Alex Guarnaschelli: “Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook” | Talks At Google

Alex Guarnaschelli: “Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook” | Talks At Google


FEMALE SPEAKER: Please join me
in welcoming to Google New York, Alex Guarnaschelli. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Thank you. Thank you. Do you love my homey
that I brought in the front row texting? How are you? FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s right. We got a lot of people here
that are psyched. So at Google, passion is huge. We are passionate people. We take on passionate
projects. And I was curious as to how
you turned, and when you turned, your passion for food
and cooking into a career. What triggered it? What triggered the passion even
before it was a career, I should say? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Well, I
would say that I’m not a terribly organized person, and
that I don’t really think things happen that clearly. My mother cooked with
wild abandon. My mother’s a cookbook editor. And I know we’re no longer in
an age where books are the most relevant form
of information. But when I was growing
up they really were. And my parents are two nerdy
academics that met while they were getting their respective
PhDs at Yale. My dad got his PhD in European
history specializing in Napoleonic warfare
and was a TA. And my mother was getting a
PhD in Russian studies. You can’t make this stuff up. So my mother conveniently speaks
fluent Russian just in case anything goes down. And my father knows more about
Napoleon than Napoleon did. So they met. They got married at Yale. Suffice to say, you can imagine
that books were kind of an important thing. So they got married. And I grew up in a very
big nine-room apartment in midtown. It’s rent-controlled, people. My dad told me the rent they
pay the other day. And I just kind of twitched. FEMALE SPEAKER: Oh, god. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: But
they deserve it. FEMALE SPEAKER: Absolutely. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: So my
mother had 1,000 books. My dad 1,000 books. You multiply that
by 80, and you have my parents’ apartment. So I grew up in a place
where my wallpaper was bookshelves and books. And I think that that has a
profound effect on you or consciousness, whether you
realize it or not, when you run around the apartment where
you live and there’s nothing but books and manuscripts. And my mother’s process for
editing a cookbook was to take the manuscript and cook every
single recipe in it. The consequence, or the result,
was in 1980 when she started really delving
into cookbooks. She did a cookbook called
“Classic Indian Cooking.” So that cookbook came out
30, 32 years ago. It’s still in print. I mean, what? A black-and-white Indian
cookbook with no photographs? You can still buy it at
Barnes and Noble. I go and I look for it. I’m like, I’m going to Barnes
and Noble just to see if that book is sitting on the shelf. I’m not going to buy it. So we spent a year eating Indian
food, which was very confusing because I’m
Italian American. And my father loves Napoleon
and France. And my mom was making
all these souffles. And then all of a sudden we were
eating lentils and dals and spices and all this stuff. And my father doesn’t really
care for Indian food because it doesn’t have any butter
or eggs, so to speak. So he called it the
mowed lawn phase. He said that everything tasted
like a freshly mowed lawn. Which I really disagree with. FEMALE SPEAKER: I disagree. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: So that
was an interesting year. And then the year after that,
she did a book called “The Splendid Table,” by Lynne
Rossetto Kasper, which was the food of Emilia-Romagna. So for a year, we went from
lentils and dals to balsamic vinegar and parmigiano
reggiano ad nauseum. My father said, if I see another
drop of balsamic vinegar in this house,
I’m leaving. She then did a book called
“The Cake Bible,” by Rose Levy Beranbaum. So that was not good because
that was really an elastic waist year. And the thing about my mother
is all the while there was this other pulsating
undercurrent of reading and cooking from issues of “Gourmet”
magazine that she had bound into binders. I think my mother has 30 years
of “Gourmet” bound in books. So she would make a cake from
Rosy Levy Beranbaum’s “Cake Bible,” and then make a pie from
a 1974 November issue of “Gourmet” magazine and say,
do you feel that this cake relates to this pie at all? How do you think pie
has changed? I’m 13. This was just really practice
for “Chopped.” I mean, it’s funny, I know. But it’s also insanely true. The fork was in the air. And my mom would say,
how does it taste? So there was never just a moment
of eating that was just sort of like– and let’s get this
out of the way. I love Doritos. I love Oreos. And I love Fruit Loops. I also really love ice cold skim
milk, Fruity Pebbles, and a scoop of Haagen-Daz chocolate
chocolate chip in the middle of it. So let’s get the junk
food out of the way. I like junk food. And I’m cool with that. So there was just this constant
interview process. So she cooked from all
these manuscripts. And guess what happens when you
are an editor and you go through a book and you cook
everything in it and you edit it that way? You wind up with a great book
because it’s been sort of lived through the
editor’s eyes. And the net result is that my
mother has been behind many iconic cookbooks, including the
1997 revision of “The Joy of Cooking,” which my
mother took on. And that, she spent three
years doing, sleepless. I was working at Restaurant
Daniel at the time. And he used to serve lunch. So I would get up at 4:00 and
go to the restaurant to be there by 4:30, 5 o’clock. I’ll talk about what
I ate when I worked at Daniel in a minute. So I would get up and she would
be still up, with her glasses off, you know, this
close to the manuscript. And I’d say, what’s up? And she’d say, does this look
like a Malpeque oyster or not? And she’d showed me a drawing
of an oyster. So we’d go back to that moment
with the pie, the cake, the comparisons. There was never a moment
where it wasn’t a quiz. And I said, you know,
it looks a little round around the edges. It looks a little Blue
Point, if you ask me. What? The next day, mom,
how are you? Does this look like
a Belgian waffle? Three years of that. The result is that that book
also has really endured, that particular edition of “The Joy
of Cooking.” So needless to say, I spent a childhood steeped
in food in a very peculiar way. The net result is I never once
thought about becoming a chef. I never once thought
about being passionate about cooking. And it never gave me any inkling
or idea about what I wanted to do with my life. And I hope that that’s
OK with you guys. Because I think a lot of people
come to me and they say, I’m passionate. And I say, cool. I might not be today. I know this is this big moment
where there’s a payoff for you as an audience, where I say to
you all this stuff happened, and, oh my god, I
became a chef. And unicorns flew out
of the refrigerator. And there were rainbows
and star decals. And I got a gold medal
and whatever. No, actually, zero
of that happened. When I went to college, I ate
a lot of Rice-A-Roni. Good stuff, by the way. Don’t tell anybody. FEMALE SPEAKER: You know
this is Google. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Go to
Google and tell secrets. Good idea. So I made a lot of cakes. It was, like, dude, so-and-so’s
birthday, can you make a cake? And I just liked doing it. I just did it. I made these pans of lasagna
with shoplifted pieces of mozzarella. That stuff’s expensive. And I just cooked a lot, but in
that kind of random college way like, dude, I made
some ramen and I put a bay leaf in it. It’s good. So, again, I get back to this
idea that I was steeped in food the whole time, and
I’m disorganized. And I didn’t make
the connection. But when I woke up on graduation
day, I thought I’m going to decide by the end of
the day what I’m going to do with the rest of my life
and that’s it. So I promptly drank a beer. Because if you’re going to
have a day like that, you should probably have
a beer at 9 AM. I had a couple. They were cold. There were good. That cheap beer, you know that
crappy beer that doesn’t really have a label? So I graduated from college, and
I started working in the kitchen for free to kind of
explore this idea about whether I wanted to spend the
money on getting a degree in cooking and whatever else. And I never looked back. The disorder, the chaos, the
anarchy, the peril, the danger, the abuse, the
lack of skill– all those things were just too
compelling to turn down. FEMALE SPEAKER: So it wasn’t
so much passion. It was just, sounds
like, destiny. Did you have another thought of,
you know, maybe I will be a Spanish teacher. I mean, you have Napoleon. You’ve got someone who’s
fluent in Russian. You’re eating Indian food. Why not just go a completely
different route? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No,
this has been my dilemma with myself. I question whether you actually
can connect with your passion until you do something
so many times that you actually become really
good at it. And that, in fact, is when you
actually can say you’re passionate. I think Roger Federer is
probably super passionate about tennis. You notice that? I’ll bet you Al Pacino
is really passionate about acting. I think it takes a long time
to get good at something. And depending on your inner
struggle, I think it can take you even longer to think that
you’re good at something. I’m still getting there
myself, without joke, a lot of therapy. 23 years of cooking and starting
to feel like I’m kind of getting the hang of
this cooking thing. But I question. FEMALE SPEAKER: I think so. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
I think it’s OK– FEMALE SPEAKER: I think
everybody here would agree that you’ve got the
hang of cooking. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No, no. That’s sweet. I think it’s OK to not be sure
if you’re passionate, or be confused and decide later. But then you can get drunk at
a cocktail party and tell everybody you’re passionate. It’s cool. Like, get it out. Work it out. Get on that emotional
treadmill. Let it out. FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s kind of
when the passion comes out, after a couple cocktails. And you’re like, I just love
ramen with bay leaves. It is the best food. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I mean, for
me, I call my fourth-grade boyfriend and say,
I loved you. I did. I really loved you. And his wife is like, he has
to get off the phone now. FEMALE SPEAKER: I think we’re
going to have to bring her back for a whole different
interview about that. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: And
I’m censoring as I go. FEMALE SPEAKER: Maybe we should
have had you drink a beer before you got up here. I didn’t think about that. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No, no. Those days are over,
believe me. FEMALE SPEAKER: So, the book. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Yeah. FEMALE SPEAKER: First question,
did your mom help you edit this? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
No, not at all. She only saw the book after I
turned in the final revision to my editor. I left on the coffee table. What do we call it? A dummy, a dummy. So the manuscript, loose. But color photographs,
assembled the way it’s going to look. So, in essence, it just
needs to be folded and bound at that point. And I left it on the
coffee table. And I came home and my mom was
sitting there like a cat on a windowsill like when you’ve been
gone for three days and you didn’t leave any food. That where have you
been bitch look? My mother gave me that
look and she said, I read your book. I said, you did? I left it. I cleaned the whole room
out and put the manuscript on the table. I was like, you found it. And she said, I really
love it. You’re a real writer. So that was really cool. And then she was like,
it better sell or I’m going to freak out. FEMALE SPEAKER: So passion or no
passion, you have a career that is larger than life– Iron Chef, TV celebrity chef,
world renowned executive chef. Why did you decide to write
a cookbook now? And what was your inspiration? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: You wouldn’t
write a cookbook– I mean, you wouldn’t direct
a movie if Steven Spielberg was your dad. So it took a long time. But I thought, you know, that
I had all these experiences. Interspersed throughout the book
are page stories that are just little isolated moments,
most of them pretty hideous. But some of them, I think, if
you’re not a chef, but you’ve had– everybody works
in a community, in a group of people. Everybody fears failure. Everybody has moments
of vulnerability. And I think that that’s
universal. And those stories that I put
peppered throughout the book are those kind of moments
the way I live them. You know, you live them
with a laptop or with a search engine. And I live them with onions. There isn’t really
any difference. I think we come up
against the same kind of internal dialogue. And I thought that I would write
about that and then in the interim give a lot of
recipes that are the culmination of a lot of things
I learned working in restaurants and recipes I
developed that just always work mixed with the stuff
that I really actually like to cook at home. FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s the
question, so why did this book focus more on the old-school
comfort food? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Yeah, I
didn’t want to write a chef-y cookbook with dehydrated
ham chips. It’s just not my style. I mean, I can make
stuff like that. But I thought that I go to
a cookbook and I open it. And I’ll buy anything
anywhere. I don’t care. I mean to say, I’ll go to the
other end of the earth to buy an eye of newt to make
something specific. But I’m attracted to and drawn
to cookbooks where I open it and I say, I can make a couple
of these recipes from what I already have at home. And I really wanted the book
to have that feeling. I think it’s part of
being old-school. It’s like you’re all
in a little ghetto. You’ve got that knife you won
because you were the ninth customer at a gas
station one day. And you really like it. And you have these fancy knives
you got for Christmas two years ago, but you like
that crappy knife. You have a jar of oregano that
your parents brought you back from a cruise of Capri
six years ago. And you’re wondering if the
oregano’s still good. You wonder about the expiration
date of the baking powder in your cabinet
that you’ve used twice in eight years. I live the same way. I think we all do. And I wanted the book to make
you feel like you could live in that kind of context with
yourself and be imperfect and be human and cook, and make
some stuff that you like. Or just read it and not make a
thing, and tell everybody that you made every recipe
in the book. You could do that, too. FEMALE SPEAKER: I may. I love that you focus on old
school, but what is your definition of old school? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I’m
glad you asked that. For me, I looked
up old school. Because I like the term. I’m like, dude, that’s
so old school. And I’m thinking, what the
hell is old school? Well, I discovered that old
school for me is anything that I really like, period. That’s actually my
own definition. I’m like, dude, that’s
old school. That shoelace is old school. It doesn’t matter what it is. But I read that it is a moment
where you realize something in its original form serves as an
inspiration for you to explore new things. So I like the idea that you
could define old school by saying, like, that’s
the OG idea. And then you can do all this
stuff, because it smacks of that original feeling. And I think food is
so about feeling. It’s about the weather. It’s about whether you
had a crappy morning. It’s about what you like to
eat, what you find, what resonates with you. I mean, I’m sure you all have
some food that you have, you know, that no one but you
needs to understand. And you eat it. Probably have many. And that, really, by the way,
also connects to culture. How you grow up, what kinds of ingredients you grew up eating. Those are the tastes that
are familiar to you. And, again, I go back
to my childhood. It was very confusing. I have two Italian
American parents. My father’s family’s
from Naples. And my mother’s family
is from Sicily. But my father cooked Chinese
food for a hobby. So we had this whole cabinet
of soy sauces. I mean, 80 kinds of soy sauce
and vinegar and corn starch and rice flour and woks. And then my mom was over
here baking cakes and making Indian food. I don’t know what the food
of my childhood. I don’t know how you would
define it, like disaster. But the net result was I felt
that old-school comfort food, it was sort of my way of saying
these are the things that resonate with me. And I tried not to make
it too hodgepodge. I mean, to have a souffle with
kimchi is sort of like, OK, who are you? FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s actually
another question I had, is that the recipes are diverse, but they’re connected. And I’m just curious about how
you approached putting together, curating
if you will, this collection of recipes. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Yeah,
my mother cooked a lot of French food. She cooked from all of Julia
Child’s books, and Craig Claiborne, and Dione Lucas,
and James Beard. To just such a point where we
would sit down and my mom would say, Julia says this
tastes like this. And I’m like, mom, the padded
van is always parked outside if things get bad. But she lived and
breathed these– I’ll call them characters
because I think that their recipes in their books sort of
added powder and made you feel as if there was an actual person
or form that took shape in your own kitchen. So she lived with these
characters. And the food that I ate, I’d
have to say, was fundamentally French in technique
and in style. And I think that’s why I ended
up going to France. Because I felt that that was
where I thought I could really learn how to cook, or build the building blocks of cooking. So the food here is actually
closet French. And then I hang American
things on it. It’s a French tree with
American ornaments. FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s
kind of awesome. So in the book, there’s
a line that I loved. It says you do not need a
well-stocked kitchen. Whatever equipment you gravitate
towards is what you should have. I loved that. Because people are like, you
need this and this and this. Or maybe it’s just me being
like, oh, I want this, and I want this. And, oh, I should
have everything. But I love that it’s like,
no, it’s whatever you gravitate towards. For me, I guess it’s
everything. But I’m curious, what do
you gravitate towards? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: My kitchen’s
so embarrassing. I don’t have a nice
kitchen at home. And I kind of like that. It kind of takes the
pressure off. I know this is where you think
I say I have a Viking and a Sub-Zero and all this
other stuff. And I actually don’t. I have like a GE 1960s
thing, ovens. My mother had the same one
when I was growing up. So I think there’s that. But what do I gravitate
towards? I probably have 200 or
300 knives at home in boxes and drawers. I mean, you’ve got to figure
that’s normal, right? I mean, it feels normal to me. I’d been given many knives. I’ve been sent many knives. I’ve bought many knives. I’ve bought knives of people
that I’ve admired thinking that if I had their knife,
I would be like we them. Do you ever do that? Like, if you put on a Superman
costume, you are Superman? Not if you get it at the Duane
Reade, probably not. So I have a lot of knives. And I like knives. But the ones I like are probably
the ones I recommend, the Sabatier, which
is like $6. That paring knife, honestly,
when I compete in kitchen stadium on Iron Chef, I take
two of those with me. And I have one on either side. Because when you’re nervous,
you know, you– it’s like when you’re
searching for a pen at your desk. If you have an important call,
I mean, I’m the type I’ll put pens all over my desk. So that I’m like, uh-huh, I know
I can grab anywhere and there’s a pen. This knife is like my Woobee. It’s like the lioness,
like the blanket. So I have at least two of
those at all times. I like a microplane
grater a lot. I think you can microplane
anything– not human beings, but
other things. I think a Vita-Prep blender. It’s expensive. It’s the one indulgence
I believe in. And then just that weird
accumulation. I like All-Clad pans a lot– not the fancy ones with the
copper this, that, the other– just that straight-up
stainless steel. And I like a cast
iron skillet. That’s probably all I really
need to function. But, boy, do I have– I mean, I have a sea
urchin cutter. I have a quail egg crimper. I mean, I have boxes of stuff. And I open it up, and I’m
like what, like, really? I have eight different
cheese wires. What’s wrong with me? But I in my actual kitchen, I
try to keep it to a dull roar. FEMALE SPEAKER: I can only
imagine what kind of roars come out of that kitchen. So writing this cookbook, I
always like to ask– maybe not passion, but discovery– so what was your favorite
discovery? Or a strong moment you had
during the writing this book, the creation of this book? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I didn’t. I don’t think I had any. FEMALE SPEAKER: You
just went for it? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: It’s
embarrassing, but honest. I think I had had so many
moments of discovery, and I had collected them all, that
the book was almost like a scrap book of photographs that
had already been taken. And it was actually very easy
for me to put together. And I know this is the part
where I say I sweat and cried and I listened to Adele. And I drank bourbon
for five years. And here is this book,
this baby. But it really wasn’t
like that. I think I had been writing
this book for probably a decade or two, and just really
needed to have the courage and the confidence in thinking that
someone would like to hear about it or share it with
me by binding it into a book. FEMALE SPEAKER: Did you have any
books that you read while you were writing yours? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: So many. How much time you got? There’s a book called “The
Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook” by Dione Lucas. That’s a woman, a chef, and food
writer we don’t really talk about a lot. The book, I think,
is from 1965. That book, I sleep with it under
my pillow just in case I forget anything. I like “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook”
by Judy Rodgers. That really speaks to me. I like “Sunday Suppers at
Lucques.” That’s Suzanne Goin. FEMALE SPEAKER: Interesting. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: There’s a
Morimoto book– and I think it’s just “Morimoto”– that’s awesome. And there’s all these
pictures. And he sandwiches, pieces of
fish in between kombu, which is a seaweed that actually has
like a sort of unappealing white film on it that
is actually a natural form of MSG. And he vinegars the seaweed to
kind of moisten and activate, and then puts the fish and
sandwiches it, and then let’s it sit for an hour or so. And when you take it out, it’s
sort of been salted and marinated with the seaweed. Come on, how cool is that? Are you kidding me? Who’s going to think of that? And, again, I get back to this
idea that Julia Child’s not going to do that. She’s going to do
something else. So I like culture. I think it’s kind of cool. Seaweed? I mean, really? So when I go to the beach and,
like, seaweed washes on my toe, I’m like, you,
old friend. FEMALE SPEAKER: For us amateur
cooks in the room, is there, like, one cookbook that
you would say buy this, beside yours? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: FEMALE
SPEAKER: Oh, yeah, no. Honestly, I know I’m biased
because my mother edited it, but if I was freaking out and
really wanted a book to kind of have and feel like I got a
lot in it, first of all, “The Joy of Cooking” any edition. But the 1997 one, it really
goes through– I mean, I go to that
book constantly. When I’m stuck, I say, what
kind of sauce can I make? And I flip through the
sauce section. I just flip and scan
the pages. Or the poultry section. Or I want to remember one little
nuance about a type of fish, I use it. It’s a reference book with
recipes that work. And that’s pretty critical. So that would probably
my guess. I also really like “The Fannie
Farmer Cookbook,” may she rest in peace. But Marion Cunningham’s “Fanny
Farmer Cookbook”– awesome. First cookbook I ever
really cooked from. My parents are very
late sleepers. And I’m an only child. So I was starving. And I would flip through
the cookbooks. And she had these recipes
for corn bread and coffee cake and stuff. And there was a few
ingredients. And I thought, I can do this. So I would get up and bake,
and just eat a lot. But, again, it has nothing to
do with becoming a chef. It was kind of kooky. Spend your life steeped in
something and don’t realize you want to do it. I wanted to be a marine
biologist. FEMALE SPEAKER: That actually
doesn’t surprise me, again, given the range that
you came from. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Yeah, but
instead of researching and tagging fish, I caught
them and cooked them. FEMALE SPEAKER: So you are like
a marine biologist in some sort of ways. I mean, you have a sea
urchin cutter. It’s got to count
for something. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I feel that
I’m going to land in the gates of hell, and there’s going
to be lobsters strewn everywhere on lawn chairs,
like, she’s here. Chef anxiety dream
right there. A little peek into
my crock pot. FEMALE SPEAKER: I see that as
a Google Doodle right there. So shifting a bit into
kind of technology– in this digital age, how do you
see technology changing the way you cook and how
you approach food? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: It doesn’t
do much for me. I use Google, specifically. FEMALE SPEAKER: Good. We’re happy to hear that. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: When I am
thinking about a topic, I first Google something. And I scan. And I find the images organized
in the ingredient or the specific thing I’m honing
in on very helpful. They’re the easiest,
most fluid jumping off point for me. But then I go to my books. I’m a little bit traditional
like that. I say, oh yeah. You know, somebody says
let’s make a menu inspired by the 1960s. So I’ll Google 1960s recipes,
1960s supper clubs, dinner menus. And I’ll look through. And then I’ll say, I remember
this and that. And that provides sort
of my coat rack. And then the hangers hanging
on it are the books and the recipes that pertain
to that topic. So I guess I do use technology
to kind of focus my thinking. But I happen to really
love cookbooks. I have a very large
collection. So I think I don’t move away
from that as my bedrock because I am passionate
about it. FEMALE SPEAKER: Hey,
there it is. But what about restaurants? So social media and
the increase in user-based reviews. How has that changed the dining
experience in your restaurants? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I don’t
care about that. FEMALE SPEAKER: Really? It doesn’t bother you if you
walk into a restaurant and you’ve got 50 people with
their phones out taking photographs of food? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No. It’s a free country. FEMALE SPEAKER: What
about comments? User-based comments? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No. I mean, I think it all comes
out in the wash. I think if people are going to
go somewhere, it’s because they have a feeling. Or there’s something that’s
making them go to that place, gravitate towards that,
or be curious. I think sites like Yelp and
other stuff, I think they can be harmful. I think they can be helpful. What am I going to do? I mean, if I really got into the
topic the way I’ve gotten into the topic of cooking with
my personality type, I wouldn’t be here right now. I’d be home obsessing about
Yelp, Citysearch, this, that, the other. I think people are going
to feel what they’re going to feel. I think it’s a shame when I see
a review and it seems like someone had a bad experience for
whatever set of reasons. And the restaurant takes
the heat for it. I think sometimes people
legitimately have terrible experiences in restaurants. And they write about it. That’s everyone’s right. What can I do? I don’t care if people
take pictures. When they don’t come, and they
don’t eat the food, and they don’t pay take pictures? That’s when I’ll worry. FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s
very true. I think you should share that
with a lot of other restaurants. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: By the way,
you know, I mean, being on TV and on “Chopped” and
stuff, I’ve gotten some real doozy emails. I’ve gotten hate mail. And so I called my dad
when I got my first piece of hate mail. Do you want me to tell
you what it said? FEMALE SPEAKER: Yes. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: It’s
got a profanity. Is that OK? FEMALE SPEAKER: I
think that’s OK. We’ll edit it out. Famous last words. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: There
was like serious thumbs up over there. FEMALE SPEAKER: There were
serious thumbs up? OK, then I’m not taking
the heat for this. Go for it, and they’ll
edit it out. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No,
it’s not that bad. But it just said, fuck
you, you bitch. Let’s see you make a
dish in 15 minutes. So I woke up. And it was like 6:00 AM. And I’m bleary-eyed. You know, one-eye open. I go to the bathroom. I take my phone. And there’s that. FEMALE SPEAKER: That is
not a good morning. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
I called my dad. I was like, everybody
hates me. I’m not doing this anymore. I cant believe it. Oh, my god. I’ve spiraled into
a world of hate. I don’t know what. I’m going to move somewhere
and hide in a bunker. And my dad said,
congratulations. You’re starting to matter. FEMALE SPEAKER: Very true. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: And
I was like, really? So I don’t know. I kind of think that emotion
on the internet and with technology can be complicated
and layered. I’ve gotten four-page
handwritten letters. These are the reasons my husband
and I hate you and hate to watch you. Four pages. I’m like, you guys
are watching. You wrote me a four-page
letter. They’re like, we don’t
like your shirt. We don’t like the
way you look. We don’t like your nose. What’s wrong with your hair? Who are you? What do you know? I’m like, damn, this thing
is like 10 pages. I’m like, you like me. You know what I mean? You’ve got to do that. You’ve got to make lemonade
out of the lemons. I read the social media. I read the reviews. And sometimes I say, well,
you know what? That’s true. I got to go check on that. Someone wrote, like, you need
to vacuum the rug in your entrance way. And I was like, that’s
not true. And I went down to
the restaurant, and it was like gross. I’m like, dude, what’s up? I’m vacuuming the rug. I’m like, oh my god,
Yelp is right! So, I learn sometimes. There’s a lot of truth
in what people write. FEMALE SPEAKER: Sharing
of information. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: And then
sometimes there isn’t. And, OK. FEMALE SPEAKER: Very
interesting. So speaking of “Chopped”
and other things. So you run two serious
kitchens in New York. And you are also a TV
food personality. Have to know, is there anything
behind the scenes on your shows that would
surprise people or that we wouldn’t expect? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
I don’t know. I guess my first instinct is to
say something very simple, which is that all that
stuff is real. I think that’s why we watch it
and it resonates with us. You know, people say, do they
know the ingredients before they open the basket? Are they briefed? Are they– the answer is absolutely not. They open the basket. They pull it out. They sit there for
two seconds. And Ted says, your
time starts now. One time we had to delay for a
minute after they opened the basket because there was
of a lighting issue. They changed the basket. And they gave them
a new basket. It was like five minutes. They changed the basket. So that’s why the show is– why it resonates with you. It’s because they
open the basket. They get the ingredients. And that’s it. And what comes out of you is
just that primal first thought that you have. You know, I call it like your
little chef planet that you go to in your brain where you have
like six or eight things that you actually truly really
know how to make. And you’ve got to live
in there, no matter how hard it is. Everybody has a couple
dishes they can make. It may be an egg. It may be toast. But you have those six or seven
things that if I give you a “Chopped” basket,
you would go to that little planet. And I have one too,
by the way. And it’s never been enough
for my liking. When I did “Next Iron Chef”, I
mean, my chef planet was like, you have, what’s the Dr. Seuss? The Lorax? You know, when they pick all the
truffle out of trees and there’s no trees left? Like, I had no truffle
[INAUDIBLE] trees left on the island. I was like, god, I
need more stuff. And you can’t mine for
gold all the time. So it’s really real. And it’s so hard. People sit home and they’re
like, this is so stupid. Why are they making that? I know what I would make. I would make this or that. When you’re in the context,
you’re literally thinking, why am I doing this? It’s like when you go on a
roller coaster and it clicks, clicks, clicks, clicks, clicks
up, and if it’s about to drop. And you’re like, why
am I doing this? Why? And then you finish and you
go, I feel invigorated. I feel like I’ve come to life. People come to life on
“Chopped.” It’s like an out-of-body experience
for people. People are like, I want
to do this again. And I’m looking at them like,
you just got chopped. People say we want to
come back tomorrow. And I’m looking at them like,
I don’t understand. What don’t you understand? But it’s just so neat. So I guess behind the scenes
is really real. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Yeah. FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s
very cool. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
Kind of cool. It’s also hideous. FEMALE SPEAKER: Hand in hand. So looking towards the future,
first question, we do a chef competition here every year. Will you come and be a judge? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: OK. FEMALE SPEAKER: Awesome. Awesome. She says yes. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I’m going
to bring security. FEMALE SPEAKER: And you know
something else is that I’m really bummed about is to hear
about The Darby, because it was especially so
close to Google. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
Oh, yeah, yeah. FEMALE SPEAKER: We’d go over
for drinks after work. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: The
Darby has closed. FEMALE SPEAKER: And
it was so great. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I know. It’s sad. FEMALE SPEAKER: But do you have
any details of what’s going to be going on
in that space? And are you going
to be involved? Because we hope so. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I’ll say it bluntly and honestly
for a change of pace. That space at The Darby was
originally a supper club called Nell’s for many,
many years. And when I was growing up,
it was where Prince would go and play. And Stevie Wonder
would hang out. And Mick Jagger would
go and sing. It was just one of those kinds
of places that sort of magically drew a lot of
talent, sort of like a speakeasy in it’s truest form. But, to me, that’s a spirit
animal that’s a tiger. And we tried to make it into
a Persian house cat. FEMALE SPEAKER: Interesting. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: And the
spirit animal of that place is an impromptu venue. I think it isn’t sort of clouded
by a food, almost. As strange as that
is for me to say. It’s a speakeasy and a place
where people can go and seek refuge and perform and dance
and sing and drink. And I think that’s what
it really needs to be. So I’m kind of happy for it. I don’t mind. I think it’s going to be its
true spirit animal now. And I think that the people that
I work with are the best people for that job. They love that it was
Nell’s and Plum and all these other places. And they’ll honor the tradition
in the way that place is supposed to be. I know that may sound odd. I never thought I’d
speak like this. Because I went to them and I
said, I’m the only one is going to be out of a job here. But I don’t think we
should, you know. That’s not what it is. FEMALE SPEAKER: But
I also hear that Butter is opening up. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: We have
a Midtown restaurant. Yeah. Which is where I grew up. FEMALE SPEAKER: Is that for
the next generation? Why Midtown? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
I like that. It’s a butter for the
next generation. I think something
just happened. I’m going to put that top
of the Google search. FEMALE SPEAKER: Awesome. I can’t take credit actually
for that verbatim. But I will think you should
absolutely use that. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
I don’t know. We’ll see. It’s an interesting space. It’s big. It scares me. I go in there and I look
at all those seats. It’s like if you’ve been
headlining an act at a Ramada Inn in New Jersey and then
you go to Carnegie Hall. That’s sort of how it feels. I like Ramada Inn. I’m not dogging New
Jersey or Ramada. So if there’s anybody from New
Jersey, I like New Jersey. I serve a lot of produce
from New Jersey. It’s not the Garden
State for nothing. But that’s how it feels. Very daunting. FEMALE SPEAKER: So not only am
I lucky enough to work right by The Darby, but I also
used to work right next door to Butter. And I spent many a paycheck
at that bar just– ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Thank you. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yes,
thank you. Thank you. I also was lucky enough
to go into the basement a couple times. I don’t remember much of it. But is there going to be a
basement in the Midtown? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No. FEMALE SPEAKER: No basement? Interesting. If you are just saying that
because you don’t want people to know about the basement? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No. FEMALE SPEAKER: If you
do open a basement, can I get an invite? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: No. FEMALE SPEAKER: So we’re
going to finish up with finish-the-sentence
type of questions. And we have a couple minutes for
Q&A. So if anybody wants to ask some questions, there’s
mics in the back of the room. And then we’ll be wrapping up
in just a couple minutes. So finish this sentence. Old-school cooking is? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: New-school
thinking. FEMALE SPEAKER: New-school
cooking is? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Old-school
cooking. FEMALE SPEAKER: I am
challenged by? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
Knowing where I am at any given moment. Not buying $400 worth of produce
at the green market when I went there to
buy two peaches. FEMALE SPEAKER: Three things
that are always in my refrigerator are? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
Dijon mustard, several jars, all half-used. Cornichons– little pickles? And lemons. FEMALE SPEAKER: Interesting. My favorite pop culture
guilty pleasure is? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Oh, give me
an example of a pop culture guilty pleasure. Food? Junk food? FEMALE SPEAKER: No, like TV. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Oh, how much
time you got? “Breaking Bad.” FEMALE SPEAKER: Really? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I
love “Breaking Bad”. I’m obsessed. It’s cooking. Walter White is cooking,
and he’s acting more and more like a chef. I also love “Sons of Anarchy”
even though it’s– FEMALE SPEAKER: Light
shows, very light. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: –grusomely
violent. I really struggle with that. But, yeah, “Breaking Bad”
and “Sons of Anarchy.” FEMALE SPEAKER: If I weren’t
a chef, I would be? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I would
like to try and become the curator who presides over every
exhibit ever in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. FEMALE SPEAKER: Amazing. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: A– what do you call it? A painting restorer? I would like to restore the
Sistine Chapel again. Or maybe a marine biologist. Yeah, definitely. I want that big squid. Where is he? FEMALE SPEAKER: Waiting
for you. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I’m
going to cook him. I’m sorry. I want to tag and research him
and let him grow and evolve. FEMALE SPEAKER: Well, I know
we’re all excited that you chose to be a chef, passion
or not, choice or not. And I know we’re all really
excited to see what you have cooking next. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Thank you. FEMALE SPEAKER: And when you’re
back at Google, judging the Google chef competition. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
I’ll be nice. I promise. FEMALE SPEAKER: So we have, I
think, a question back here? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Yes? AUDIENCE: Chef Guarnaschelli,
thank you for coming. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Hi. AUDIENCE: You had said at the
beginning, you were going to talk us out of being
chefs, I think. And I have a special interest
in this because I have a nephew at Johnson and Wales who
kind of lost the romance of the commercial kitchen
after a summer of making nothing but pico de gallo. So talk us out of being chefs. Or don’t talk us out
of being chefs. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
How old is he? AUDIENCE: 19. So he’s just finished
up his second year at Johnson and Wales. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I don’t
understand what was– first of all, he doesn’t like
pico de gallo? I know that’s funny, but I’m
actually being serious. AUDIENCE: I think he
liked the first 500 pounds of pico de gallo. It was the second and the
third and the fourth 500 pounds of pico de gallo that
got a little boring. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I think
that I am perpetually stimulated by repetition. That’s something I know about
myself that I learned. I like cooking the same things
again and again. I like that feeling. I like the process. I’d say that’s something that
would definitely make you lose your way if that wasn’t
of interest to you. I don’t think a lot of people
realize that, that cooking is a manual craft. It’s manual. It’s manual labor. And it does involve lots
of repetition. But I feel like as you’re honing
your skills, where your learning to dice all the
vegetables to make a good pico de gallo and you’re learning how
to cook beans, I presume you could add certain things,
like learn about epazote as something that you use to
cook black beans, how to cook them just so. All the different skills that
are used to make a good pico de gallo are skills that you
then take and turn around and use to make so many hundreds
of other dishes. That I worry that he doesn’t
see sort of the value in developing a skill set that he
can then use to do things he really does feel personally
passionate about making. I would say you have to work
in the type of restaurant where the food resonates
with you. I went to a restaurant where
I like the food. And I like what was
being made. I liked the way it tasted. I wanted to know how those
things came to be. And I think if you’re not
careful about that choice– because you’re not going to make
a lot of money when you start out no matter what,
you may as well be broke and do some like. I mean, really. So I think maybe he shouldn’t
work in a restaurant where they make pico de gallo and
should work in a restaurant where they cook and use
ingredients that he does find stimulating. And then he should also
cook at home. And he should read maybe some
cookbooks and Google some recipes and do all sorts of
other things to kind of put his own wood in his own fire
and not focus so much on [INAUDIBLE]. Because cooking is
all repetition. If he doesn’t like the
repetition, I don’t know that he’ll ever– maybe a professional kitchen
is not the place for him in the field of cooking. Food styling for cookbooks,
for photography shoots for magazines, catering, jobs where
there are restaurants where the menu changes
every day. And there are different
ingredients being used. He’s just not in the
right place. AUDIENCE: And nutrition and
working with food companies, I mean he understands those
career options, too. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: It doesn’t
matter what you understand about career options with
a field like cooking. You have to figure out what you
actually want to spend all those hours doing
with your time. And then when you hit on the
right thing, then you’re not broke anymore, either. You’re not rich,
but you’re OK. That comes after. And those kind of reversals that
I think don’t exist in the same way in a lot of other
fields can be very confusing. FEMALE SPEAKER: Interesting. AUDIENCE: Thank you. FEMALE SPEAKER: Question
over there. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Tell
him he should be a chef, goddamn it. Hi. AUDIENCE: Yes, hi, Chef
Guarnaschelli. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Hi. AUDIENCE: Thanks for coming. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Sure. AUDIENCE: A few things. One, I didn’t know your mother
edited “The Cake Bible.” I got that book for my cousin. She’s a caterer. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Amazing. That’s a great book. AUDIENCE: Yeah, I know. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: That
woman is crazy. She’s like 221 grams of flour. You’re like– AUDIENCE: My blood sugar
was rising just by looking at the pictures. But I have a question. So besides just pure
unadulterated passion for food, or lack thereof, what’s
necessary in your career? Because you’re beyond, not
just a cook, you’re a television personality,
executive chef in multiple restaurants. Can you tell us about some of
the extra things that go into your career outside
of cooking? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Like what? Specifically? AUDIENCE: Like appearances
at Google. Like public appearances,
management, and other aspects to being a television
personality. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: I don’t
think I get your question. Boil it down for m. Strip it. What is your question? You want to know how
did I get into TV? I’m not sure I know
the question. I’m not trying to
be difficult. I’m trying to get at what
you’re really asking. AUDIENCE: Yeah, so a standard
cook would probably cook in a restaurant, OK? But you’re like on television
and “Chopped” and “Iron Chef.” Can you describe exactly how
you got into that industry? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Oh,
yeah, I wish I knew. I really wanted to be a
competitor on “Iron Chef America.” I watched “Iron
Chef.” I still do. And I liked the way it’s a
show that focuses on one single ingredient and where
people take it. And I just thought it was
the coolest thing. And I had this fantasy that
Iron Chefs were like superheroes. You know, there’s Aquaman and
there’s Wonder Woman. It sort of was my own personal
chef iconography, I think, of some kind. So I really wanted to be on
that show as a competitor. So that took me a couple years
to get that opportunity through begging and pleading,
and went on the show and realized that day that I
probably couldn’t joke and banter and be myself and
express and share my personality and also
win the episode. I made that call that morning. I remember thinking you
can’t do both these. Maybe some people can. I can’t. And I knew that I couldn’t. And when you have a lucid moment
about yourself, you should probably go with it. And I made a choice
that morning. I thought, well, OK, so I won’t
worry about winning. I’ll make the best food I can. I’ll express my personal
side as best I can. And I want to share
my personality. And I think that wound
up being effective. I got asked to be on “Food
Network Challenge” after that. And then they did the screen
test where I had to make a minestrone, a basic minestrone
with tomatoes and beans and vegetables. So they put the camera on me
in this little room at the Food Network. And I made the minestrone. And I cooked the whole thing. And I explained. And I smiled. And I did all this stuff. And I finished the soup, and I
looked down and she said, you forgot the tomatoes. And I thought, well,
this is a bust. I mean, it’s like pizza
without cheese. How’s it going? But then they said, you know,
you’re really good. We can work with this. And I did “The Cooking Loft,”
which was my first cooking show, which was really awful. And I really didn’t
like the show. So they said, do you want to
make more of this show? And I said, I’d rather not be
on television than make this show because I don’t like it. And I think that’s a really
important moment there, where I walked away from something
that I was really starting to like because I didn’t think it
was good enough for my own personal internal set
of standards. And Bobby Flay kind of got
assigned to my case maybe a year later to produce a
cooking show for me. And I made “Alex’s Day
Off.” And that was a whole different ballgame. He said, wear the clothes
you want to wear. Say what you want to say. Cook what you want to cook. And I said, really? That’s what– OK. And the studio was right by
his house, his apartment. So he would come and drink
coffee with these mirrored sunglasses in the morning. And it would like fog
up his sunglasses. And he would stand there while
I was shooting the show, just looking at me. I mean, it was like being
watched by the police. And then they asked me to be
on “Next Iron Chef.” And I really always wanted
to be an Iron Chef. And I’m a sucker. You know, I was like,
OK, I’ll do it. How bad can it be? And it just kind of snowballed
from there. “Chopped” was an accident. They went to shoot the pilot. And I said I don’t want to
be on that show at all. I’m sick that day. And they just hounded me. They just said, we think
you’re right for this. We think you belong
on the show. I wasn’t convinced. And so I hate to answer your
question by saying it’s kind of an accident. But it was all born from one
singular idea that I was obsessed with being on “Iron
Chef America.” And it snowballed accidentally and
became some strange avalanche. AUDIENCE: And you became
an Iron Chef. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI:
Yeah, totally. That’s crazy. That never gets old. I get up every morning, I’m
like, I’m an Iron Chef. I’m like, on my tombstone,
I’m going to write Mom, Daughter, Iron Chef. This is so cool. When the curtain dropped and
my face was there, I was like I can die. I never thought I’d have
a moment like that. I still can’t believe it. I have stars in my eyes. It’s really hokey and sappy
and goopy and all true. AUDIENCE: All right. Thank you. FEMALE SPEAKER: We actually only
have time for about one more question. I’m sorry, but– AUDIENCE: Hi. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Hello. AUDIENCE: I just wanted to
know, do you feel more pressure cooking on
“Iron Chef” or being a judge on “Chopped”? ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Did you
write your question down? AUDIENCE: Yes, I did. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: OK, so you
were checking your phone. Oh, cooking on Iron Chef. Oh my god, cooking is so hard. To pick what you’re going to
cook in that moment with that kind of thinking is– there’s
nothing like it. Sitting behind a desk on
“Chopped,” I’m like, whew, I got a day off. Cooking, hands down. FEMALE SPEAKER: Awesome. Well, thank you so, so
much for coming in. ALEX GUARNASCHELLI: Thank you
for sharing your time.

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