Perhaps you’ve been watching the current season of Top Chef, which was filmed in Colorado this past spring. Of course, Gail Simmons, the show’s ever-delightful judge and Food & Wine special projects director, has been. “Once the show is edited and put together,” says Simmons, “my memory of everything comes flooding back as I watch the episodes. It’s a really strong cast [this season], I think. And the food was amazing.”
In a table-turning twist, you can now take a turn judging Simmons on her cooking. Well, her recipes, anyway, which will be featured at a dinner, hosted by Simmons, at Frasca Food and Wine on Thursday, January 25.
Simmons based the menu for the event on her newly published cookbook, Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating. She worked with Frasca’s chef-owner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and chef de cuisine Kodi Simkins to choose the recipes. “The thing about translating a book like mine is that it’s really a home cook book,” says Simmons. “We wanted [the menu] to feel seasonal and like it had some place and purpose in Colorado.” She also gave Simkins free reign to “evolve and Frasca-up” her recipes to fit the restaurant’s elegant atmosphere.
The meal will be a reflection of Simmons’ book, in which she shares her best recipes and food experiences from a lifetime of cooking and eating with acclaimed chefs. “It will start with a few beautiful appetizers, including one that’s Middle Eastern, actually,” says Simmons, referring to a starter of crispy chickpeas with pistachio dukkah. (Simmons first tasted dukkah, an Egyptian blend of nuts and spices, when she was 18 years old and spent a week there following a summer at an Israeli kibbutz.) There will also be muhammara, a tangy, rich Syrian red pepper-pomegranate-walnut dip.
“Then we’ll have a hearty, warm grilled radicchio salad with lentils,” Simmons says, “which is one of my favorite recipes from the book because it’s just so versatile.” Next, a decadent orecchiette pasta with swiss chard and Burrata.
“The main course is a lamb dish that’s very personal for me,” Simmons says. We’ll let her share the tale:
I lived in Spain during college, and about nine years ago, my husband and I went back with my in-laws for their 40th wedding anniversary. (That shows you how close I am to my in-laws, that I could take a 10-day trip with them. They’re amazing people in general but they’re great eaters and drinkers, and they hadn’t been back since their honeymoon when Franco was in power!) We went into the Rioja wine region and were taking a tour at a famous vineyard called Bodegas Muga. The brothers who own it asked us to stay for lunch. As we were walking to lunch, we passed this open parrilla [a Spanish-style grill] and a cook was fueling the fire with vine clippings. I loved that idea, and then we were served these incredible lamb chops that were so smoky and beautiful. The memory of that dish never left my mind. In the book, I wrote a recipe that was an ode to that memory. I can’t use vine clippings at home, of course, so instead I make grilled lamb with roasted grapes; I baste the grapes in olive oil and salt, dredge them with thyme stems, and roast them on high heat. I serve it with lemon, and a smoked paprika honey that’s really satisfying.
The sweet finale will be Canada-born Simmons’ “favorite dessert of all time,” a Québécois maple-pear pudding cake (pouding chômeur). “It’s a dish I’ve never seen in America,” Simmons says. (We predict it’ll trend in 2018.)
Can’t make it to the dinner? You can watch Simmons and the rest of the Top Chef team in the anticipated “Restaurant Wars” episode, during which the eight remaining contestants design and open a restaurant that impresses the judges. “I love that I’ll be in Denver for [that episode],” Simmons says, musing on the coincidental timing. “The good news… is that the restaurant I’m cooking in has already been proven; it’s not opening night.”
Bonus: If you can’t make it to the dinner at Frasca, there’s still a way to meet Simmons, taste her cooking, and get a copy of her cookbook signed: Head to the Cherry Creek Le Creuset store on Saturday, January 27, and hang out with her as she demonstrates how to make a Moroccan chickpea-lentil soup.
Thursday, January 25 (reservations begin at 5 p.m.): Frasca Food and Wine, 1738 Pearl St., Boulder; $160 per person includes five-course menu, wine pairings, and signed copy of Bringing It Home (does not include tax and gratuity); to book your seat, please visit Tock or call 303-442-6966.
Saturday, January 27 (1 p.m.): Le Creuset, 158 Fillmore St., Suite 110