Alex Vs America Season 3 Shatters Records With Fiery James Beard Winner Face-Off

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli had her work cut out for her in a recent episode of "Alex vs. America," with numerous James Beard Foundation recipients competing against her. The chefs carried awards from different states, including Illinois, Georgia, and California. Guarnaschelli, who does not have a James Beard award to her name, called the award "the Oscars of food," and sought to prove herself to the others in the episode. Despite her drive to knock them off, the notable chefs pushed Guarnaschelli into third place for the first time in the Food Network show's history.

The theme of the episode was to transform regular pantry ingredients into gourmet experiences. Chef Jonathan Sawyer, Chef Virginia Willis, and Chef Nate Appleman joined the challenge. Chef Guarnaschelli has a history with all the competing chefs. She has previously beaten Sawyer and Appleman in prior food competitions. Chef Willis also attended the same cooking school as Guarnaschelli and was acquainted with her mother.

Judges for the episode included Chef Stephanie Izard and Chef Kwame Onwuachi, who have both received James Beard awards themselves and are well-known. Judges hid during cooking to prevent any favoritism and provided feedback privately to the show host. The battle started with wagyu beef and canned pork that needed to be combined in 30 minutes. The dishes needed to cater to a "white linen" experience.

Chef Alex impresses judges

Chef Guarnaschelli created a seared wagyu ribeye with stuffed artichokes, cognac sauce, and a mustard vinaigrette which won the first round. Chef Onwuachi praised her dish stating, "Whoever cooked this is obviously a very skilled chef. Every single thing on this plate was executed well," and also added that Guarnaschelli's cognac sauce was superior to a prior dish presented by Chef Sawyer. In the first round, Chef Sawyer received third but survived the round.

Chef Appleman tried to impress judges with a triple-seared wagyu with fried pork and wagyu meatball, miso and tofu dipping sauce in mushroom brown butter, and a pork vinaigrette. Although he showed drive, the judges ultimately were not big fans of his dish. Chef Willis created a deconstructed beef Wellington with sauce diable and was eliminated in the first round. Chef Onwuachi lamented that his wagyu was deeply undercooked and tough to chew, although he enjoyed the sauce. Both judges agreed that the dish failed to inspire "white linen" and felt more like a "paper napkin."

James Beard chefs bring the heat

In the second round, or money round, chefs were challenged to make an "award-winning" appetizer with frozen shrimp and caviar in 30 minutes. Chef Guarnaschelli decided to create a shrimp toast with celery and apple salad along with caviar. She used brioche hamburger buns for the toast and put lemon dressing over the salad. Chef Izard was disappointed that the dish lacked crunchiness as a die-hard shrimp toast fan and felt the dish had too many things going on.

Chef Sawyer created a shrimp and scallop crudo with vadouvan hollandaise and malt vinegar chips, winning the challenge. He put grilled shrimp in a marinade of lime, yuzu, kewpie mayo, salt, and olive oil. The judges said they "loved the creativity" and texture of the dish. Judges also praised the chips, which they felt complemented the dish well. 

Both Chef Sawyer and Chef Appleman took cash home for placing higher than Chef Guarnaschelli in the intense cooking episode. Guarnaschelli tweeted about losing during the episode, "When I lose, I work very hard to be gracious. I'm often (if not always) happy for other chefs when they win because they deserve it. That being said, I hate to lose."