Colorado foodies have been fist pumping ever since the news broke in March: Bravo’s Top Chef is filming season 15 in the Centennial State. The episodes won’t air until fall, but shooting has been taking place for weeks now. And when Top Chef comes to town, so do the show’s popular judges, including the lovely Gail Simmons. Turns out that Simmons, who’s traveled all over the world (and hails from Canada), has never had a chance to spend time in Denver until now. En route to a mountain biking adventure with Frasca Food and Wine‘s master sommelier Bobby Stuckey (a former pro-cyclist), Simmons shared a little bit about her first true visit to the Mile High City.
“It’s interesting because I’ve spent so much time in the state of Colorado, specifically in Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic,” says Simmons. “I’ve flown through the Denver airport probably 57 times in my life and never had the opportunity to walk out the door and go into Denver proper. It’s been so great to finally have a chance.”
She hasn’t wasted any time. Simmons has been dining at local restaurants, drinking plenty of sour beer, and even channeling the Centennial State spirit by focusing the content of her behind-the-scenes, digital-only Top Chef series on more outdoorsy activities than in seasons past. “I’ve been hiking, zip lining, and fly fishing,” says Simmons, “and I’ve been to Red Rocks. Last week, my husband and daughter came out—I had three days off—and we went camping near Vail. But when I say camping, I should say glamping… I just don’t like that term!” Word choice aside, Simmons loved her time at Collective Retreats, calling it “one of the most beautiful, fun adventures we’d gone on in a long time.”
Simmons also managed to cross several local restaurants off the long list she keeps in her phone; she’s got a list for every city Top Chef has ever taped in. “I’ve had several amazing meals—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—at Mercantile,” says Simmons. “I’m so proud of Alex [Seidel], who was a Food & Wine Best New Chef [in 2010]. He’s done so well. Mercantile just hits the spot.” She also made it to Departure (chef Gregory Gourdet being an “ex-contestant”), Bar Dough for an “amazing” brunch, Stoic & Genuine, Hop Alley (twice!), and new sour/wild beer hall Goed Zuur (three times!).
Simmons can’t wait to continue exploring Colorado as the show moves to Telluride and Aspen—the Food & Wine Classic begins there on June 15. Her advice for Classic first-timers? Don’t let the weekend go by without attending seminars with wine guru Anthony Giglio and cheese expert (and part-time Aspen resident) Laura Werlin. (In fact, Werlin will be presenting with Bobby Stuckey on French cheeses and wines twice over the course of the festival; if you aren’t going, here’s a sneak peak at how Werlin and Stuckey suggest you picnic this summer.)
Speaking of picnics, that’s just what Simmons and Stuckey were planning to do after their biking excursion. “He’s going to look great and I’m going to make a fool of myself,” Simmons joked. Simmons’ first cookbook, Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating, goes on sale in October, so we asked her what she’d cook for Stuckey if Cured take-out wasn’t an option. “I’d make this really delicious cold soba noodle salad from the book with chicken, edamame, and a lime-soy vinaigrette; jerk shrimp rolls inspired by New England lobster rolls, time spent in Jamaica, and experimenting with jerk flavorings; a chopped summer salad with asparagus, tomatoes, freshly grilled corn, and a charred lime vinaigrette… and my blueberry lemonade bars, which are shortbread cookies topped with lots of berries, and you make a fresh lemon curd that bakes right into the bars. That would be a good finish.”
To drink? “I’d let Bobby pick the wine,” Simmons says. Smart woman.