As a trained chef, Special Projects Director of Food & Wine Magazine, a judge on Top Chef (and Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels), host of the new show The Feed, overseer of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, board member of City Harvest and Hot Bread Kitchen, published author (if you haven’t read Talking With My Mouth Full you should) – Gail Simmons has a lot on her plate.

Add to the roster: mom to five month-old Dahlia Rae. But don’t tell her that “it’s going to get better” because she already loves every minute of it: “It’s such a special, cozy, crazy, amazing time. Of course I am exhausted, but I don’t feel like I am trying to just get through to the next stage.”

The new mom leaves her Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, neighborhood – where they moved a week before she gave birth – for Boston soon to shoot season 12 of Top Chef with Dahlia Rae in tow.

We caught up with her (in between pumping and meetings) about the challenges of nursing and one of her most embarrassing moments (yes, it involves breastmilk).

What’s In A Name?

Dahlia is my favorite flower – it symbolizes sunshine and comes in so many amazing colors. It was our wedding flower and it was on our invitation. Rae is to honor my husband’s Aunt Rena, who passed away two years ago. She was so encouraging and supportive in our lives, and we love and miss her so much.

 Lifesaving Products

We opened the Fisher-Price bouncy chair when she was a month old, and we couldn’t believe we hadn’t opened it sooner. It allowed us to eat dinner, for me to pump and go to the bathroom when I was home alone with her. Once she hit three months, she graduated to the Mamaroo, which we call the hovercraft. She’s really into it now.

 Part Of The Club

On Top Chef, I was the only one who didn’t have kids, so they’ve been a wealth of knowledge and help. Michelle Bernstein made me realize it’s okay to be back at work and to lose the guilt associated with it because it’s the quality of the time you spend with your kids, not the quantity.

 Deep Thoughts From Gail

How will she sleep comfortably unswaddled? How can I leave the house without 14 bags? How do I pump when I’m running around all day? These are questions I don’t know the answers to.


I was taping in front of a live studio audience and forgot to put nipple pads in my bra. They leaked right there. It was horrifying. You think you’re at least keeping it together on the outside. Of course I was wearing a beautiful silk dress. And in case you didn’t know, yes, milk stains. It was a low point.

Get In My Belly

After giving birth, you feel like you don’t know anything, including how to keep yourself fed. I have mastered the efficient grocery shop. Fresh Direct is tough for me because I like to physically walk the aisles and see my options. I went to Union Market and created a basic order with them. Sometimes I go and pick everything out and have them deliver it, others I just call and ask for my basics. I embrace anyone who delivers these days.

Flower Child

I love Honest diapers. Dahlia wears dahlias on her bottom – how cute is that?! Angela and Ethan Stowell [chef] gave me this amazing RoSK blanket that’s waterproof on one side, soft and fluffy on the other and it ties onto the stroller. It’s great for the park because you can put the waterproof side on the ground.

Neighborhood Nosh

We moved to Cobble Hill a week before I gave birth, so we’ve been getting to know the restaurants with baby in tow. We love Buttermilk Channel, Court Street Grocers, Nightingale 9, Red Gravy, Iris Cafe – they’re all so accommodating and kid-friendly. I spent a month in LA shooting and we frequented Cafe Gratitude, Alfred Coffee & Kitchen and lunch at Fred Segal.

Just Stop, Already

Everyone keeps saying, oh it’s going to get better, but we are actually loving the early days. She’s only four and a half months, and we are already reminiscing about things she “used to do”. It’s such a special, cozy, crazy, amazing time. Of course I am exhausted, but I don’t feel like I am trying to just get through to the next stage.

Give Yourself A Break

I think new moms feel out of control so they obsess about routine and schedules, but the truth is they are babies, and you have to give yourself a break. They are going to be fine if you can’t feed them every three hours to the minute. Babies are adaptable and every child is different – you can’t prescribe one schedule for all. It’s all going to be okay as long as they are fed, dry and loved.

First Foods

I hope to make Dahlia Rae’s food myself in the beginning. I can’t wait for her to try avocado, banana, mango, sweet potato, peaches, corn. There would be great irony if I spawned a very picky eater.

Three Hours Alone On A Saturday

Will that ever happen again? I’m getting a mani, pedi and a massage anywhere that will take me at a moment’s notice.

Mom Brain

Now I know why my mom sometimes can’t remember my name. Because she had three children. I barely know my own name some days, and I only have one. Sleep deprivation is rough.


Photo Credit: Melanie Dunea

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On Our Radar: February 26, 2015


Blowout Blocker & Soaker Stopper
WHO: Parents who have experienced one too many poopsplosions or urine-soaked baby in the morning.
WHAT: New contraptions contain the mess (one for up the back, one for the front) – preventing soiled clothes and sheets.
WHEN: How many more times do you want to cut a poop-soaked onesie off your child?


Toddler Puzzle Woozle
WHO: Parents of toddlers suffering from iPad guilt.
WHAT: Rated the #1 educational app for toddlers, this is one you’ll both be happy about.
WHEN: You need a break.

LilleBaby Carrier
WHO: Parents (or soon-to-be) in need of a baby carrier.
WHAT: Hailed as a brilliant cross between the BabyBjorn and Ergo, this carrier offers 6 different carrying positions. With no infant insert required, the weight range for this carrier is birth to 45lbs.
WHEN: Give it a try before deciding which one is right for you.

Ultra Violet Turbans
WHO: Stylish moms with baby or toddler girls.
WHAT: What’s cuter than a little girl in a chic turban? Only the fact that for every one purchased, another is given to a child fighting cancer.
WHEN: Before spring.

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saturdays Ling Chan
Lives: Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles
Husband screenwriter/director/actor John Gatins and their 3 kids – sons Finn (13) and Ty (11), daughter Pearl (8).
You might know: She is the founder and former owner of cute kids boutique La La Ling and is now the director of Corporate Option Group, an executive recruiting firm


Friday, 10pm:

Preparation is key to having a jam-packed day run smoothly, so the night before is spent making sure every soccer/dance/basketball bag is fully equipped and every birthday and bar mitzvah gift is wrapped – it’s the worst when a soccer bag is missing cleats or a ballet bag is missing tights and we either have to scramble back home or find the nearest store.


Everybody’s up! I take our two dogs – Farley, a two-year-old Pug, and Biggie, a fourteen-year-old Japanese Chin – for a walk.


I’m back and the kids are all dressed and starved. We pile in our giant Escalade, just like in Entourage, and head to breakfast at Charlie’s Pantry at the Beverly Glen Center. Finn loves Charlie’s Eggs Benedict, Pearl gets a waffle with a side of bacon, Ty gets a breakfast croissant sandwich, John gets a breakfast burrito, and I love their wild mushroom omelet with gouda and avocado – all accompanied by fresh squeezed juices.



We divide and conquer starting now. I take Pearl to ballet and jazz at Los Angeles Ballet School; John drops Finn at club soccer practice and then takes Ty to his basketball game at Beverly Hills High. After I get Pearl settled at ballet, I meet John at Ty’s basketball game to cheer and shriek loudly and embarrassingly for 60 minutes. When it’s over, we scoop up Finn from practice and Pearl from dance class.


Time for lunch! The kids love sandwiches from Brooklyn Water Bagels (owned by Larry King) – the bagels are rumored to be made with water shipped in from New York which somehow gives the Brooklyn moniker some legitimacy. I usually pick up a salad trio from Momed – their hummus and Momo chips are to-die-for.


Dessert at Ice Cream Lab, where each cone is made with nitrogen right in front of you, like a chemistry project. They have awesome mixes of flavors, my favorite being Salt Lick Crunch, a caramel mix that’s divine; the kids love Blue Velvet.


Pearl usually has a birthday party, and her favorite ones lately are at Duff’s Cakemix, a DIY cake-decorating studio. The kids pick a cake flavor, don an apron, and go to town decorating with frostings, sprinkles, toppings, and fondant. They pretend they’re on Cake Boss, and their creations are unbelievably creative and yummy!


The boys meet friends at Tempest Freerunning Academy, a parkour gym filled with graffitied walls, foam pits, ramps, and swinging bars where they run around jumping, flipping, and getting their ya-yas out, training to one day be on the game show American Ninja Warrior.


Every Saturday night is a mix of the kids either hosting or attending sleepovers, and Finn is on the bar mitzvah circuit. For whoever is home, it’s quick and easy to have a taco bar of tortillas, ground beef, cheese, guacamole, salsa, and various toppings – they love it.


While they’re eating, the sitter or Grandpa (aka Gong Gong) arrives, and I jump in the shower to get ready to head out for a late dinner with friends.


Finn is showered and dressed in his Appaman suit, Paul Smith tie, and Air Jordans ready to party at a bar or bat mitzvah – they are like premieres or weddings at fancy hotels or country sclubs with hundreds of guests and non-stop fun with DJs, games, great food, and amazing swag. This happens every Saturday night, so we carpool. I’m a night owl, so I always choose the late-night pick up – we go to dinner and then swing by to scoop Finn and his friends up afterwards.


Dinner with friends at the Chateau Marmont – we love sitting out in the garden. Our best friend Phil is the GM and has been running the hotel for the last 12 years. I love the grilled artichoke to start and their flank steak or spaghetti bolognese for dinner, but the best part is the people-watching: There’s always a great mix of fashion, music, and literary people there – not cheesy Hollywood folks.


We pick up Finn and his buddies from the bar mitzvah, and take them all home.


The day is done.

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Reese Witherspoon

Fun fact: I grew up with Reese Witherspoon. We met on the first day of high school and were attached at the hip for the next four years.

We were football cheerleaders, avid concert-goers (I’ve got to let you know, I’ve got to let you know… you’re one of my kiiind), mallrats, huge Doors fans (i.e. saw the movie three times in the theater and had Jim Morrison posters on our walls), and Type-A honor roll students – work hard, play hard.

So it’s no surprise to me that her story includes an Oscar win, three beautiful kids – Ava (15), Deacon (11), and Tennessee (2) – and a Hollywood career that’s the stuff of dreams.

But there’s a lot more to Reese than red carpets. When she couldn’t find strong roles for women, she went and started a production company to produce just that (i.e. Wild and Gone Girl, with many more in the works). She’s launching her own lifestyle brand this spring, Draper James, that’s an ode to her Southern roots. And ask any of her friends – they’ll tell you she gives excellent parenting advice that she just picked up from, oh you know, Nelson Mandela (!!).

Read on for all of that and more from my kind, hilarious, super-smart, beautiful, and talented friend Reese Witherspoon.


Baby Joy

When I found out I was pregnant with a third baby, I really had no idea how the older kids would feel about a new little person, particularly because of the age gap, but the older kids have been so helpful with Tennessee. They love to get him out of his crib and play with him. He makes us all laugh and sometimes starts family dance parties that would normally never happen. He brings out the best in all of us.

Food for Thought

The first few months with a baby are so disorienting. I felt like my brain was scrambled eggs, and I think it is, understandably, hard to get dressed or even get out of the house – you have to go easy on yourself. Having prepared foods in the fridge and freezer was essential because thinking about cooking made me want to cry.

Bouncing Back

I love the Belly Bandit. I swear it made my back hurt less and helped my abdomen get back to its regular shape. Those ab muscles are nonexistent after birth, and it provides support while you get your body back to working order.

Her New Baby

I’m launching an online business called Draper James in May. I love all the Southern traditions that I grew up with. My grandmother instilled in me a love for dressing up and hosting family. She surrounded herself with colorful flowers and beautiful things. I wanted to bring all these ideas to a retail experience – it’s my way of giving back to the place I love the most. We will sell products made in the South by local artisans who are sharing their own traditions (think looming blankets, casting silver, and denim). I can’t wait for people to see it because I have had so much fun working on it!

Organized Chaos

It is hard to manage everything. I have a great assistant Rachel, and a nanny, Rachel (I know, it’s confusing!) who keep me organized. I keep my schedule and the kids’ schedules (in a different color, of course) on my iPhone, so I know what is going on at all times.

Good Kids

I try to raise grounded kids. We say grace at dinner every night, reminding us how blessed we are. I truly believe the antidote to self-obsession is service to others, so I take the kids to help at food banks and visit veterans at the VA.

Good Parents

No one feels 100% confident as a parent. We are all just trying our best. As long as you are always trying to be better at it – reading parenting blogs in the bath, swapping stories with other moms during a yoga class, googling how to talk about puberty with your preteen – you are doing a good job.

The Doubt

I constantly question myself: Have I exposed them to the right amount of culture (no), do I spend enough time with each of them as individuals (probably not), do I have the right amount of work/family balance (who knows!). I’m trying!


Take one nice picture of the kids every year. It’s important that they feel loved, cherished, and remembered for each year of their lives. Plus, it’s a great tradition for them to have with their own families one day too.

Good Advice

I had a brilliant coach in my life who once told me that the things parents say to their kids is written in their minds with a Sharpie. In other words, your words stay forever – if you tell them they’re fat and lazy, they will always feel fat and lazy. If you tell them they’re going to be great human beings that will bring good into the world, they will. That really stuck with me.

Once In A Lifetime Moment

I will never forget meeting Nelson Mandela. Ava was 18 months old and while she sat on his lap, I asked him, “What did your mother say to you when you were a little boy?” And he said, “Every night, before I went to bed, she told me I was going to be a wonderful person when I grew up.” Your words are powerful and formative, so be gentle with your kids and talk to them with kindness and respect.

On The Go, Go, Go

We travel a lot, and it can be hard for the kids with school. I want them to have stability, so often I’m flying two or three times a week to make sure I don’t miss important concerts or birthdays. The flip side is my kids are incredible travelers and they have lived all over the world. I am so proud of the way they acclimate to new environments and are genuinely curious about other people’s lives – those are great skills to have in life.

Sundays, I’m In Love

I love Sundays. We go to church, brunch, and then just relax at home. We watch TV, play outside, and I attempt to cook dinner or bake something. Its all very relaxing and it reminds me how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family.

Alone Time

I love to go to a movie by myself. Sitting in a dark theatre, getting swept up in a story or laughing at actors I love – it’s nice to just forget about phones, computers, all the business of life, and just be alone for a minute.

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