Many people work hard at cultivating a down-to-earth TV persona. Alex Guarnaschelli simply is that way.
The Manhattan native, of Food Network’s “Chopped,” “Iron Chef America” and “Alex’s Day Off,” is devoid of airs. She’s making the rounds with her new cookbook, “Old School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook.”
At the time of this interview, she had just won “America’s Next Iron Chef,” and though seemingly preparing for it her whole life, she was stunned and thrilled.
Her mother is noted cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli, and the TV chef is a devoted cookbook reader. While some chefs pride themselves on creating on the spot, Guarnaschelli talks about studying her well-worn cookbooks.
Her notebook on French basics, she acknowledges, is smudged with egg yolk and flour. Guarnaschelli knew she wanted to be a chef since graduating from Barnard College with a degree in art history.
“I thought, I really love cooking and cookbooks, and I did a lot of college cooking,” she tells Zap2it. “I made a lot of lasagna. That’s quite an undertaking, lasagna, and making it for 20 hungry college students. And I saw how excited people were, and people would come over, and I realized, ‘Wow! This is serious.’ “
Her lack of pretension extends to food, and she doesn’t pooh-pooh convenience foods.
“I have made cakes from boxed mixes,” she says. “During the canned challenge on ‘Next Iron Chef,’ I said I like canned food. I just think there is nobility in a lot of different things. I love a green market vegetable like nobody else, and I grew up eating canned corn and seeing the nobility in a lot of ingredients.”
Still, there is one food she hates working with — pattypans.
“And I am afraid of cardamom because I have seen it from one sprinkle to the next, it goes from delicious to disaster,” she says. “And I don’t like cooking with pineapple.”
She does, though, love potatoes.
“I never get tired of them,” Guarnaschelli says. “I want to cook them all the time. I love sardines and anchovies a lot. And I like dairy, and I like making my own butter and my own ricotta.”
Already the executive chef at two Manhattan restaurants, Butter and The Darby, Guarnaschelli says she has goals: “to face all that I feel I need to learn and to grow more culinarily.”