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Kitchen Insider: Facebook Chat with Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli

Food & Wine welcomed Food Network chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli, of Butter restaurant and The Darby in New York, to our Facebook. In a live Q&A, Guarnaschelli shared kitchen tips and her secrets for making perfect soufflés.

Cooking Advice and Tips

Question: Alex, what is your favorite herb to pair with beef?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: I really am partial to tarragon myself. Other favorites? Mixing an herb with another flavor can really work magic. Some of my fave combos for beef are sauteed, sliced white button mushrooms with parsley and a splash Worcestershire Sauce. I also love heating a little oil and adding 2 sprigs of marjoram or rosemary and "frying" them until they crisp up. Then, I "flake" the herbs off their stems right over the steak. A little blue cheese on top of that anyone? Yum. I also love fresh thyme, flaked on the steak just before cooking. A smattering of butter as it comes out of the pan or off the grill? Can't beat it.

Question: I'm looking for an interesting glaze or marinade for pork loin. Any suggestions, Alex?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: This time of year, there is so much great citrus. Slice some kumquats and boil them with honey, lemon juice and a touch of red wine vinegar. Pour that over the pork—Yum. I also love the idea of reducing apple cider on the stove, with some cinnamon, cloves, and allspice and glazing the pork with that. What about some fresh chiles mixed with some lemon and a touch of molasses?
Question: Thanks Alex, love citrus. Have you ever done it with balsamic?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Never. Balsamic is a great idea!

Question: Hi Alex! I am interested in fun, yummy, and nutritious meals for kids (ages 5 & 3.) One is a picky eater. Thank you!
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: I have a 3 year old. The only thing I find that works is honesty. If I want my daughter to try something, I eat it in front of her repeatedly without forcing the issue and, with some trial and error, the world is our oyster! To that end, I don't make "special" kid food for her but share with her the things I love (mixed with some familiar foods I KNOW she loves!) Whole roasted chickens, pork loin, and twice-baked potatoes are some of our favorites.

Question: Hi Chef Alex! My husband and I are trying to eat more nutritiously and need some ideas on how to prepare vegetables. Not looking for vegetarian dishes, but just searching for reliable cookbooks that provide great recipes for side dishes. Any favorites?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: I like Deborah Madison's and Alice Waters' books and approaches to vegetables a lot. Roasting vegetables instead of frying them is a great way to cut down on how much oil you use (oil=lots of calories) and also coaxes richer flavors.

Question: Chef Alex, one of the hardest things to get right for a lot of people—including myself—is the simplest of ingredients, Chicken. What do you suggest as a cooking method for producing a most flavorful yet moist chicken breast? Thanks!
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: I love to roast a chicken whole and wrap the white meat in a little cheesecloth soaked in butter and remove it in the last 15 minutes of cooking to crisp it up. Flavor is great. I also think marinating the meat in a little dry Sherry and mustard beforehand is deeply flavorful. A little low-sodium soy and lemon juice also does wonders in my book.

Question: Alex, I notice on your show that you keep tasting spoons in a jar of water. Why?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: More than anything else, the jar contains the spoons so they aren't all over the counter. Otherwise, I quickly find myself in a sea of utensils.

Winter Recipes

Question: Alex, my husband wants a fabulous winter meal tonight, since I have a snow day today. What is your favorite "stay home on a winter night and eat" meal?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: That really depends on what I have in the fridge. I'm feeling in a "gratin" kind of mood today. How about some oven-baked white potatoes with tomato and oregano? A sweet potato gratin? A cauliflower gratin with melted cheese broiled on top? Roasted garlic cloves (in their skins) wrapped in foil and then sprinkled over a roasted chicken or some sauteed shrimp? I'm getting hungry. What time is dinner?

Question: Hi, Alex, what's your favorite fast, winter weeknight meal to make at home?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Winter blues are cured every time with a potato gratin paired with a roast chicken. (I like to toss mine in the oven without any seasonings and let it crisp up.) I also find cauliflower, broken up and sautéed until tender with some capers and lemon juice the perfect compliment to a few roasted shrimp. I love to roast the shrimp in the shells and then peel them.

Question: I need a meal I can cook for my upcoming birthday, on Valentine's Day, but for a group of friends who join me in the daunting task of divorce this year. Something fun but luxurious. We need to feel good about ourselves this year!
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Understood. I sympathize...I think you should get together and make a menu of all your favorite dishes. Food is so heavily connected to memory. Why not take your best dish/memory and make a meal where each person gets to share that as part of the menu?

Question: Do you have a favorite (yet, easy) recipe for delicious mac + cheese? Do you like to add ingredients like lobster, ham, peas, etc. or go old school?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: I am all about mac and cheese that just has a few cheeses (Gruyère, cheddar, Parmesan and a touch of Danish blue) mixed with some mustard and Worcestershire (for a little "kick") is the best way to go. Top with bacon bits tossed with breadcrumbs and broil for a minute before serving. YUM.

Question: Hi Alex, what are the latest trends in Valentine's Day menus?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: I would say that delicious food, gimmick-free, is the new Valentine's Day trend I am looking forward to! ;)

On Soufflés

Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Food & Wine has posted one of my favorite recipes from childhood: The Cheese Soufflé. I absolutely love it. It is a recipe that requires a little work but the result is unique. I have such memories of my mother pulling the soufflé out of the oven and the sound the serving spoon made as I dug into it. It's an experience worth having! And the aroma of the cheese and eggs as they bake? Intoxicating.

I think I also love the cheese soufflé recipe because it's something I would attempt to put on the menu at The Darby. It has that retro feel, it has the drama of beautiful presentation. The only worry I have is if someone orders it and, after waiting patiently for it to bake, what if it falls or I drop it on the floor? I guess, if nothing else, trying it is the only way to find out!

Question: What makes a soufflé fall? Overbeaten eggs, too many ingredients or actually slamming the oven door by accident!?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: All of those contribute to a soufflé's demise. I find striking at the "right" time with the egg whites and respecting the oven door are the ways to best assure you are pleased with your souffle. I also ask for complete silence in the kitchen as the souffle cooks ;) I think giving the soufflé peace and quiet to do its thing and letting go of your anxiety about the way it's going to turn out also really help. Believe in your soufflé!

Favorite Gadgets, Ingredients and Foods

Question: What is your "can't live without" cooking gadget?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: My favorite gadget is expensive. It's a Vitaprep blender for sure. It is just magical to me. It makes me feel as if I can do anything...

Question: Alex, talk about bacon. What do you think about the latest bacon fads. There is a new Torani "bacon" syrup. What is it about bacon that has so enamored us?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Hm. Interesting question. I think we love bacon because it has all the qualities of an amazing sensory experience? When we cook it, the sizzling sound is so appetizing, the aroma is maddening, the crunch of the texture is so gratifying and the taste delivers every time. I also think it is a food that Americans consider a part of the breakfast culture (at first) and then it made its way into hamburgers and the dinner table. My mother used to make a capon wrapped in strips of bacon when I was a kid. I would watch as it sputtered and browned in the oven and as she pulled it out. I would wait for her to turn around so I could pick one of the crispy strips off the bird. I have never had bacon taste so good.

Question: Besides salt, pepper, olive oil and butter, what are your 5 must have/go to ingredients and/or spices to create your flavorful and interesting dishes?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Great question! For me: Lemons, fennel seeds, Scotch bonnet chiles, kumquats and sherry vinegar.

Question: Hi Chef Alex, what is your favorite home dessert?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Hands down: a Dobosch Torte. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting with a caramel that hardens on the top.

Question: If you had to choose one thing as your favorite "comfort food" what would it be?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: A tie between a chocolate-glazed doughnut or a bubbling dish of eggplant Parmesan. But my list is endless.

Restaurant Industry Advice

Question: Alex, if you could do it again, would you have opened your restaurant?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Opening a restaurant is a lot of work. To that end, I think there are always moments where you wish you could go back to your apartment, hide, pretend it's not happening and watch reruns on TV? I still think there are magical moments, where some things come together, that are so rewarding. I wouldn't exchange that for anything. So, yes, I would do it again!

Question: Alex, any advice for someone getting a late in life start in the culinary field? I'm trying to get into Johnson & Wales but would love any advice or tips as to how I can get my foot in the door.
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Go to a few restaurants you like and see if anyone will accept a few hours of free labor? That's how I started. It's a great way to see if your "love" for the profession will really make you happy. It worked for me!

Question: Chef, your new supper club, The Darby sounds fantastic. What inspired you to open a supper club as opposed to just a regular restaurant? The supper club seems to be making a comeback, what is the draw?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: I think opening a supper club, one with live entertainment that changes all of the time, is an interesting way to have music and food collaborate to have a "complete" experience in a restaurant. It also is a way for me to make a lot of "retro" American dishes that are dear to my heart!

Question: Hi Chef Alex. My family caters and we do a lot of wedding cakes. But we have friends who are hard-core athletes. How do we make a treat for them that is yummy, but doesn't pile on empty calories?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: The never-ending dilemma. Some empty calories are my favorites! I would try some nut clusters, homemade granola made with dried fruit and agave syrup, pasta salad loaded with tomatoes, peppers, carrots and other vegetables with loads of antioxidants, oven-dried orange slices, roasted or grilled mushrooms? I feel like when we are hungry and most need energy, food tastes the best!

Question: Alex, I am just starting out in culinary school and I was wondering what your best advice would be for a newbie in the industry when it comes to creating dishes?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: I am a big fan of ignoring the gender "divide" or "difference" and just forging onward with learning the craft of cooking. I have been cooking for 20 years and am feeling like I know less about my craft every day! So much to learn, I don't think about how many men or women are in the room with me. My advice to newbies is to cook from books and eat out (as much as your budget permits) to develop a sense of what you "like" yourself? The closer you can get to defining your personal style, the better your culinary experiments will be! Also, don't be discouraged by any kitchen failures. I have had more than I can count. Keep on cookin!

Question: Chef Alex, I'm contracting for a strict client for masonry and we have buffet meals including brunch—the kicker is that they don't want foods/meals that may be unknown to their bricklayer students! How in the world can I twist the hot dog cart menu up and not be too gourmet for a non-foodist's palate?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: Have a hot dog cart format but make it with totally different ingredients? Have a baked potato cart that has all kinds of toppings like for hot dogs. How about a spring roll "bar" with different fillings in each? What about a veggie one that just has grilled, raw and roasted vegetables with different sauce? I feel that if the format stayed the same and just the ingredients changed, people might feel more at ease.

Question: Hey Chef Alex, how can one get on Chopped, and is it difficult to critique a 30 min. meal?
Alexandra Guarnaschelli: For Chopped, I know there is casting. I believe you can find it on the Food Network website. I don't know how the casting directors choose their chefs but I can't imagine it's that difficult? Are you ready for the challenge? ;)

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