NEW YORK (Reuters) - American celebrity chef Alexandra “Alex” Guarnaschelli shares cooking tips and her childhood food memories as the daughter of a cookbook editor in her first book, “Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook.”
A classically trained chef and co-owner of Butter and The Darby restaurants in New York City, Guarnaschelli has competed, hosted and served as a judge on numerous U.S. television cooking shows including “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America.”
The 43-year-old New York native spoke to Reuters about writing a cookbook and how the culinary world has changed since she started as a chef.
Q: What do you want to accomplish with your first book?
A: It’s a combination of sharing my experiences, a very rich family history that contributed to my choice of profession, and a collection of recipes I really want to share.
Q: Your mom was a respected cookbook editor. Did you seek advice from her for the book?
A: I really left her alone for this one. You can’t mix family and business in this way. It’s writing about my family. I want my mom to be able to step back and enjoy my interpretations of all the great things that went on.
Q: Describe the process in shaping the format for the book.
A: I just took my favorite idea of a meal and broke it down into categories. And I thought about all the different kinds of meals I want to have. Through constant reworking and re-evaluating, it went from menus and concepts to actual full chapters. It progressed from where I want to begin all the way to how I want to end a meal.
Q: What are the most frequent questions your fans ask you?
A: They don’t ask me technique questions or questions about being a chef. They ask, “What do you do with this?” People just want to know some basic mechanics. That’s why I thought I would write a book that shows how I interpret ingredients. People could cook the way they like at home.
Q: How has the culinary world changed since you first began as a chef?
A: There was no food television when I started cooking except for Julia Child and PBS (a publicly funded U.S. TV station) so that’s definitely the No. 1 thing that’s changed that has influenced people’s decisions and their choice on why they want to go into this field and what they want to achieve.
As Americans, we have all become more cultured. There is a greater awareness about the connection between food and health and food that tastes good. People’s interpretation of what tastes good has become more elevated because there are so many choices ... on procuring information about food and on getting recipes, whether it’s from television or the Internet or books or magazines. People are expanding their idea of what’s within their reach.
Scallop Gratin with Gruyere and Scallion (serves 4)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup coarse bread crumbs, preferably panko, toasted
¾ cup thickly grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
16 medium dry diver sea scallops, each halved down the middle
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ pound small white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
¼ cup dry vermouth, preferably Noilly Prat
1 cup heavy cream
Juice of ½ lemon, plus 1 additional lemon for optional garnish
3 scallions (white part only), thinly sliced
1. Preheat the broiler.
2. Make the bread crumb topping: In a bowl, combine the butter and bread crumbs. Use a rubber spatula to mix them until they form a paste. Stir in the Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses. Mix in the thyme, salt, and pepper.
3. Cook the scallops: Heat a large skillet over high heat and add the canola oil. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, add them to the pan. Cook for 30 to 45 seconds until the edges brown and then quickly remove them to a plate using tongs.
4. Cook the mushrooms: Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they soften and brown lightly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vermouth and simmer until virtually all of the liquid has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the heavy cream, stirring gently, and simmer until the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Do not boil vigorously or the mixture risks separating. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the scallops, lemon juice, and scallions. Remove the pan from the heat.
5. Broil the scallops: Transfer the sauce and scallops to a shallow ovenproof dish (or into clean scallop shells, if desired). Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top and broil until browned, 1 to 2 minutes. The time may be slightly longer or shorter depending on how quickly the top browns. Watch carefully. Serve immediately.
Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Simao