Meet & Eat: Gail Simmons

20080603-gailsimmons.jpgName: Gail Simmons
Location: New York City
Occupation: Special projects director, Food & Wine magazine, and judge on Bravo's Top Chef

Favorite comfort food? Matzo ball soup, chicken pot pie (I buy them from The Cleaver Co. in Chelsea Market and keep them in my freezer at the ready), anything mashed—potatoes, peas, plantains.

Guilty pleasures? Salt and vinegar chips, extra spicy buffalo wings, dark chocolate.

Describe your perfect meal. I am longing for summer so cannot help but dream of grilled lobsters with lots of lemon and butter, fresh corn on the cob, heirloom tomato salad and a mint-chocolate chip ice cream sandwich for dessert.

Food you won't eat? There is nothing I truly won't eat, but a few foods I prefer not to eat if given the choice. Veal is one of them. I will not refuse to eat it if someone cooks it for me but will never choose to buy or order it. It just does not appeal at all. And black beans. I have a strange aversion to them. A black bean soup made me sick once when I was younger. Oh, and I despise root beer. It makes my skin crawl.

Everyone has that one person they call when they need a restaurant recommendation. Who do you call? I have two go-to girls: Katherine Yang, one of my closest, most trusted friends, who has worked in various capacities for everyone from Rocco DiSpirito (back in his Union Pacific days) to Daniel Boulud, and, most recently, Thomas Keller. She is incredibly in the know on all things restaurant-related. And then of course I go to Kate Krader, Food & Wine's restaurant editor, the unofficial Restaurant Goddess of NYC.

And what's the best recommendation they've ever given you? In 2003, Katherine took me to Chicken Bone Cafe in Williamsburg. I remember thinking how new and exciting everything was that Zak Pelaccio was doing there with local producers and farmers. She also introduced me to Kee's Chocolates. Kee's crème brûlée bonbons are insane. Most recently she recommended Soba-ya on East 9th Street, my new favorite Japanese noodle shop.

What is your favorite meal of the day? Breakfast. Hands-down. No contest. On weekends, I eat it as often as possible at August in Manhattan's West Village. I am obsessed with the King Rarebit—a sauce of cheddar, mustard, and ale on toast with a fried egg on top, served with cornichons and a roasted tomato. I love it so much that my fiance had chef Tony Liu deliver it to me for breakfast in bed the day he proposed!

What's the best dish you make? I cook as often as I can, more than most New Yorkers, but that's not saying much. We just renovated our kitchen so I have not cooked in about four months and am excited to get back into it. Although I love summer food, I am really into braising at the moment. Brisket, lamb shanks, any kind of stew. I am Canadian, so have a penchant for cozy winter meals.

What would you like to try but haven't yet? Ortolan. Durian.

Most memorable New York City meal? Choosing one New York meal is like choosing my favorite child, I have had so many extraordinary experiences dining in this city. But the meal I go back to in my mind time and again is the first time I ever ate at Jean-Georges. I was working as a cook at Vong and the saucier took me there for lunch. We ate more than nine courses, and my head was spinning. It was a revelation. My most memorable New York meal in the last year was probably at Gilt. Chef Chris Lee is one seriously talented dude.

Best pizza in the city? For a slice, Famous Joe's. For a whole pie, La Pizza Fresca or Grimaldi's.

Favorite burger? You cannot deny Shake Shack. It is even good cold. P. J. Clarke's and BLT Burger are pretty tasty, too.

Favorite bagel? Murray's on Sixth Avenue. I also love their lentil soup.

Best late-night eats? Woogie's (for wings and cheesesteaks!), Second Avenue Deli, Veselka, The Spotted Pig.

Undiscovered gem? Kasadela, El Cocotero, Cafe Condesa, and Aki.

What is New York missing, foodwise? Strictly referring to Manhattan, I have always thought there is a serious lack of high-quality, affordable Greek, Lebanese, and Thai food. Also, some kernutzel would not hurt. Kernutzel are kosher beef salami sticks found in all Montreal Jewish delis. My favorite snack.

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