Chef Alex Guarneschelli's Culinary Q&A

We checked in with Chef Guarnaschelli, one of 10 rival chefs competing on The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, to find out her favorite cookbook, must-have seasonal ingredients, go-to potluck dish and more.

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What's your favorite cookbook written by someone other than yourself? What makes it so great?
I love The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook by Dione Lucas. A huge source of information and inspiration. The book is organized by menu, and the recipes are unusual and exciting. I also love Salumi by Michael Ruhlman. A chef's playground of ideas and challenges.

What's your Achilles' heel ingredient, one that you hate to work with or encounter in someone else's dish?
I really cringe at the sight of pattypan squash. So pretty and cute and having no taste or exciting texture. Dull.

Give us a favorite seasonal ingredient for each season: spring/summer/fall/winter.
Winter: Tied between rutabaga and celery root
Fall: Brussels sprouts
Spring: Peas and fresh beans
Summer: Blueberries

What was your most memorable meal? What, where, who – details, please!
My most memorable meal was with my parents at Joel Robuchon's Restaurant Jamin in Paris. It was Christmas 1982 and the flavors — from cauliflower and caviar to crab and tomato — astounded me. It was the first time I remember thinking that I would like to really learn how to cook. We finished the meal with a strawberry tart that was covered in the tiniest wild strawberries I had ever seen. It was sublime.

What's the first dish you learned to make really well?
I baked the coffee cake recipe from The Joy of Cooking over and over again when I was a kid. I really felt like I perfected that (not after many errors).

What's your signature party or potluck dish to make at home for friends?
I really love to braise beef or pork shanks. They are so naturally loaded with flavor, and they make a really thick sauce. Add a few parsnips, carrots and onions, and people are thrilled.

What music do you like to listen to when you cook?
I don't listen to music in the kitchen. It clouds my already-muddled thoughts.

What's your favorite "food city" to visit, and what do you like to eat there?
Charleston, South Carolina! Home of an ever-expanding food scene loaded with great chefs like Mike Lata, Sean Brock, Kevin Johnson and Robert Stehling, to name only a few. I love the Hominy Grill, Fig and Husk an awful lot. Tasty, honest food reflective of American cuisine and the ingredients that celebrate that area of America.

If you had not become a chef, which profession would you have chosen?
I would have tried to become either a marine biologist or a museum/art curator.

Chef Guarnaschelli has battled on Iron Chef America, is a judge on Chopped and competed on The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs.