"This Challenge Was Like a 20-Layer Sandwich." — An Interview with Alex Guarnaschelli

By: Sarah De Heer

Related To:

An Interview with Alex Guarnaschelli, Season 10 Food Network Star

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Eddy Chen, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Alex Guarnaschelli is no stranger to Food Network Star. We've seen her dish out her opinions on the judging panel of two Chopped-themed episodes during seasons 8 and 9. But this past Sunday, Alex took off her judge's hat and took to the kitchen. During the Star Challenge, the remaining finalists were tasked with taping a 15-minute demo explaining how to make a simple dish with pantry ingredients in a separate prep kitchen. So where's the twist? Iron Chef Guarnaschelli was in Star Kitchen watching their demos in real time, attempting to make the same dish, as Bobby, Giada and Alton looked on.

Star Talk caught up with the Iron Chef right after the show to talk about being in the kitchen versus being a judge, and what Bobby, Giada and Alton are really like.

This is your third time on Food Network Star, and this time they put you into the mix of cooking, and you even said that you feel like you’re a part of the cooking audition yourself!

Alex Guarnaschelli: It’s true. I’ve been through a number of shows and I’ve done a lot of this stuff before, so theoretically this is not my first or even my fifth rodeo, but it feels as nerve-racking and as fresh as the first time. And when you realize that, you catch a glimpse into what the stakes are like for these competitors. I mean, they’re standing in front of a trio of people that have enough producing and camera experience to catapult you all the way to the top. How much can you sort out? How much can you really hear them? How do you separate yourself from the pack? On top of being on camera, they have to cook for Bobby, Giada and Alton. I mean that — that’s some cherry and whipped cream on that sundae right there, right?
In this episode, you followed along the finalists' demos and had to create their dishes — and Alton, Bobby and Giada also had to taste the dishes. Did you feel a little bit judged yourself?

AG: I definitely felt judged myself and I'm definitely learning something myself — about what it’s like to be a home viewer and to re-create what somebody’s showing you how to do on television. I mean, food is expensive, time is costly, and pots and pans are a pain to clean up. I got to tell you, I felt nervous. I didn't want to fail the finalists. I felt like if I failed them, then they wouldn't look good in front of the judges. I was on Team Finalists, for sure.

Alton was kind of joking, but he even mentioned, and you agreed, that you’re used to dishing it out and maybe not taking it. How did it feel kind of being on the other side?

AG: You know, it doesn’t bother me at all because in order to be a chef in the first place, you just have to spend so many years doing just that — listening, internalizing from other people who have more experience. I think I try never to lose sight of my humility. I think the finalists who are really going to go the distance here are the ones that are going to put aside any defensiveness that they feel about what they’d like to do and what they’d like to convey and share, and humbly listen and grow from the trio of very sharp, succinct voices. And I think that all three of them bring very different things to the table. Alton thinks a lot about the mechanics of how a dish is executed, put together, expressed and shared. Giada is really into the personality and the energy and the "Do I want to be here with you? Do I want to sit here and watch TV with you?" Bobby is, you know, sort of wanting to retain enough of whatever is the professional chef in a TV cook and meld that together with somebody who can have empathy for the home viewer and understand how to put a dish together.

Speaking of Alton, Giada and Bobby, who do you think is the most intimidating to stand in front of?

AG: I'd say the most intimidating for me is Giada. Because I think, in a way, because she’s so positive and encouraging you can’t tell what she really thinks. She’s the one with the real poker face.

If you could give one piece of advice to the finalists going forward in this competition, what would it be?

AG: There are two parts to my answer. Part one: Drink a double espresso before the start of the day. And I’m not talking decaf because I think there's a real distinction here. Part two: Understand the difference between a tempo of a cooking demonstration and the speed at which you do it. When there are highs and lows and ups and downs, it just feels more human — more organic and that’s not the same as speeding up. Learn that difference and harness it. I mean, if you can do that, you're the next Food Network Star — that's it.

Could you ever have seen yourself competing on this show?

AG: Oh, my God! I think I would have been the first one eliminated. I really believe that.

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