Alex Guarnaschelli Celebrates Bella Cucina at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

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While she may be known for her fierce competitive spirit in the kitchen — both while facing off against rivals as the newest Iron Chef and judging the latest Chopped contest — Alex Guarnaschelli enjoyed a culinary partnership last night at the 2014 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Kicking off the weekend-long celebration of all things eats and drinks, Alex teamed up with Chef Dena Marino to host Bella Cucina, an intimate yet lively Italian-themed dinner at Chef Marino's MC Kitchen in Miami's Design District.

"There's no place I'd rather be than here," Alex told the sold-out crowd, which was welcomed to the event with passed hors d'oeuvres like sweet-and-savory lacquered Veal Bacon with Red Mustard, pasta chips topped with octopus and Marinated Wild Salmon with Scotch Bonnet Salsa (pictured above), plus a seemingly never-ending flow of fine Italian wine.

Not just a chef on television, Alex cooks professionally at her multiple New York City restaurants, so it's no surprise that she fit right in on the line at MC Kitchen. She worked alongside the staff to prep ingredients, adjust seasonings and put the finishing touches on her dishes. Although Alex and Dena offered a single menu last night, they divided the courses among them; each offered two once the sit-down dinner began, with Alex preparing a plated appetizer and the dessert.

In keeping with the deliciously classic simplicity of traditional Italian fare, the Iron Chef opted for bright, clean flavors in her starter of Grilled and Marinated Shrimp with Tangerine and Mint, and Chef Marino followed with a cavatelli pasta plate featuring spicy sauce and an entree of fall-apart-tender short ribs. Alex embraced hearty comfort food in her decadent ending of Flourless Chocolate Torte with Vanilla Cream and Star Anise Caramel. This moist and chewy slice was blanketed with a rich chocolate topping, plus just a few flecks of salt, so the torte balanced its sweetness with a subtle savory taste.

Keep coming back to FN Dish all weekend long to get more insider coverage of the 2014 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.