She’s a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen, but she has a soft spot for chocolate and Michael Symon. The Daily Meal sat down with Iron Chef, Food Network star, and executive chef at Butter Alex Guarnaschelli, and spoke with her about her partnership with Dove Chocolate. She also gave us a few details about her new restaurant and upcoming Food Network show “All-Star Academy,” which premieres this Sunday and features talented home cooks working with all-star chefs Michael Symon, Curtis Stone, Bobby Flay, and, of course, Guarnaschelli herself.
On the topic of chocolate, what is your favorite unexpected way to work with chocolate in the kitchen?
I have a recipe for tuiles, paper thin cookies baked with cocoa powder and cognac. The cognac magnifies the bitter side of chocolate. The older I get, the more I like chocolate with bitter notes, or coffee or soil notes. My daughter likes a good old candy bar. She does like the Dove chocolate fruit, though. Chocolate is something that your taste evolves for. I eat a Hershey bar now and I’m like… I can’t.
Can you tell me about your new show, “All-Star Academy”?
There are so many different personalities. Michael is the bomb. So is Bobby. And Curtis… well… the whole set was like “Curtis! What can we get you!” and almost swooning. And I was like “Uh, can I get some wine?” ::laughs:: You’re talking about taking high-powered competitive cooks and turning them into mentors. We often have these shows where a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, but these home cooks already know what they’re doing. Some of the cooks were like “Oh, I can do this, I’ll just make a roux.” So the mentoring was on another level. They fought for their own independence but also were like “Uh, can you help me?” sometimes. I think the show will resonate emotionally with people. It’s very Shakespearean.
Is it a tragedy or comedy?
Somewhere between “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet.”
Who is your favorite person to work with? Michael Symon, Bobby Flay, or Curtis Stone?
I think I might say Michael Symon for this one. We have similar sensibilities and are both competitive, but we can laugh at ourselves. We’ll get competitive, but then we will both crack up at each other. But I really like them all.
What can you tell me about your new restaurant?
I don’t have a name to give you yet, but it’s going to be in Miami. It’s just going to be French-American food. That’s what I do. You pick a lane in the swimming pool and stay in it. I’m not going to have a sushi bar anytime soon. A sushi bar in a French restaurant… ratatouille wrapped in rice. That’d be something.
What is the atmosphere behind the swinging doors at Butter?
We have a great atmosphere. We’ve been working together a long time; we’re always trying new stuff. I want to have the kind of work environment — where people are proud of where they work. I like when chefs stay for the staff meal. I have people who finish the late shift and eat the staff meal at 4:30 before they go home.
What’s the staff meal like?
I try to have the newer cooks cook staff meal. When it’s not good, we chat it out, and I explain. It’s an opportunity for learning. I have a Colombian gentlemen who makes a lot of his mother’s dishes, and he cooks a lot for us. With staff meal, you can’t afford to serve scoops of caviar on lobster, but you can make it taste good. You want the food that you cook to be as good as what you eat at the restaurant.
Have you ever really felt like you were a minority as a woman in the restaurant industry?
It’s all how you frame the picture. Of course I have, but there’s always something. When I worked in Paris it was “Ugh, you’re American.” Gender is a sensitive topic to everyone. But if you like what you’re doing and cooking, ignore it. If you have the skills, gender erodes, and a mutually respectful environment ensues. That’s been my experience. It hasn’t been smooth, but that’s what I’m always aiming for.