Top Chef’s Gail Simmons on Supporting Asian Restaurants and Summer Cooking

Toronto-born food writer and Top Chef judge Gail Simmons recently got involved with #TakeOutHate, a social campaign to combat the discrimination facing minority-owned restaurants. We asked her about the campaign’s origins and what she stocks in her New York City pantry – including ingredients inspired by a trip to Japan last year.”
 

enRoute On top of the crisis all restaurants are facing, Asian restaurants are suffering from pandemic-driven discrimination. How did you get involved?
 

Gail Simmons I’ve spent the last few months watching my industry in turmoil. As someone who is a cheerleader for this community, I was outraged by the added layer of suffering that Asian restaurants are facing. It is within our ability to change this, and I felt lending my voice to the #TakeOutHate campaign was a way to help.
 

ER Where did the idea for #TakeOutHate come from?
 

GS #TakeOutHate came from a Japanese company called Ajinomoto that I’ve worked with over the last year. We produced a video featuring funny non-food people, including Margaret Cho, Harry Shum Jr. and Jenny Yang, putting a comedic but purposeful spin on how important it is to support Asian businesses. We must all actively play a role in fighting racism, and as a white person I’m very conscious of the privileged position I’m in.
 

ER How can we all help?
 

GS Get takeout from your local Asian restaurant. Buy a gift certificate. Make a donation to a restaurant relief fund. It isn’t only Asian restaurants, it’s all minority-owned, small-scale restaurants. All you have to do is order takeout to help them survive.
 

We also asked what summer looks like in Simmons’ home kitchen. Get inspired by the dishes, international ingredients and fresh, local foods in her New York City pantry – and her seasonal secret weapon.
 

ER What’s a pantry staple that elevates the everyday?
 

GS Furikake is a dried fish, seaweed and sesame spice mix and we go through it like crazy. We put it on popcorn, over avocado, on eggs, in rice – we make sushi handrolls and sprinkle it all over. My daughter is obsessed.
 

ER What food reminds you most of summer?
 

GS We are eating as many berries and stone fruits as we can. Cherries and strawberries and blueberries. Besides eating them fresh, if they’re starting to get soft we roast them; put them in the oven with a tiny bit of oil at 375°F for 15 minutes. It intensifies their flavour and transforms the fruit into a perfect topping for pancakes, yogurt and ice cream. We also make rhubarb pound cake and strawberry muffins. And peaches in a salad with cucumbers, mint, feta and fresh jalapenos is delicious.

June 9, 2020
Baskets and bins of fresh blueberries
   Photo: Kristaps Ungurs (Unsplash)

ER Do you have a summertime secret weapon?
 

GS Yuzu – the juice concentrate. We put that in salad dressings and in club soda for a refreshing drink. It’s also great with tequila and gin, of course.
 

ER Is there another staple ingredient you find yourself using a lot?
 

GS Tahini is a staple in my house and it’s so good in so many ways. We put it in salad dressing with a little lemon, salt and chili flakes, we bake with it – swirl it into brownies – or mix it with yogurt, drizzle it on greens, and it’s great over ice cream. It’s really rich and nutty so you don’t need a ton of it.
 

ER Favourite summertime vegetable?
 

GS I wait all year for corn. We eat it with everything, both savoury and sweet. We will eat it boiled on the cob or roast it or grill it. It’s so versatile: you can make Mexican street corn, slather it with miso butter, or take it off the cob and eat it raw in salads. We put the kernels in muffins and also make blueberry and corn pancakes. It’s great every way.

A row of corn on the cob grilling on the barbecue
   Photo: Sudharma Putra (Unsplash)

The Questionnaire

  • First travel memory My father is from South Africa and I remember our first of many family trips there. It took 25 hours to get there but a highlight was visiting the wine region with our cousins. We learned how to swish and spit, but I got drunk. I was five.

  • Last trip A day trip to Philadelphia the week before the shutdown.

  • Favourite souvenir An indigo-dyed kimono-style bathrobe from Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Texas.

  • Dream seatmate Michael Pollan.

  • Travel has the power to… Challenge your notions of the world and change your mind.
     

Gail Simmons’ book, Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating, is available wherever cookbooks are sold.

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