I had the privilege of attending a book signing with Gail Simmons hosted by Tom Colicchio, and at that event Tom described this book as a “love letter to food” and the culinary industry. I don’t think a more succinct, accurate description of this book could possibly be found.
Full disclosure: I am a confirmed Top Chef fanatic, and Gail is probably my favorite judge. She has the best shoes, at any rate (sorry Tom). My partner and I saw her give a cooking demo in Bryant Park before Christmas, and we both eagerly attended the aforementioned signing. So one could make the case that I am biased when it comes to Gail–was, in fact, inclined to enjoy Talking with My Mouth Full no matter what she wrote inside.
To that I would respond that I am not without my criticisms of this book. There’s an awkward sentence here and there. She has an overwhelming tendency to list things–at one point spending at least a page and a half going through the ingredients and foods one could encounter at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic (which Gail oversaw for a time).
But Gail IS a really fantastic storyteller, and that more than makes up for it in my opinion. Gail has a winning personality and it shines throughout her memoir. Yes, the listing offends the English major in me, but I can see that the reason she indulges
in it is that she has such a genuine fondness for it all. Even after all these years working in the culinary industry she is still in awe of it all. Those ingredients and flavors at the F&W Classic make her feel positively giddy. This is a woman who LOVES her job and the industry she works in, and that love is so palpable that the reader can’t help but fall under its spell.
I have a profound respect for anyone who pursues a career based on an all-consuming passion, and the story of how Gail found her way is fascinating. I also respect people who are willing to put in the work to make those dreams a reality, and Gail has done that. She wanted to write about food, so she knew she had to learn it inside and out. She went to culinary school and worked in some very prestigious kitchens (including Le Cirque). She worked with Jeffrey Steingarten (the venerable food writer for Vogue and author of the classic The Man Who Ate Everything) and Daniel Bouloud, eventually finding her way to Food & Wine and, in a nice twist of fate, Top Chef. Gail modestly attributes most of her success to luck–being in the right place at the right time–but the truth is that she let her passion lead her and she worked her butt off to get where she is.
Along the way we get enlightening glimpses into Gail’s life, the inner workings of restaurants, and behind the scenes information about how Top Chef is made. We hear her first-hand experience of how hard it is to be a female chef in an industry that is overwhelmingly male.
For a grittier look at the inner workings of a restaurant you can look to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (a fascinating read), but for a feel-good passion play about the funny things that can happen if you follow your heart (or stomach), Gail Simmons does not disappoint.