Buttering Up the Executive Chef
The daughter of esteemed cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli, chef Alex Guarnaschelli spent her childhood around food, expanding her palate by dining in accordance to whatever book her mother was working on at the time. Be it classic Indian or more kid-friendly Italian, she was being shaped by food and decided it was something she too wanted to explore professionally.
After years spent in the top restaurants in France, Guarnaschelli returned to the States with her connection to the cuisine intact and joined the renowned Daniel Boulud at Daniel working her way up to sous chef. Then after two years spent in Los Angeles she made her return to New York, and in 2003 became the executive chef at Butter Restaurant. Here she has created her own eclectic menu of green- market-inspired American dishes.
The chef and TV personality known for Chopped, Iron Chef America, and All- Star Academy chatted with NYC Monthly about comedy in the kitchen, discussed the first recipe she made in a professional kitchen, and offered advice for at-home cooks.
Growing up, was there a food you despised eating but now you love?
Anchovies and capers. Couldn’t stand the sight of the jars on the counter. My mom would make Caesar dressing and I would run for the hills. Now, I find that using them both as sources of salt and a wonderful hint of seafood enhances so many of my dishes.
When you were first starting out, what dish did you commit to perfecting that’s still on your menu in some capacity?
Parker House rolls. They were the first recipe I made in a professional kitchen. I serve them at Butter to this day.
What three adjectives would you use to describe the food at Butter?
American, tasty, comforting.
What three adjectives do you hope your guests use to describe the food at Butter?
Memorable, delicious, seasonal.
Pulling from seasonal inspiration, what would be something on the menu in March as you’re trying to transition from winter to spring?
Fresh Celery Root and Cara Cara Orange Salad, Parsnip Soup, Country Terrine with Roasted Forelle Pears.
What advice would you give to home chefs looking to do the same in their own kitchens?
Hit up your local free market and buy what’s being grown and picked. Download a chart of seasonal fruits and vegetables and follow it with your local supermarket.
In addition to your work in the kitchen, you also have gotten into comedy. What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you professionally that you’ve used for fodder in your act?
Dating. The life of a chef leaves little free time. The worst idea of all is to date a chef…the anti-sales pitch makes for great comedy.
Executive chef, restauranteur, TV personality, cookbook author, and comedian are all titles you hold. What’s next or how do you hope to wear the many hats in the future?
Therapist is all that remains on my to-do list.