Chef Alex on the Food World’s Biggest Trends
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
You have to eat, right? This is how you do it best.
The real-life inspiration for Scandal is on stage, Colombia’s hip-hop crew ChocQuibTown is laying down beats and Alex Guarnaschelli is in front at OZY Fusion Fest, serving up breakfast tortillas and braising chicken.
She’s at home here, and simmering hot these days. The celeb chef from Chopped and Iron Chef America is climbing New York’s food scene. Her most famous baby is Butter Restaurant — a joint specializing in Florida red snapper, chili-rubbed octopus and a tobacco-smoked double-cut pork chop. We have to admit, she looks pro-fresh in her black chef’s jacket, monogrammed with her name. In this edited conversation, Guarnaschelli tells OZY about food trends, foodies and her best cooking tip.
OZY: A big moment in food writing came about through Julia Child. Is there a writer who could be this generation’s version of her?
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli: Not yet. Will there be? I definitely think so, but I don’t know necessarily whether we have so many distinctive trailblazers like that anymore. There’s a lot of people doing great work. There’s so much competition that the attention gets diluted among many instead of being bestowed on just one. It’s not that I don’t think anyone’s talented like Child was … lots of people are.
OZY: What are some of the food trends you have your eye on these days?
A.G.: I think the food of South America is very compelling. France is coming back into fashion, though I think it never went out. America’s in fashion, with the ingredients we grow and how we treat them. I think vegetables in the center of the plate is definitely on my mind. We sell so many vegetable dishes at the restaurant in midtown Manhattan. I have a cauliflower steak that’s outselling French fries. That’s a surprising shift that I like. I think I’m going to work on that.
OZY: Who taught you to cook?
A.G.: Guy Savoy. He taught me the sensibility. I learned every station. I cooked and cut every dessert I made. I stood there until I really felt I understood it.
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OZY: When you look at how many female vs. male chefs there are, is there a gender imbalance? And have you personally experienced that?
A.G.: Really? I mean, I don’t think about cooking in terms of gender. I just don’t. I think if you want to cook, you should cook. I think there’s a lot of reasons there are more men than women. Women have kids. It’s not really an industry where you can work part-time. I’d say that’s true for a lot of careers. It’s like being part of a baseball team and only being able to play half the games. I think there’s so many reasons why.
I just think if the food’s good, why are we so worried about who’s making it? Hopefully it’s someone paid well who is satisfied in their own work. That’s really what I look for in my own work: Are we happy? Are we satisfied? Is the team happy? Did someone express themselves creatively? Call me Pollyanna, but I’m looking at it through that lens, and it’s keeping me alive.
“That’s my idea of a good cooking tip — where you save time.”
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli
OZY: Is there a cooking tip that has come up organically in the kitchen that you’re excited about?
A.G.: Oh, yes. We took sheets of puff pastry, we cooked them completely golden brown and we sprinkled an even layer of powdered sugar with a shaker on top of the pastry. We baked it another 5 or 10 minutes and the sugar melted and kind of caramelized on top — and it was unbelievable. You can make that from two ready-made supermarket ingredients and tell everybody you got up at 4 o’clock in the morning. That’s my idea of a good cooking tip — where you save time.
OZY: Are you critical of foodies?
A.G.: I don’t like the term foodie, but as long as we skip the label, I’m good with it. Isn’t it just a person who loves food — to eat, and to cook? Doesn’t that describe everybody by virtue of the desire to stay alive? I just say great, you must love food. I do too. Let’s do this.