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My Life as a Professional Eater

by Gail Simmons

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4013-2450-6
Publisher: Hyperion

From the popular judge and host of Top Chef, a memoir of a life devoted to the romance of food and the business of restaurants.

To her credit, Simmons notes that she has led a fortunate life, in which her career “coincided, serendipitously, with a widespread boom in enthusiasm about the culinary world.” The author grew up as the child of South African and Canadian Jewish parents in Montreal, circumstances which instilled in her a cultural curiosity and desire to travel. Uncertain how to build a career as a food writer, Simmons began with local lifestyle magazines, and soon moved to New York, where she took the unusual step of attending cooking school, then worked briefly on the lines at renowned restaurants Le Cirque 2000 and Vong (which gave her authority later in the media world). She received fortuitous boosts from luminaries like Daniel Boulud and Jeffrey Steingarten, culminating in positions at Food & Wine, which led to her selection by Bravo for Top Chef. The show quickly became popular, as did the spin-off Just Desserts, which she hosts (an experience she describes as surprising in its challenges and 14-hour days). Simmons describes the shows in terms that are specific about the complexities and stress of their production, but not hugely revelatory otherwise—e.g., “On Top Chef, we typically only see chefs on their best behavior.” Although each chapter opens with an evocative description of food or a meal, her writing is straightforward and relaxed. Many famous chefs make appearances, but readers looking for dirt or sensuous flights of foodie detail will be disappointed, and the chapters that focus on Simmons recent personal life are less engaging. The book is most appealing as a professional overview of the dining industry’s explosive growth and public profile during the last decade, even during the recession.

Some readers may wish the prose had a little more grit or character, but the book will surely appeal to Simmons’ many fans.