After a long day shooting your hit Food Network show, Chopped, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “All I ever want when I get home from a day like that is to eat two to four slices of buttered and salted sourdough toast. I want the indulgence of the carbs but something simple and plain. Just enjoying the taste of butter with the tang of the bread after a day ingesting so many different flavors and ingredients is all I ever want! However, I will admit, I would not turn down a dish of macaroni and cheese, if offered.”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “No.”
All-time favorite spice. “There are a lot of spices that I use with great frequency. I’d have to say my all-time favorite might be ground mace. It is the ‘skin’ that surrounds nutmeg and it has an almost spicy, gingery edge. Mace also offers the warmth that I associate with pumpkin pie and the fall. I love it on anything from rutabagas to pork to cherries.”
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “It’s Biggie Smalls or Prince or bust for me…”
Did you grow up cooking as a kid? “A lot of people claim to have cooked a lot as children. I am not one of them. I grew up in a house steeped in food and tons of scratch cooking but my mother assigned me to be either a spectator or a prep cook. I really didn’t make my own dishes growing up. I learned parts of dishes and techniques and ate very well, though!”
What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “My favorite cookbook is written by Dione Lucas and it’s called the Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook. It has been out of print for many years and I have two copies that I pore over on a regular basis. I also love the Zuni Café Cookbook and the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking.”
After all these years working in restaurants, judging on Chopped and now hosting Fix Me a Plate, do you still enjoy going out to eat? “Eating out in a restaurant for a chef is a complex experience anyway. Chefs are always looking at the door and how many people are seated and how many people are eating and where the kitchen is in relation to their own table…I will say that I am finally able to truly be ‘off duty’ and enjoy and appreciate restaurants from casual to fancy with great enthusiasm! Happily, the result of this attitude turned into my digital Food Network show: Fix Me a Plate!”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “Anne-Sophie Pic.”
Name the all-time best cooking show. “Hands down: Julia Child’s The French Chef.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “A good pair of fish tweezers. It’s old school and you can’t count on most kitchens to have one at the ready.”
Alex Guarnaschelli, executive chef of Manhattan’s Butter Restaurant, is also host of the online series Fix Me a Plate and a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped. She is a defending champion on Iron Chef America and Iron Chef Gauntlet.
Interview has been condensed and edited.