CHEF: Alexandra Guarnaschelli
RESTAURANTS: Butter (New York)
EXPERIENCE: La Butte Chaillot (Paris); Restaurant Daniel (New York); Patina (Los Angeles)
EDUCATION: Barnard College, La Varenne
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from him or her?
I consider myself a perpetual student of cooking and many people have contributed to my learning process. My parents were a critical part when I was growing up. My father made varied Italian dishes and some Chinese dishes. Cooking Chinese food was one of his favorite hobbies. My mom made classical French food and a lot of American items. This really shaped my taste buds.
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself?
As a kid, my parents slept late a lot. I would wake up and consult the Fannie Farmer cookbook. The first thing I ever made was the coffee cake. I made it again and again. I kind of couldn't believe it worked! Make the batter, bake and magic. My exploration of baking led to a love affair with savory food.
Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
I have had many mentors. The most significant so far has definitely been Guy Savoy. He taught me so much about vegetables in particular. He also did something far more valuable: He gave me the confidence to believe in myself and in my desire to become a chef.
Favorite cookbook of all time.
So far, my favorite is Dione Lucas’s The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook, for the recipes and the menus. My mom cooked a lot from it while I was growing up. I often look to it for inspiration.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Aside from basic knife skills, I think butchering is very important. It opens up your imagination. It makes the possibilities endless.
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
I’m really French-trained, so I guess I always wish I had a better hand with fresh pasta dough. I tend to make mine too egg-y instead of trusting the flour. That's something I practice from time to time to make it a part of my comfort zone.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how would you use it? I would have to say lemons. You can candy or salt the skin and use the flesh to make anything from jam to vinaigrettes.
What is your current food obsession?
I am currently obsessed with fresh gooseberries. I love mixing them with tomatoes, making jam and even pairing them with poultry, like duck and braised chicken thighs.
Name three restaurants you are dying to go to in the next year and why?
Madison Pic de Valence in France. I admire so much what Anne Sophie Pic has achieved in France. I would love to eat her cooking!
Joe Beef in Montreal, Canada. I want to immerse myself in an unforgettable carnivore moment and I would happily put myself in this restaurant’s hands to get there.
Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans. I think this pick is self-explanatory. I am always looking for an excuse to go to New Orleans.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip—where would you go and why?
I love Charleston, South Carolina. There are many affordable places to eat, so many local ingredients to explore. It's also beautiful. I'd start at Hominy Grill and The Ordinary, followed by a slice of coconut cake at The Peninsula Hotel.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up? Cold meatballs encased in tomato sauce. I love unearthing them like boulders.
Five people to follow on Twitter:
Chris Cosentino, @offalchris
Joyce Carol Oates, @JoyceCarolOates
Melanie Dunea, @melaniedunea
Roy Choi, @RidingShotgunLA
Gael Greene, @GaelGreene