Big Mistakes Top Chef Contestants Make, According To Gail Simmons - Exclusive

Gail Simmons knows a thing or 20 about how to succeed on "Top Chef." Serving as a judge for the show since Season 1, she's seen and, more importantly, tasted it all. During an exclusive interview with Mashed, Simmons offered up her expert advice for cheftestants hoping to make their way to the top.

If you've earned a spot on "Top Chef," you're obviously blessed with some serious culinary skills. But Simmons advised checking your ego at the door. "People come on the show and think it's going to be easy," she said. "It looks easier watching it than it is. And even when people say, 'Actually, it doesn't look that easy watching it,' well, it's that times 10."

Preparing for the grind is another aspect of competing that contestants often overlook. Last season featured 26 different challenges crammed into eight weeks of shooting (via Top Chef Stats). "It is so, so hard to get through the season," Simmons emphasized. "I mean, really it's a marathon, not a sprint. And so having the endurance to get through is the first thing without losing your mind."

Contestants will also need to calibrate the balance between self-preservation and being a team player. For multiple challenges, they will be obligated to work alongside their fellow contestants. Providing assistance to competitors while looking out for number one can be a tricky tightrope to walk. "That's where the tension lies in our show for the contestants," Simmons said. "At the end of the day, there's only one winner. So you have to be looking out for yourself at all times, but we throw them so many team challenges. And if you don't work as a team, if you don't think strategically and work with everyone else in that kitchen, you'll never make it through either."

Why authenticity is vital to succeeding on 'Top Chef'

Though it may sound like a cliché, not being yourself might be the biggest mistake you can make on "Top Chef." "Coming in with a preconceived notion of how you will appear on television, I think, is where a lot of our contestants get into trouble," Simmons said. "They're coming on with bravado and not being their authentic selves. And we all see through it. Our viewers see through it."

Being authentic is even more crucial when it comes to cooking. "The most successful fan favorites on our show have always been the chefs who cook from their heart," Simmons said. She acknowledged Season 18 finalists Shota Nakajima and Dawn Burrell and Season 11 runner-up Nina Compton as contestants who thrived when staying true to their roots.

But perhaps the best example of finding success following this edict is Melissa King, who came up short in Season 12 and returned to the show for "Top Chef: All-Stars L.A." with a completely different mindset.

According to Simmons, "Her story evolved before our eyes: in 'All-Stars,' her moments of inspiration, where she really married her childhood in California, her training in California cuisine with the food of her family, of Hong Kong and of China and her roots and her parents and that immigration story, her childhood memories." Simmons noted that King's trajectory exemplified an ideal that goes beyond "Top Chef." "That's how America got to where we were and why we are all able to eat a different dish every single day from a different place in the world and even have it be its own special thing in America. Because it's not exactly the way it would be in that home country. That is what makes America so magical."

Gail Simmons is currently a judge on "Top Chef Amateurs," which offers exceptional home cooks a taste of the groundbreaking cooking competition. Check out the season finale on September 2 on Bravo.