One-on-One With Guest Judge Alex Guarnaschelli

By: Sarah De Heer
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Guest Judge Alex Guarnaschelli watching the Finalists cooking for the Star Challenge "Chopped" as seen on Food Network Star, Season 9.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

No one may know the pressures of reality cooking competitions better than Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. She's a force in Kitchen Stadium and arguably one of the most-straightforward Chopped judges at the table. Beyond competitions, she's a chef who has been wowing patrons for years at her restaurants. Simply said: Alex knows her stuff and can probably describe it better than anyone else.

This past Sunday, Alex joined Alton and Bobby at the judges' table for a special Chopped-themed episode of Star. Star Talk recently caught up with Alex and asked her about her time on the show, including her reaction on Danushka's infamous "bored" comment.

Your face was priceless when Danushka revealed her "boredom" during the challenge. What was your initial reaction to hearing that? Was that a Chopped first for you?

AG: Standing on the middle of the subway at rush hour, waking up late for a final exam or frying an egg for the queen of England would be less stressful than that kitchen. I think boredom is a curious reaction. I also think if you know you're bored, and cooking is such a demanding profession, it might not be a good fit.

Were you less critical of the Star competitors because they didn't necessarily sign up for a Chopped challenge, or were you harsher because they want to be the next Food Network Star and should be able to handle the competition?

AG: I feel empathy for anyone who finds themselves in the midst of a Chopped challenge, especially if they didn't sign up for it. I felt the competitors did a great job. I was really impressed that all of them were so connected to the dishes and choices they made. I was also impressed with how well the two contestants judged their fellow competitors. I wouldn't have been as bold or honest in their shoes — not the way to make friends.

Mentor Bobby Flay, Guest Judge Alex Guarnaschelli and Mentor Alton Brown tasting the Finalists dishes for the Star Challenge "Chopped" as seen on Food Network Star, Season 9.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Since you've competed on Chopped All-Stars and Chopped After Hours, did you find yourself more understanding of their missteps, given that you've dealt with similar stresses in the kitchen?

AG: I really do feel empathy and understand. I think any Chopped judge, who has lived these moments multiple times, knows how hard it can be!

You helped judge an episode of Star last season, too. The format of the show has changed. Which do you prefer?

AG: I like this format better. The teams from last year were fun because they revealed a surprisingly deep rivalry between Giada, Alton and Bobby. I just think, this way, the free form allows the contestants to benefit from each of the mentors and their individual strengths at different times. If I had to guess, that will lead to a more "rounded" training process and a well-informed victor.

Just three episodes into the season, do you see any frontrunners?

AG: I genuinely found all of the contestants likable for unique reasons. I really liked the development of flavor in Viet's dish and the warmth of Russell's presentation. But it's too early to tell!

What are three things a Food Network star needs to embody?

AG: The best thing a Food Network star can have on their side is a genuine love of, and an ability to cook. I think the Food Network stars that resonate the most have a fearlessness with sharing some of who they really are. I have felt an almost seamless connection between what someone is cooking and the "story" they have to tell — like Julia Child! The O.G., Anne Burrell, comes to mind as another example. I think a star also has to be real and not afraid to take risks, make mistakes. Morimoto comes to mind. Did you see that sushi roll he made in his Iron Chef battle against Mike Symon? It looked like a stained-glass window in a church. Who could forget it? A Food Network star also has to convey (and feel!) excitement about their task. Whether making a soup or a Beef Wellington from scratch, or a wasabi banana peel sandwich, if they are excited about it, I'll follow them anywhere.

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