Alex Guarnaschelli spent her childhood surrounded by food. Her mother was an esteemed cookbook editor and her father was an Italian- and Chinese-cooking enthusiast. Alex learned to eat according to whatever book her mother was working on at the time. Her first job in the culinary world was working under the tutelage of acclaimed restaurateur and chef, Larry Forgione. She had obviously found her calling, so she moved to France, went to culinary school, and stayed for seven years working in some of the country’s top restaurants including iconic chef Guy Savoy’s La Butte Chaillot and Guy Savoy. Impressively, Alex is one of few American — let alone female — chefs who can boast staying power in Michelin-starred restaurants.
Alex returned to America and graced the kitchens of some of our most acclaimed restaurants including Daniel and Patina. For more than 10 years now, Alex has been the executive chef at Butter Restaurant in New York City where she creates her own eclectic American and green-market-inspired menu.
In addition to her restaurant work, Alex has been a Chef-Instructor at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education; judged, competed, and became an Iron Chef on The Food Network; hosted her own show entitled Alex’s Day Off; and is now a recurring judge on the hit television show Chopped. Alex released her first cookbook, Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook in 2013 and currently has her own blog on People.com.
Now let’s get Alex’s take on healthy cooking and eating…
Diane: Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?
Alex: I would say people are gravitating towards restaurants that shop for and prepare their ingredients with an awareness of local resources. I think there is a movement towards inherent healthy eating. People are still eating steaks and French fries, don't get me wrong, but they also ask (with frequency) where the fluke I am serving comes from and whether the produce is organic or grown responsibly.
Diane: What’s your definition of “healthy eating”?
Alex: I like the idea of biodiversity, and, with that, diet diversity. Eating a large variety of vegetables and fruits is certainly where I would begin. I'd say lower amounts of red meat and more lean meats and fish. Healthy fats like coconut oil or olive oil. Lastly, and most important, a healthy attitude! Striking a balance between the "right" foods and some treats is critical to sustaining the same diet for a long period of time. After every plate of steamed Swiss chard with lemon and every piece of grilled local fish, maybe a bite of cake?
Diane: What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?
Alex: I think roasting vegetables and fruits is a great way to evoke flavor without using an excess of oils or fats to get there. Using toasted spices for meats and fish can bring food to life healthfully. Using vinegars and other forms of acid instead of an excess of salt while creating great flavor, using mustard or puréed vegetables as thickeners for soups and stews instead of, for example, something heavier like flour and butter.
Diane: What is your favorite dish on your own menu and why?
Alex: Right now I am serving Burrata cheese (made at Di Palos in little Italy in NYC) with a lavender and oregano vinaigrette and some slices of heirloom tomato. The herbs and tomatoes are from Stokes Farms. Clean. Tasty. Summery.
Diane: How about an update on what’s new and exciting in your world?
Alex: I am really excited about my blog on People.com (here’s my latest post)! And my cookbook, Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook.