Meet & Eat: Food Network Chef Alex Guarnaschelli
"It's like I'm on a constantly spinning merry-go-round and every day I'm wondering when it will stop so I can get off."
Before she was a Food Network star appearing on three shows (Chopped, Alex's Day Off, and The Cooking Loft), Alex Guarnaschelli was an incredibly hard working chef who spent seven years working at some of the most prestigious restaurants in France, including a four year stint at Michelin three-star restaurant Guy Savoy.
Once back in the States, Guarnaschelli worked from coast to coast, from Patina Restaurant in West Hollywood to Daniel in Manhattan, where she now lives. Now settled with her husband and young daughter, the pace of Guarnaschelli's career has yet to slow down. Along with her many Food Network duties, the Manhattanite is also the executive chef at Butter Restaurant and the newly opened supper club The Darby.
While preparing for a long day of work and trying to console her young daughter over the loss of her favorite sweater, Guarnaschelli spoke to us about her parents' influences, the airing of Chopped All-Stars on March 6, and her sometimes risque style.
On Alex's Day Off you often reference your parents and their love of food and cooking. Do you think you would have become a chef without their influence? I think I would have found my way to food, but I don't think I would have become a chef. I probably would have become a marine biologist who cooks a lot.
Of all the chefs on television, you seem like the most down-to-earth. Are you comfortable with being called a celebrity chef? I'm not comfortable with the title and it definitely wasn't my intention when starting out in this industry. I'm interested in food and sharing my passion with a community of like-minded people. All of the celebrity stuff that comes along with that is just an incidental byproduct of being able to do what I love for a living. It's all still very surreal to me and sort of ridiculous. If I see myself on television I have to change the channel. I think, What are you doing? What are you wearing? Seriously, what were you talking about?
How are you balancing life with all your shows and restaurants? Poorly, that's the short answer. There's not enough time in each day to really focus enough attention on any one thing, but I'm doing my best. I have a great group of people who support me and I don't sleep a lot. It's like I'm on a constantly spinning merry-go-round and every day I'm wondering when it will stop so I can get off. I love what I do, so that helps a lot.
As your career has progressed, do you think your style of cooking or focus in the kitchen has changed at all? I feel like I know a lot more about food now. I like to eat and cook and my food is now a lot less about indulging the 'cheffy' aspects of my personality. When we talk about chefs we often talk about their love of food or their passion for it, but cooking is also about making a living; it's a job. People in professional kitchens may love what they do, but sometimes it's just something that puts food on the table.
After having my daughter I understood being pressed for time and having to feed your family. I think you'll see that change on Alex's Day Off. The food is easier and more accessible. I'm focusing more on home cooking. My daughter eats anything and everything; it's like the Omnivore's Dilemma being played out in my house every day.
As a judge on Chopped All-Stars, was is difficult judging your Food Network peers? Definitely. I always want to make all of the contestants feel honored and respected and that was especially true with the All-Star chefs. It adds more complexity and a new dimension to the show.
You've become known for your farmers' market-inspired menus*, but what are your guilty pleasures? When I was living in Los Angeles I lived next to an alley across the street from Pink's and the hot dog smells were constantly funneling into my living room. It was difficult not to eat there every day. I also love In-N-Out and Doritos.
* [Ed. note: Check out our short documentary Save the Honeybees where Alex makes a little cameo while shopping at the Union Square Green Market!]
I don't know if you know this, but quite a few blogs have been devoted to your sensual descriptions of food. Do you think food can be sexy? I absolutely believe that food can be sexy. I love food, I think about it all the time. I could write a bodice ripper about food I love it so much.