Alex Guarnaschelli and Elizabeth Falkner: Leading Ladies of SoBeWFF

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The South Beach Wine & Food Festival arrives February 19 through 22 with more than 75 events, tastings, parties, seminars, and dinners. The bash, which benefits Florida International University's dining and tourism programs, brings thousands of fans and celebrity chefs to Miami.

Two of the hottest names at this year's South Beach Wine & Food Festival are Alex Guarnaschelli and Elizabeth Falkner.

Guarnaschelli has quite the resumé: Iron Chef champion, Food Network star, cookbook auteur, and top toque at Manhattan's popular Butter Restaurant. She's perhaps lesser known for her amusing tweets about her family: "My daughter has decided she likes watching. 'Mom, why did you say that?' is one thing I hear a lot now..." And celebrities: "#BenedictCumberbatch is a tasty cake." During this year's SoBeWFF, the candid cook will host the Medianoches & Mixology event and will also appear at the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village.

See also: The Best Events at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival

Before participating in any televised cooking competition, Falkner trains the way she would for any tournament. This means in addition to practicing in the kitchen, the athletic chef exercises her mind and body as well. Some of her favorite activities include CrossFit, spinning, yoga, and Jungshin -- a type of workout with wooden swords she likens to the action in the film Kill Bill minus the whole stabbing-people part. Falkner loves a good challenge, which is partly why she has earned top honors in both sweet and savory departments. For this year's League of Their Own lunch, she has opted to prepare the dessert course while her friends Michelle Bernstein and Gabrielle Hamilton tackle the rest of the meal. Though the treat remains a surprise, Falkner says it's inspired by a recent trip to Turkey.

New Times recently spoke with both Guarnaschelli and Falkner. Guarnaschelli talked about New Year's resolutions, midnight snacks, and working with culinary A-listers. Falkner dished about the Big Apple, Geoffrey Zakarian, and guilty pleasures.

Alex Guarnaschelli

New Times: What ingredient do you enjoy cooking with most?

Alex Guarnaschelli: A tie between Fuyu persimmons and Jerusalem artichokes.

What restaurant/menu trends do you foresee for 2015?

I think there will be a continuation of, and elaboration upon, vegetarian entrées centered on one vegetable; creative use of grains for dough, both savory and sweet; and the hamburger and cupcake will hold steady as their own food groups. As an extension of the broth craze, varied genres of soup will become all the rage as healthy, easily digestible, and deeply flavored food.

You've been fortunate enough to work with culinary masters like Larry Forgione, Guy Savoy, and Daniel Boulud. How have they inspired you as a chef?

Each chef I have worked with inspires me differently. Larry Forgione inspired me to become a chef and celebrate American ingredients. Guy Savoy inspired me to pursue great flavor relentlessly. Daniel Boulud taught me that discipline and passion can coexist happily.

You're hosting the Medianoches & Mixology event this SoBeWFF. What's the key to making an excellent medianoche?

I think it's all about approaching it simply. It's hard not to go for big-ticket ingredients. Resisting that temptation wins the race.

Any Miami plans outside of SoBeWFF?

I'm hoping to be part of a restaurant project here sometime in the near future.

What was the highlight of last year's festival for you?

Where to begin? I really like going down to the tents and watching my colleagues' cooking demos. Fun to see all the different personalities -- and foods.

What's your midnight snack of choice?

I tend to go very savory: love an egg in the hole on buttery rye toast. I love spicy barbecue chips with caramelized onion dip. I also love roasted squash with roasted pepitas and bacon.

You have a young daughter. What's the most important lesson you'd like to instill in her about cooking?

Do it for fun. Get pleasure from eating what you cook as much as you get pleasure from watching others eating it.

In 2012 you became an Iron Chef. How did that change your life?

It gave me a great boost in confidence. It was, honestly, a great honor.

What's your New Year's resolution?

To master bread dough and tempered chocolate once and for all!

If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing?

I'd be either a marine biologist or a farmer.

What does it mean to be a female chef in 2015?

The same as it did last year: a fantastic privilege.

Alex Guarnaschelli will appear at the following SoBeWFF events:

Olmeca Altos Tequila's Medianoches & Mixology, presented by Schweppes, hosted by Alex Guarnaschelli: Saturday, February 21, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Wynwood Walls, 2520 NW Second Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $95.

Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village, featuring MasterCard Grand Tasting Tents & KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations: Sunday, February 22, from noon to 5 p.m. at the Grand Tasting Village, 13th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $225.

Elizabeth Falkner

New Times: You mentioned in a previous interview that you like to cook at home after work and that your second cookbook was about what a chef eats at home. What do you currently enjoy making?

Elizabeth Falkner: I was just hanging out with Anita Lo, and we were working on Chinese dumplings and soup dumplings. I've been really obsessed with pasta the last two years, and I'm getting into dumplings too.

You worked in the San Francisco Bay Area and then moved to New York in 2012. What would you say are some of the biggest differences between food tastes in the two cities?

I think because of the amount of citrus in California and the difference in the citrus flavor (it's more acidic there than the citrus from Florida), people there have more of a palate for acidity from citrus, whereas on the East Coast there's more of a palate for briny, salty, and pickled stuff. There's much more of a pickling culture here, whether it's the historical Jewish deli or the whole pickling movement in Brooklyn.

Do you prefer living in one city versus the other?

I love living in New York City now for a change because I've always wanted to live here. I actually go to Florida more often now. I was just at the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival. I now get to go to places that are on this side of the country, and it's easier to go to Europe.

For the League of Their Own luncheon, you'll be reunited with your friend and fellow Manhattan chef, Gabrielle Hamilton. What are you most looking forward to about working together?

And Michelle too! I love Michelle Bernstein. I've known both of them for a long time. Gabrielle I see often because Prune is one of my favorite restaurants in New York and I just love her and we're good friends. This will be great because we'll be at Michelle's new restaurant at the Thompson, and the menu looks outstanding.

Is there one Food Network competition that stands out for you? Why?

I think I've done almost 30 cooking competitions on television, whether as a judge or a competitor. The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs (2011) where I went to the finals with Geoffrey Zakarian is a highlight because I came in second place. It was such a letdown because I really thought I'd nailed it, but the whole experience was so much fun. That was really when people started realizing I'm someone who also cooks savory.

Do you have any words of wisdom for up-and-coming female chefs?

What I would tell any chef is just to stay focused and committed. It's so physically demanding on your body too, so my main thing is for chefs -- and people in general -- to try to eat healthy and work out. Exercise is one of the most critical things a chef needs to do.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Hot chocolate with bourbon, especially this time of year in New York, and buttermilk mashed potatoes.

Elizabeth Falkner will appear at the following SoBeWFF events:

Fontainebleau Miami Beach presents Wine Spectator's Best of the Best: Friday, February 20, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets are sold out.

A League of Their Own, a lunch hosted by Michelle Bernstein, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Elizabeth Falkner: Saturday, February 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Thompson Miami Beach, 4041 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets are sold out.

Despaña presents Paella by the Pool hosted by José Andrés: Thursday, February 19, from 7 to 10 p.m. at SLS Hotel South Beach, 1701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach.

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