With the release of The Home Cook, Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network star and executive chef and owner of Butter in Manhattan, is inviting readers to sit down at her kitchen table and watch her cook her favorite off-duty meals. The follow up to her popular first book, Old School-Comfort Food: The Way I Learned To Cook, isn’t full of the intricate recipes she creates and serves to discerning diners and food critics at her NYC hotspot, Butter. Instead, they’re the recipes she cooks for her family, that were woven into the fabric of her own past, says Guarnaschelli: “It really is the repertoire of recipes my mom cooked my whole childhood mixed with other recipes I collected along the way.”
What are the first recipes you learned by heart? That would be corn bread and coffee cake—the quick breads. I am honestly a pastry chef at heart. I learned them from books; I learned them from watching my mother cook from books.
What was your greatest challenge while writing this book? The sheer endeavor of writing a book is like opening a restaurant. Once you decide what’s what, you have to live with it (for the most part)! Those choices come from passion and personal feelings about food. The challenge is balancing those feelings with a book people can cook from, use and relate to.
What makes a recipe right for home cooking versus restaurant cooking? When cooking at home, you don’t want a sink full of dishes for just making some sliced tomatoes. In a professional kitchen it’s built for wear and tear much more so than at home. I think you can delve deeply into a dish without making a complete mess of the kitchen and spending more time cleaning up then you do cooking. Some of the recipes are more elaborate when you’re in that kind of mood, and some are simpler.
How do you find time to have such a full and varied career and have a family? Any tips? I try to roll them all in one and make my work always as genuine as possible. My daughter lives with my great qualities and my flaws. So do my colleagues. Tips? Take little naps. Eighteen minutes of snoozing can change your whole day.
How do cooking and eating bring together family and friends? When you have someone cook for you it’s an act of love. It’s like loyalty. And I like that idea. My father always said to me growing up, “the world will look far better after dinner.”
What is the biggest mistake you see beginner cooks make? When a novice cook creates a menu that is too big and ambitious and they wind up cooking the whole time rather than enjoying their guests! I’ve made this mistake, too.
What do you want people to get out of your book? I hope this is not just about the people who look through to enjoy the pictures. I know I do that with a lot of cookbooks that I look at. I want this book to be user-friendly. I want to see drips of olive oil or a slight smear of chocolate on the pages to show how the book has yielded delicious results. Like an eating yearbook.
Photographs by Johnny Miller