"We'll all be in walkers, but we'll do it!" the culinary expert and reality TV judge says.
'Top Chef' judge Gail Simmons
'Top Chef' judge Gail Simmons
| Credit: Stephanie Diani/Bravo

"It's going great," Gail Simmons tells EW on a sunny British day in August. "I mean, here we are! We're in London, we did it!"

Specifically, Simmons is at Alexandra Palace, a large Victorian-era entertainment venue in north London, which on this day is hosting the second episode of Top Chef season 20. For this milestone season (premiering March 9 on Bravo), the producers have not only sent Simmons and fellow judges Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio to London, they've also recruited winners and finalists from previous seasons of both the American version of Top Chef and its international iterations to compete.

Simmons says she was thrilled to discover that season 20 was to be based in the British capital.

"I've been here many times over the years," she explains. "My father went to business school here in the '60s, we would come come back all the time because he had so many good friends and family. I came when I was a child many times, and then I've been here several times as an adult. I brought my daughter here a few years ago for Christmas. London is such a perfect international city, but also easy enough for us to navigate from a production standpoint. It feels great."

Below, Simmons tells us more about the upcoming season, "happy Tom vs. grumpy Tom," and the future of the show.

Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons on 'Top Chef' season 20
Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons on 'Top Chef' season 20
| Credit: David Moir/Bravo

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What difference does it make that this season's contestants are winners and finalists from all over the world?

GAIL SIMMONS: It's huge. I think the fact that we're coming into a season with only winners and finalists just ups the ante for everyone. It means that we know they're all at a standard, at a level, where they had to make it this far. It also means that they know the competition, even if their country's version is slightly different, because every country's version of Top Chef has slightly different rules, slightly different variations, and they do it their own way, but at least we know they've been through a rigorous professional competition in front of a national audience. It also means that they're representing their country, so there's even more in it for them than wanting to win it for their own personal sake and for the sake of their own restaurants. I think that that will be really huge for them as we move through the competition, and be really motivating.

What has the standard been like so far?

They've only cooked three times, but so far, amazing. The sign of a good competition is when Tom is really happy at the end of the day. Because if we get happy Tom vs. grumpy Tom, then everything goes well! And so far he's been really happy, and I have too. The food's been beautiful and interesting and creative, and just what we would expect. They're cooking at a high level, and they're showing us who they are and cooking from their backgrounds, and everyone cooks differently, and that's what makes the show so great. It makes our job harder!

London itself has become a real culinary center over the past couple of decades.

No question. That's what I'm most excited about, is my days off, really! So I can explore the city, and the markets, and the restaurants, and traditional British food, which I'm sure we'll also get plenty of on the show. But the global influence on London [over] the last couple of years, it's just exploded, and I feel like there's so much here to explore. I'm very excited. It's just nice to be in a city like this for a long period. We're not feeling the pressure to eat three of the best meals and leave; we really get to hang out, our families are here, and we get to live like a local for little bit.

This is the show's 20th season. Will there be 20 more, do you think?

God willing. We'll all be in walkers, but we'll do it happily! You know, who knows. I don't know if there'll be 20, but I clearly remember on season 4 not believing that we were going to do a season 5. So I remain positive, and every year is a thrill and an honor. 

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