If you're a Food Network fan, it's nearly impossible to miss Alex Guarnaschelli. Executive chef at Butter and The Darby in New York City, she's also been a judge on the network's landmark cooking competition Chopped since its inception, and has her own show, Alex's Day Off.
Many were introduced to Alex when she went after the Iron Chef title in 2011 in The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs, advancing to the final three.
The latest iteration of The Next Iron Chef brought back only contestants who had previously competed for the title and were clearly seeking what defined the show: Redemption.
Guarnaschelli graciously made time for TV Fanatic last week, and we got to ask her about TNIC: Redemption, her family and what she really loves to cook...
One thing is certainly clear: grace and honor is what you get with Alex Guarnaschelli. When we asked her about seeing that curtain drop, and her own face behind it, she spoke first of competitor Amanda Freitag and the show's host, Alton Brown.
"I don't think either of us knew who won. You have to remember that we don't see each other's food, and we are not present when we're judged ... if you look at both our faces, and even Alton's, you can see that all three of us are thinking, My God, what's behind the curtain?"
Imagine winning a prize you've worked more than a decade for, and then imagine having to keep it a secret from your whole family.
"I told my parents, I'm not gonna lie. But that's as far as it went. It wasn't difficult to keep it a secret because I think that that's part of it ... I think, what if you watched and you knew? It's not the same at all, and I thought ... that was the last challenge, respecting the process," said Guarnaschelli.
While every moment on Iron Chef is thrilling, we wanted to get to know Guarnaschelli better. We asked her about her cooking style, her interactions with fans on Twitter, and her love of cooking with her mom. Read on for excerpts from the full interview:
TVF: You were born to Italian cuisine, but "raised" in French cuisine - does one style tend to win in a gut reaction to creating a recipe?
AG: You're gonna go to the same place in your head, whatever that is, when you're making food. Stylistically, where you live - I'd say I'm probably more passionate about Italian food when all is said and done, but I love both French and Italian. Technically speaking, I definitely go to French. A technical trip to France, and a spiritual trip to Italy, and France wins.
TVF: When you tweet about food that you're craving, it kills us. (Follow Alex on twitter at @guarnaschelli.) Has any of the interaction with your fans led to a recipe idea or thinking about an ingredient in a new way?
AG: I would say it's the other way around. Twitter is the expression of what I'm thinking about. Cooking with cooks in my kitchen, and going to the market, or eating out somewhere, those serve as the foundation for my restaurant‚ but I certainly love hearing what people are thinking about and eating, it's inspiring too.
TVF: Are there ingredients or a certain recipe that still challenge you to this day? (This interviewer then admitted to her own pie crust curse.)
AG: There is not one that doesn't. I feel challenged by everything. I find food a constant challenge. You know, I can make something perfectly on Tuesday and then make it again on Friday and have it be awful. I think part of it is feeling like you can master consistency of anything that you do.
TVF: We think it's safe to say that a lot of your passion around food came from your mom [Maria Guarnaschelli, an esteemed cookbook editor.] Do you have a favorite food memory with her?
AG: There's a James Beard book called "Beard on Bread", and my mother would bake a lot from that book. So bread was something that we made a lot. And I think that's my first time really thinking "this is really fun." She'd have me knead the bread for 10 to 15 minutes, you know, and that connection with the simple dough, a few ingredients, and watching it transform into something completely delicious. [It's] probably my earliest, and my favorite food memory.
Finally, we asked Alex about her go-to meal; that meal that's like pulling on your favorite slippers at the end of the day... pure comfort. Her reply?
"Roast chicken with the vegetables underneath it so that all of the drippings and everything fall on the vegetables. It's a one-pot meal, and it never disappoints."
Sounds perfectly delectable to us.
You can catch Alex Guarnaschelli on the Food Network cooking up a storm as both an Iron Chef and on Alex's Day Off, and as a judge on Chopped. She also teaches viewers through hands-on experience on The Cooking Channel's The Cooking Loft. Make sure to pick up a copy of Alex Guarnaschelli's new cookbook, "Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook," this April.