Celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli gives aspiring cooks 5 practical kitchen tips
Special to the Daily
“Good food is all about how it makes you feel,” declares chef Alex Guarnaschelli as she brandished a chopping knife over a wooden cutting board littered with brightly colored cherry tomatoes.
“It’s one thing if you’ve overindulged and you feel sick after a meal — you know whose fault that is,” she added. “But if you’ve eaten sensibly and you walk out of a restaurant feeling full and heavy, that’s on the chef.”
A roomful of hungry guests hung onto her every word at a recent cooking demo hosted by Splendido at the Chateau as part of Beaver Creek’s Winter Culinary Weekend. Guarnaschelli and the Splendido staff prepared a gourmet, three-course lunch for the small crowd as she fielded questions about her Food Network stardom, dished on her cooking philosophy and discussed the elements of creating a wonderful meal.
And Guarnaschelli should know. The executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurant is a cookbook author as well as a chef contestant and judge on Food Network shows such as “Chopped,” “Iron Chef America,” “Next Iron Chef” and “Beat Bobby Flay” (whom she has beat 18 out of 32 times on the show).
While her epicurean menu at the cooking demo was a meal for home chefs to aspire to, she used approachable ingredients available at grocery stores and gave diners practical instruction to elevate and improve their own dishes. Here are some words of wisdom from Guarnaschelli that will help any aspiring chef in the kitchen.
1. Make your tomatoes look brighter and taste sweeter with a little powdered sugar
Yes, really. Sprinkling tomatoes with a light dusting of powdered sugar is a well-known chef trick that is especially effective when baking, broiling or grilling tomatoes, since those methods can dry out the final product.
“Powdered sugar contains cornstarch, which reacts with the pectin in tomatoes to bring out the color and adds sweetness at the same time,” she said.
2. Elevate your salads with some attention to detail
Ingredients such as cherry tomatoes, capers, olives and homemade vinaigrettes add taste and a bit of romance to simple salads. However, Guarnaschelli advises going the extra mile with some chopping and dressing to make your salad look professional and taste delicious.
If you’re dressing larger elements such as tomatoes, then lay them out on a baking sheet and drizzle your dressing over the ingredients instead of tossing everything together in the bowl. The result is an evenly dressed salad and no smashed ingredients.
Also, capers and olives can add welcome saltiness to a salad, but it is important to chop them first. When added whole, these ingredients may look inviting, but when the salad is eaten, they can be overwhelmingly salty. Chopping distributes the flavors more evenly.
3. Making fish or chicken? Leave the skin on
In most parts of the world, this cooking tip is a given, but many American cooks don’t like the sight of skin on their meat. Take it from this iron chef — cooking with the skin on your meat insulates moisture and retains flavor.
“If you don’t like the skin, then peel it off before serving. If you like it, leave it on. No harm done either way,” she said.
4. When whipping egg whites, details matter
Whipped egg whites are a crucial component to airy, fluffy desserts such as souffles, mousses and meringues. Guarnaschelli cautions that in the whipping process, the egg whites must stay very clean.
“The whites tend to pick up any impurities, and it will also inhibit that nice rise you’re looking for,” the celebrity chef said.
Use a clean bowl and utensils to start, and when separating the whites from the yolk, don’t get any yolk mixed with your whites.
Whip the whites in the mixer before adding sugar, and use fresh, room temperature, large eggs.
5. For more intense taste, add different versions of the same ingredient
Of course, a home chef has to be careful not to overpower their dish, but the basic premise with this rule is that different versions of the same ingredient can add complexity to a meal and enhance that particular flavor.
For example, when making a fruit filling for a dessert, Guarnaschelli likes to add some jam to fresh fruit — raspberry jam with fresh raspberries or strawberry jam with fresh strawberries. The sweetness of the jam and the tartness of the fresh fruit pair perfectly. The same concept applies when a cook is combining similar-tasting vegetables such as leeks and onion in a broth or sauce, or seasoning meat or fish with fresh and dry versions of the same herb.