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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Chef Alex Guarnaschelli at Random House Open House

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

I have never watch Food Network's Chopped (I know, don't yell at me), but I have seen chef Alex Guarnaschelli on TV talking about her new cookbook, Old-School Comfort Food- The Way I Learned to Cook, and found her very interesting.

She made an appearance at Random House Open House last week, and her conversation with Huffington Post Food Editor Carey Polis was so enjoyable. Guarnaschelli has a deadpan, low key sense of humor and she had us all laughing with her funny asides. I liked her cool, biker-chick wardrobe too.

She wanted to write a book "that readers could cook from", using ingredients we all can find. Poking fun at crazy recipes that call for ".7 grams of leather extract", she asks "Where do I find that? Do I melt down a coat? Scrape a shoe?".  She said "you don't have to buy eye of newt to make my food".

Comfort food to her is food that you grow up eating. Her mom, a cookbook editor, made classic French recipes, and so Guarnaschelli says that she found it "interesting to redefine comfort food in my own way" in this book. She says she feels she "let down the mac and cheese set" as that recipe will not be found here. Some of her favorite recipes are for coffee cake, melon soup, arugula and strawberry salad.

One of her biggest take-aways is that "being a spectator to cooking before you cook is highly underrated." She learned a lot watching her mother cook, and says that much like learning how to play basketball, you first have to watch how it is done and practice before you start. I never thought about cooking that way, but it makes sense.

She talked a little bit about her process for appearing on Iron Chef. Before her appearances on the competition show, she practices "between 9- 23 recipes" in her head. She said everyone should have a repertoire of dishes you can make "no matter what." These should include "a cake, salad dressing and a basic sauce", things you can build upon. Her goal is to win Iron Chef, something that has eluded her thus far.

The discussion ended with a recitation of Guarnaschelli's favorite foods- "Oreos, Twizzlers, Bugles, Funyuns, Cool Ranch Doritos, Munchos, frozen yogurt with lots of fruit and chocolate, cinnamon donuts from the box with three kinds of donuts, unfrosted strawberry Pop-Tarts, Dr. Brown Black Cherry soda and Dr. Pepper, and bologna." No one saw that coming!

If Guarnaschelli decides to leave the chef world, she would make a terrific stand-up comic. She had a lot to say about her mother (whom she lovingly and laughingly compared to Darth Vader at one point) her dad ("the greatest guy in the world"), and her curious 5 1/2 year-old daughter. I picked up a copy of her cookbook and she graciously signed it for me. I'll have a review in a future post.

Me and Alex Guarnaschelli at Random House Open House

Alex Guarnaschelli's website is here.


  1. I can't tell you how much I wish I had been there to hear Alex talk. Lucky, lucky you!! I just love how you've described her attitude to food and cooking.

    I wonder if she's right about watching; I grew up watching three awesome cooks, who were amazingly comfortable in the kitchen and never had failures (my mom & 2 grandmothers). Maybe that's why my brothers and I love to cook and are so good at it.

  2. I would probably enjoy this-I do not think I have ever watched chopped. For as much as I like cooking it is all drama and a lot of vulgarity more than it is cooking on a lot of these shows.

  3. You always have the best adventures. Looking forward to your review of Alex's book. Don't worry, I've never seen "Chopped" either :). . .

  4. I wish I could have attended the Random House event this time, too... sounds just as wonderful as the December open house!

  5. You are able to see the most interesting people...so jealous!

  6. I would've loved to see this presentation. I've really enjoyed the shows I've seen Alex on, thought I have to admit I don't watched Chopped very often. I preferred her solo Food Network show. How wonderful that you got to see and meet her!

  7. She sounds like a lot of fun! The cinnamon donuts were always my favorite, too, but brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts are better than strawberry unfrosted, IMHO.