More than any eager chef, serving up their best creations, it’s the role of the food critic that appears to hold everyone’s attention today. We have someone like Gail Simmons to look up to – who began championing food long before the days of Insta gourmands and cordon bleu on YouTube, and has quite literally, made food criticism an art form that one can aspire to, as much as whipping up new dishes to pack off to celebrity diners around the world.
But first, she insists, you must, imperatively, learn how to cook. Here’s a chat with one of the world’s leading masters of food criticism.
The idea of food journalism has never been as glamorous as it is today. How do you see yourself as an ambassador for food journalism today?
When I started out, I knew I wanted to be in food media, and it really just meant one thing – it meant magazines, newspapers and cookbooks. It really meant the print media, and that was what I set out to do. Over the last 20 years, food media and food writing has changed so much, and I feel great that I’ve been able to adapt and change with it.
What I love about today is that you can do so many things in the food world that weren’t available to me. You can be a food blogger, you can make videos, you can write online, and you can be a food stylist – there are so many jobs out there, that came to be only in the last 20 years.
It’s easy for anyone to set up an Instagram account and say they’re a food blogger, but to rise in the industry, and to prove that you have the knowledge and the expertise takes many, many years of work and understanding of the restaurant industry. Great chefs aren’t born, they are trained. It takes many years, and the same applies here.
How did food meet with travel, to expand on your existing culinary interests?
I studied anthropology in college, and I loved studying culture. Food, to me, is a window into culture, and food is the perfect way to understand every culture in the world – not just in the present, but in the past, and the future as well. When I graduated from college, I wanted to cook, study and write about food as an exchange of culture and human interaction. I realised that food is the perfect metaphor for bringing people together; to understand how cultures work, and how people communicate.
So then, I went to culinary school and learnt how to cook, and that opened up a world to me, where I could travel. And, the more I travelled, the more I could understand every different culture that I came upon. The more cultures I’d learn about, through the lens of food and eating, and sharing meals and understanding food traditions, the bigger my world became – and the more I learnt about the underlying things about the world.
Have you ever had any visions about how your line of work could evolve in the future?
The world is changing very quickly, and the food is becoming more and more accessible in terms of being able to try different food from around the world, in different places. I also think that the world of fine dining is changing, even as fine dining is so inaccessible to so many people in the world.
But now, the top chefs of the world are learning that the best way to share what they do is to do it at a more accessible level, whether it’s with fast food or more casual food – I think, that’s what people want to eat. As a food critic, my goal is to be a food champion. I want to bring good food to the most number of people that I possibly can.
Catch Gail on Top Chef Season 15 on AXN.