Top Chef’s Gail Simmons on When to Buy Organic, Best Kitchen Gadgets

Top Chef judge Gail Simmons
Top Chef judge Gail Simmons says shopping local is often more important than shopping organic. Read on for more of the culinary expert's ideas for the perfect summer menu and kitchen gadgets.  Mireya Acierto/Getty Images for Pure Leaf Iced Tea

When Gail Simmons goes grocery shopping, the Top Chef judge doesn't always make a beeline for the organic foods section. Instead, Simmons pays more attention to food labels when whipping up her latest dish. "There are definitely certain fruits and vegetables that I believe in buying organic, but more important than organic to me is buying local," Simmons tells Us Weekly.

A strong advocate for farmers' markets and shopping seasonally, New York City-based Simmons has partnered with Wholesome Wave and Pure Leaf Iced Tea in an effort to increase awareness about choosing local ingredients.

"Strawberries and apples are worth buying organic when you can, but local is often just as good as organic," explains Simmons, whose Pure Leaf partnership encourages social media users to include the hashtag #LoveOfLeaves in their posts to donate $1 to Wholesome Wave's cause. "My non-scientific rule is that when you're eating the skin of something, I like to buy organic, so you know there aren't pesticides. If you're peeling it, it's usually less detrimental."

With temperatures on the rise, Simmons — mom to 5-month-old Dahlia — prefers to stay out of the kitchen and swap the hot stove for a grill. "I will roast or grill any vegetable," the culinary expert tells Us. "I love to grill summer squash with some salt, pepper flakes and maybe chili powder for a really easy dish. I also love grilling stone fruit as it comes into season: Apricots, plums, peaches. I'm a really big fan of making fresh summer salads and simple grilled food and doing the least possible to it."

To make her summer cooking easier, Simmons relies on three key kitchen gadgets: A fish spatula, citrus juicer and mortar and pestle. "My citrus juicer is the gadget that gets the most use in my house, but a flexible fish spatula is great for the grill. An old-fashioned mortar and pestle makes it really easy to make your own sauce, like chimichurri that goes well with grilled steak, or a spice rub," Simmons shares.

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