You may know her as the no-nonsense Chopped judge with an all-knowing glare, but chef Alex Guarnaschelli isn’t always so intimidating. In her upcoming book, The Home Cook: Recipes to Know By Heart, the Food Network star, Iron Chef champ and executive chef at New York City’s Butter is all about bringing people into the kitchen (rather than sending them packing). Hitting shelves this fall, the book is Guarnaschelli's guide to home cooking (and bartending) for beginners.
While she was in town promoting the upcoming Taste of Two Forks, a culinary event spotlighting the food and drink of the North and South Forks of Long Island, Supercall caught up with Guarnaschelli to talk summer produce, annoying drink trends and Chopped cocktail challenges.
Supercall: Your new book, The Home Cook is an “all-in-one cooking bible for a new generation of home cooks,” and it also includes cocktail recipes. Which cocktails do you think are essential for a beginner cook to know and why?
Alex Guarnaschelli: A true Martini, a Margarita, a Bloody Mary and a French 75—they are cocktails that have many variations, they're fun to drink, and they are the fundamentals that can help nurture cocktail appreciation.
SC: In the book, you talk about how this new generation of home cooks is more comfortable using international ingredients and bolder flavors—do you think that applies to cocktails as well?
AG: I do, of course. But it's good to start with the essentials and then branch out—like with food. Learn the rules backwards and forwards, and then, break them.
SC: What are some fun ways to add more international flavors to at-home cocktails?
AG: Fresh exotic fruits like lychees, pineapples and coconut are wonderful flavors to pair with various spirits. There are fruit syrups and pureés that are great too, like calamansi and yuzu. You can also experiment with dairy, like yogurt and make lassi. You can use fresh herbs to make a Mojito variation, or a strawberry basil lemonade, and so on.
SC: What is the biggest mistake every beginner makes when hosting a summer barbecue for the first time?
AG: When a beginner cook makes a menu that is so big and ambitious that they end up cooking the whole time instead of enjoying their party. I've made this classic mistake.
SC: What is the one seasonal summertime ingredient you are the most excited about using in food and drinks?
AG: Blueberries are wonderful in a cocktail, a pie, a salad or in homemade jams. They can be part of a brunch or lunch and are healthy, juicy and flavorful.
SC: What is one drink trend you wish would go away?
AG: When BLT sandwiches, large pieces of fried chicken, burgers and such are put on sticks and used as "garnishes" for cocktails.
SC: What is your go-to hangover cure?
AG: A big mess of huevos rancheros with tons of hot sauce.
SC: What is your favorite day-drinking cocktail?
AG: A Miami Vice: half a frozen Strawberry Daiquiri swirled with half a frozen Piña Colada.
SC: You are given a Chopped mystery basket filled with kumquats, miso paste and black licorice—what cocktail do you make with it?
AG: I would make a muddled kumquat Vodka Soda with black licorice syrup, fortified with the miso and lemon juice.