Chef Vivian Howard shares a recipe honoring Alex Guarnaschelli—the woman who inspired her to cook—and changed her life. Name your mentor @foodandwine using #FOODWINEWOMEN and tell us what she's taught you as we continue our collaboration with Toklas Society.
In one of Chef Alex’s first lectures to my class at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City, she talked about France. She went on about the exceptional dairy products—so good, she hid behind a refrigerator door chugging heavy cream, certain the risk of being berated in French by the head chef was outweighed by the buttery, rich reward. I’d enrolled at ICE to learn to write about food from a more informed perspective, but listening to Chef Alex made me consider cooking professionally. She got animated over the raw-milk cheese she discovered while traveling in a little car around France. Her description of an Époisses lollipop, at once barnyardy and precious, got me daydreaming about the day I, too, would travel around France with cheese on my brain and a funky lollipop in my hand—it’s something I thought about when I came up with this Époisses grilled cheese. Chef Alex led me to believe I had the common sense a person needs to work in a professional kitchen, and that gave me confidence to move forward.
The class Chef Alex taught was on cooking basics. For our final exam, we had to make cream-of-whatever-vegetable-you-picked-from-a-hat soup. I drew broccoli; I would have much preferred asparagus or mushrooms, as I deemed them mildly exotic. But I made a broccoli soup and garnished it with garlic croutons. Chef Alex loved it. “You hit this out of the park,” she said. I kept cooking. —As told to Kate Krader