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5 Questions: 'Top Chef' judge Gail Simmons

May 12, 2012|By Jessica Pauline Ogilvie, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • "Top Chef" judge Gail Simmons runs and does SoulCycle to stay in shape.
"Top Chef" judge Gail Simmons runs and does SoulCycle to stay… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)

Being surrounded by delicious food all day sounds like a decent way to make a living. And according to Gail Simmons, a judge on Bravo's "Top Chef" and "Top Chef: Just Desserts," it is — but it requires some conscientiousness to not overindulge.

Simmons is also a director of special projects for Food & Wine magazine and recently released a memoir, "Talking With My Mouth Full." The 35-year-old culinary expert explained to us how she manages to stay healthy amid a sea of gourmet delights and with a very hectic schedule.

When you're busy working and traveling, how do you make sure you eat healthfully?

At the beginning of the week, I roast a ton of vegetables so I can use them for the next few days. I also plan out meals in advance.

When I'm cooking for myself, I find that I eat almost completely vegetarian, although I'm not vegetarian. So I make a lot of vegetable soups and stews, and a lot of whole grains like barley, quinoa and brown rice. I also make a lot of salads. A salad could be a million things — I try to use lots of different vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and seeds.

I'm tempted by everything. My husband makes fun of me because every day it's a new food that I love. I have a weakness for butterscotch pudding, ice cream in any flavor and dark chocolate, although that's one thing I do keep in my house — 70% dark chocolate. I just have a couple little squares during the day. Salt and vinegar chips are my one processed-food weakness — I try not to eat processed food, but it's not easy when you're on the go.

You're on the road a lot for work. How do you make time to exercise?

I wish I could say I was one of those people who loves working out, but I don't; it's just not that fun. But I make an effort to work out aggressively three times a week. I run a solid four to six miles at a time. And over the last year two years I've gotten really into SoulCycle. It's sort of an evolved form of spinning.

Because I travel so much, I bring my workout clothes and shoes wherever I go. That way I can always do some exercise.

Relaxation is just as important for good health as mindful eating and exercise. How do you unwind?

This is always difficult. Setting boundaries is something I'm really bad at. Sometimes saying no is the best thing I can do, because there will always be another party but there won't always be quality time for myself.

My husband and I have started to schedule downtime because otherwise I could work all the time. About two nights a week, I try to be home by 7 p.m., put my BlackBerry down and just have a night alone with my husband. We'll cook together and have quiet time lying on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and watching "Friday Night Lights" or "Game of Thrones."

In the beginning of your career, you worked at Vogue. Now that you're in the public eye, do you ever find yourself slipping into a mind-set of trying to meet unhealthful beauty standards?

I do and I don't. I'm a healthy weight for my height, and I like how I look on most days. There are few women in America that don't want to lose 5 pounds, but I refuse to let that thought dominate my life. And there are too many other real problems in the world — real obesity problems and real hunger problems — to worry that much about a few pounds that I'd like to lose.

You recently started hosting "Top Chef: Just Desserts." Has that made it more difficult than when you were just hosting "Top Chef"?

It has, and in ways I didn't anticipate. On "Top Chef" proper, we eat these big meals, but they're full meals. On "Top Chef: Just Desserts," if I relied on the food made on the show, all I would eat would be sugar and butter.

When we first started filming "Top Chef: Just Desserts," I would skip breakfast sometimes. But by at the time we were sitting down at the judges' table, I would crash; my eyes would roll back in my head, and I'd be starving. So I started pumping up my workout for the month or two leading up to filming the show, and I started really paying attention to breakfast. That way, if all else went south, at least I knew I got a healthy start.

health@latimes.com

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