Driven to Cook: Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli shares lessons learned from her famously perfectionist mother, Maria.

Food & Wine
April 27, 2012

It's 4:30 in the morning¬óneither night nor day. The year is 1999, and I am just getting up for my shift as lunchtime fish cook at New York City's Daniel restaurant.

My mother is, as usual, stationed at the dining room table poring over a huge manuscript. A cookbook editor, she's already a legend in her field. I am just starting out in mine.

"Ma, I'm going to work," I say, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. She doesn't react except to hold up a simple line drawing of an oyster. "Is this a Bluepoint or a Malpeque?"

"Bluepoint."

"But is a Bluepoint round like this?" she frets, tracing the image with her finger. She is serious.

It's this, my mother's quest for perfection and attention to detail, that I carry with me in my work at restaurants and on TV. I've learned I can only set myself apart from the pack by cooking my way to the front. My mother sharpens her famous red pencil; I do the same with my paring knife. Her love of cooking and pursuit of precise and innovative recipes is my example. I finish what she started on the page by putting it on the plate. And with the drive that keeps my mother up very late and wakes me up very early, I've created my own journey, in my own way. Where her pen finishes is where my knife begins.

Alexandra Guarnaschelli is executive chef at New York City's Butter and The Darby and star of the Food Network's Alex's Day Off.

Dishes from the Mother-Daughter Duo:

Recipes from Maria and Alexandra Guarnaschelli Recipes from Maria and Alexandra Guarnaschelli Alexandra Guarnaschelli's Healthy Wine Pairings Alexandra Guarnaschelli's Healthy Wine Pairings More Alexandra Guarnaschelli Recipes More Alexandra Guarnaschelli Recipes