Alex Guarnaschelli
Alex Guarnaschelli
Courtesy of Brustman Carrino PR

SOBEWFF 2018: Alex Guarnaschelli Does It All, From Kid to Kitchen

It's easy to assume Alex Guarnaschelli is superhuman. After all, the celebrity chef is a regular judge on TV's Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay, a frequent contributor on national morning shows, a cookbook author, the executive chef of Butter in New York City, and the mother of 10-year-old Ava.

The chef breaks down that I-can-have-it-all persona on her Instagram page. Along with glam photos of hanging on-set with Geoffrey Zakarian or Scott Conant, Guarnaschelli posts pictures of doughnuts accompanied by the phrase "Have some celery. I'll just watch them for you" or a screenshot of Ava responding to the offer of a watercress salad for dinner with an angry emoji and one word: "disgusting."

In truth, Guarnaschelli is flesh and blood, after all. Asked how she makes time for everything, she credits list-making. "My daughter is the first thing, sleep is the last, and everything else is sandwiched in between."

Guarnaschelli confides that the only way to fit everything into the day is to combine things. When home in New York City, she brings Ava to her restaurant, Butter. "My daughter is interested in cooking, so we'll roll dough together or I'll help her make dinner there," she says. She struggles with the same challenges every working mom faces. "You're constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Her advice for busy women who face the challenge of balancing work and family? First and foremost: Don't be your own worst critic. "I think people compare themselves to some ideal version of themselves and always feel like they're not measuring up. I couldn't describe that feeling if I didn't have it myself."

She tries to count every accomplishment, no matter how little it might seem. "It's easy to say at the end of the day that if you didn't write a symphony in Sanskrit, you're a failure. That's not true."

Another way Guarnaschelli copes with a long day is by sneaking in a catnap or two. "Don't be ashamed to nap anywhere in any outfit. It sounds kind of cute, but I'm not kidding." A pro tip from a frequent traveler: Wear a hoodie to the airport to catch some impromptu zzz's.

Asked about how the traditional role for women as primary caregivers in a family is changing and how that affects the workplace, the chef gets serious: "I just think a lot of partnerships are reorganizing themselves in good ways. I think when my daughter was born, my ex-husband stayed with her more than I did."

With that in mind, she strives to make her kitchen as equal as possible. "I really try to ignore gender when it comes to cooking. Whoever is there and does good work gets my vote." Guarnaschelli likens a restaurant's kitchen to a cultural melting pot. "I kinda love the fact that in cooking, people work side by side who normally might never get the chance to meet in the outside world."

That said, she's delighted when women apply to work at Butter. "I think women should be made to feel welcomed into this industry."

The chef says even after 25 years of toiling in kitchens, she's still astounded by all the work that goes into making one meal for a diner. "There are so many factors that go into a restaurant. From the cook to the server, you need anywhere from 30 to 50 people doing their work in unison to get that plate to the table. It's like a giant orchestra. When you think of that, it's kind of amazing."

All of that work has its perks — especially during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. "I love that so many people come together and have fun for a great cause," Guarnaschelli says. And every year, she looks forward to Burger Bash. "I love anyplace where I'm obligated to go around and eat ten burgers."

Which brings her back to that work/life balance. Guarnaschelli will participate in three events during the festival, including hosting a dinner with Matthew Jennings at Artisan Beach House in Bal Harbour. She will also be one of more than a dozen chefs cooking at this year's tribute dinner honoring Bobby Flay and Michael Clarke of Treasury Wine Estates. "Some days you're overworked and you don't know how to get through it. Other days you're on the sands of South Beach and you're eating four burgers with a glass of wine in your hand."

Dinner hosted by Alex Guarnaschelli and Matthew Jennings, part of the NYT Cooking Dinner Series. 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, February 22, at Artisan Beach House at the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, 10295 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour. Tickets are sold out.

Tribute Dinner honoring Bobby Flay and Michael Clarke of Treasury Wine Estates with Master of Ceremonies Elvis Duran, presented by Bank of America, part of the NYT Cooking Dinner Series. 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, February 24, at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, 1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets are sold out.

Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village. Guarnaschelli will appear from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, February 25, at 13th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $225 to $275 at sobewff.org/gtvsun.

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