series is coming up on it's 18th season, has spawned multiple spin-offs, and has versions airing all around the world. Culinary expert and author, Gail Simmons, has been a judge from the very beginning. And I recently talked to her about that first season, and how the show has evolved since then, especially how she has been portrayed as a judge.

GAIL SIMMONS: Remember at the beginning of reality television when every judge had to have sort of a almost caricature-like persona? There was the evil one and the nice one. And I think at first, we all felt likely to fall into those categories.

KYLIE MAR: What category do you think that you fell into as a judge in the beginning?

GAIL SIMMONS: Well at the very beginning in the first few seasons, my friends would say to me that people who they knew, who didn't know me, would ask if I was really that mean in person. And I would be so horrified because I think if you talk to the contestants or if you know me, that's like not at all my persona.

KYLIE MAR: Well Gail was horrified. The producers of the show were likely happy since that serious persona was a part of the recipe from the beginning.

GAIL SIMMONS: They did try to edit me to be a little more severe than I really am in person and a little more serious. So like, sort of like the mean, judgy one. Like the snobby editor, right? Coming from a very exclusive food magazine.

KYLIE MAR: Didn't seem mean or judgy during our interview, so I decided to go binge watch the first couple of seasons. And now, I can kind of see what she's talking about.

GAIL SIMMONS: It was tasteless. It wasn't seasoned well. It was almost inedible. That watermelon dish made me nauseous. It was just really lame.

KYLIE MAR: While Gail definitely wasn't Simon Cowell level of harsh, it didn't take long for everyone to figure out that they didn't need to spice up the judges personalities. So after that first season when you were kind of getting that mean edit, what was the conversation that happened? Was it you thinking, OK, I'm going to consciously lighten up on the contestants? Or was it you going to the producers and saying, look, I don't like the way this was edited. Can we do something different for season two?

GAIL SIMMONS: It wasn't me ever kind of going to the producers. I mean, everybody just realized and everyone knew that it didn't have to be that way. That we could just be our authentic selves and talk, and they didn't have to edit me as deliberately. But I also could just be myself and be more relaxed on camera. So I think it was sort of both and neither, all at once.