7 Questions with Alex Guarnaschelli
7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.
Alex Guarnaschelli has long been a familiar face on the Food Network be it in her popular cooking shows The Cooking Loft and Alex’s Day Off or as a guest judge of Iron Chef America or Chopped and soon as a contestant on Next Iron Chef 4. She has been a polarizing figure to say the least. It seems she is as beloved as she is disliked. With Chopped: All Stars set to premiere in a few days perhaps we should get to know Chef Alex a little better.
After graduating from Barnard College in 1991, Guarnaschelli embarked on a lifelong culinary adventure beginning with a little time under the wing of the godfather of American cuisine, Larry Forgione. If the name sounds familiar it should as Larry is the father of the newest Iron Chef Marc Forgione.
With the elder Forgione’s blessing Guarnaschelli took her studies overseas where she matriculated at La Varenne Culinary School in Burgundy. From Burgundy she traveled France until landing in Paris for a four day study with famed French chef Guy Savoy. Four years later she was still with Savoy as sous chef at one of his properties, La Butte Chaillot. She would stay three more years before returning to America to work with the legendary Daniel Boulud at Daniel.
After moving up to sous chef with Boulud she then moved to the West Coast to work with Joachim Splichal’s Patina. In 2003 she returned to New York to become the executive chef at Butter. Since then she has made her reputation in the kitchen, as an instructor and even as a challenger on Iron Chef America before her keen palate was tapped as a judge both on ICA and Chopped.
In a fierce five-part tournament, 16 all star chefs battle head-to-head to win the crown as the champion of Chopped All Stars. Competing in this battle royal are NFNS alums Brad Sorenson, Debbie Lee, Lisa Garza and Michael Proietti, as well as Anne Burrell, Geoffrey Zakarian, Claire Robinson, Duff Goldman, Robert Irvine, Beau MacMillan, Jacques Torres, Nate Appleman and former NIC contestants Anita Lo, Aarón Sánchez, Maneet Chauhan and Amanda Freitag.
Whenever discussions of culinary cuties ensue I am always aghast that Guarnaschelli’s name does not immediately come up. She is clearly a beautiful woman but her descriptions of food are so sensual I swear they make me blush. When it comes to making food sexy she takes a back seat to no one.
Chef Alex will be a judge for this first of it’s kind event but first she answers 7 Questions.
It’s a week of all stars for charity where all the different celebrity chefs are competing for charities of their choice and the grand prize is a $50,000 donation to the winning chef’s charity. It’s certainly very dramatic.
A little about you, Alex, how would you best describe your style of cooking?
I would say that I’m in touch with the American classics. My parents were avid cooks when I was growing up; still are. It was a lot of the French-American, French techniques and American ingredients ranging from Oysters Rockefeller and Lobster Newburg definitely is a big part of my style of cooking. I love the green market mentality. Some one once said to me that’s not a cooking style it’s a shopping philosophy which I thought was a very interesting way of putting it. So I guess I would say French-American with seasonality being one of my favorite things.
Which chefs have influenced you along the way?
Many but probably the most influential definitely is Guy Savoy in Paris. He was definitely a big inspiration, still is, to me. Certainly Daniel Boulud is another big influence and inspiration. You know you have mentors of many kinds when you’re a chef. And certainly another big mentor to me is Bobby Flay who has just been very supportive of me and really helped me find my own voice as a chef on television as well as, you know, a cooking style. I think that’s certainly important to me too.
How important do you think improvisational skills are to being a chef especially in a setting like Chopped All Stars?
When you say improvisation to me it makes me think of many other words like solutions. As in somebody who can handle any crisis. You know like when somebody doesn’t show up to work at the restaurant or the grease trap explodes on a Friday night or you have to put together a dish from a basket of ingredients in 20 minutes flat. It’s all sort of that same idea of improvisation. So I think thinking quickly on your feet is critical. Which is why I think Chopped is such a natural extension of being a chef, being a cook. Only now you’re being filmed and all of America is watching you.
What was the experience of being a judge for Chopped All Stars like?
Yeah, it was amazing. Think about it. Just think about that list of names. Can you imagine? It was incredible. It was like watching the Super Bowl.
How would you describe the atmosphere in the Chopped kitchen?
The show is such a power, such a house of cards all the time. Sometimes I like to think there’s a little mystery on the ground floor of the house you know with the basics.
How do you balance being a judge while also being a colleague with the other chefs?
We’re all professionals. We all work together. We’re all sort of similar in that all of us are sometimes the competitors and all of us are sometimes the judges. And I think that playing that game of musical chairs as professionals you definitely have a tacit understanding of what that’s going to entail ahead of time. So it wasn’t really an issue. I don’t think any of us would have allowed it to be. It’s for charity.
Chopped All Stars premieres March 6th at 9PM ET on Food Network.