What You Don't Know About Alex Guarnaschelli - Exclusive

Foodies of America have been watching Food Network star and award-winning chef, Alex Guarnaschelli light up their TV screens since 2006. For her first network appearance, the executive chef of New York City's Butter restaurant competed on Food Network Challenge against three other professional chefs to see who could whip up the best Thanksgiving dinner in a mere five hours, according to Food Network. While she didn't happen to win that one, she nevertheless went on to win The Next Iron Chef: Redemption in 2012 and beat none other than Bobby Flay on Beat Bobby Flay in 2017 (via Food Network). In addition, Guarnaschelli has also been a judge on Chopped, among others, the host of Supermarket Stakeout and Alex's Day Off, and has recently been co-hosting the talk show The Kitchen.

Of course, that doesn't even scratch the surface of the more than 600 Food Network appearances Variety estimated Guarnaschelli had made by 2019, when it was announced that she had entered into a new, exclusive deal with the Food Network encompassing both daytime and primetime projects.

So how many times has the chef appeared on the Food Network "I genuinely have no idea," she told Mashed during an exclusive interview. "Maybe that's part of my charm, or maybe I'm an idiot or maybe both." So how did Alex Guarnaschelli become such a star? 

Alex Guarnaschelli was initially interested in art history

Long before Alex Guarnaschelli's rise to Food Network stardom, she attended Barnard College, an esteemed women's liberal arts school that has been affiliated with Columbia University, since its founding in 1889 (via Barnard College). Guarnaschelli graduated with a degree in art history in 1991. 

"I think an appreciation of artistry is what art history and cooking have in common," chef Alex told Mashed when asked how her art history education plays a role for her as a chef, "but above and beyond that, I don't think they're really interconnected." Indeed, as she's has told Food Network, if she hadn't become a chef, "I would have embarked on the search for those giant squid as a marine biologist." So, clearly, Guarnaschelli's interests were diverse before she decided to enter the culinary world. But once she did, she was there for keeps. 

Guarnaschelli has never had a job that wasn't food-related

"As an adult, I haven't had any job that wasn't food-related, ever," Alex Guarnaschelli told Mashed. "Can you believe that?" Well, actually, yes, we can, because Guarnaschelli's very first job following graduation was working for the legendary American chef, Larry Forgione (via Alex Guarnaschelli), whose restaurant, An American Place, helped usher in the age of "foodie" culture and celebrity chefs (via Great Chefs). After two successful years of working with Forgione, Guarnaschelli followed her mentor's advice and traveled abroad to expand her skillset, landing in Burgundy's La Varenne Culinary School, where she was a work-study student. 

After La Varenne, Guarnaschelli relocated to Paris, where she worked for and studied under another legendary chef, Guy Savoy, at his eponymous Michelin-starred Paris eatery. Savoy became one of Guarnaschelli's most influential teachers, she told Mashed. "He taught me how to cook. He taught me how to think about flavor." Four years later, she was promoted to sous chef at another of Savoy's restaurants, La Butte Chaillot, where she oversaw 10 French chefs, per her website. Seven years after first arriving in France, Guarnaschelli returned to the U.S., first to the prestigious restaurant, Daniel, where she ultimately became Daniel Boulud's sous chef, and then to Patina in West Hollywood for two years before she found her way to Manhattan's Butter, where she became the executive chef in 2003.  

Guarnaschelli's first appearance on the Food Network involved a major snafu

Alex Guarnaschelli first appeared on the Food Network in 2006 as a competitor on Food Network Challenge. At the time, she had 15 years of professional culinary experience under her belt. So then what could possibly have gone wrong for chef Alex in the five-hour race against three other chefs to make the best Thanksgiving dinner? Two words: mashed potatoes

As Guarnaschelli explained to Mashed, "the show was shot in Denver, Colorado, which affected the cooking because of the altitude." Indeed, Denver is known as the "Mile High City" because it's located, literally, one mile above sea level (via Denver.org). Once you get up that high, some of the rules of cooking begin to change, including the one about water boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. At Denver's altitude, water boils at around 202 degrees Fahrenheit (via Pew Research Center), which means it takes longer for potatoes to cook through. How much longer? Long enough that Guarnaschelli's potatoes "literally just never cooked."

"I remember thinking, 'Oh, god. I didn't win, so I'm never going to be on TV again,'" she told Mashed. She was wrong, of course. Mashed potato-gate aside, chef Alex was a natural fit for the Food Network. "You're pretty good at this," she recalls one of the producers telling her. "You're funny, you're kind of wacky." And the rest, as they say, is history.

Alex Guarnaschelli knew better than to give Mike Castellon advice before he went on Chopped

As you probably are aware, Alex Guarnaschelli is engaged to chef Michael Castellon, also known as "chef Mike," who popped the question in June 2020. The two have been together since 2016 (Guarnaschelli had been previously married to Brandon Clark, with whom she shares one child, daughter Ava Clark). Although Castellon has also appeared as a competitor on Guy's Grocery Games and as Guarnaschelli's sous chef on Iron Chef America (via Distractify), he's probably best known for being a Chopped champion, according to Today.

Since he competed in 2017, we figured that Guarnaschelli, being a veteran of cooking competitions since 2006, might have had some sage advice to offer her then-boyfriend, now fiancé. But as it turns out, Guarnaschelli and Castellon preferred to keep their relationship separate from the cooking competition. 

 "I didn't give him any advice," chef Alex told Mashed. "When I met him, he had already applied to go on. And when they accepted him, I said 'I'm not going to say a word,' and he said 'I don't want you to.'" Guarnaschelli explained, "We really wanted to protect our relationship. That was something that we decided early on. And it was a good move. It's nice that when he won, it was all him."

Alex Guarnaschelli considers herself a "closet" vegetarian

Guarnaschelli and her fiancé, Michael Castellon, met over a steak dinner that he had cooked at his restaurant, where she was dining with a friend. The steak was so good that Guarnaschelli wanted to extend her compliments to the chef, which she did, and "that was it," as she told People. For all her love of a well-prepared steak, you might be inclined to forget that Guarnaschelli is a chef who truly prioritizes produce. Her restaurant, Butter, "has always been about seasonal produce and ingredients," and she, herself, is "obsessed" with all of nature's earth-grown gifts.

"You can see it on my Instagram," she told Mashed. "I cook and buy and eat and explore produce galore. I am a closet vegetarian who occasionally eats chicken and occasionally eats steak. If you know me, you know that I love plants, and I like to eat them." And that goes a long way toward explaining her recent partnership with Japanese-inspired plant-based food brand, ZENB, which makes the 100 percent yellow pea pasta that Guarnaschelli recently taught us how to dress for spring. "Plant-based foods really, I think, fit seamlessly into my personal interests."

More plant-based and chef-inspired recipes can be found on ZENB's website, and you can see more of Guarnaschelli on Food Network's Supermarket Stakeout and Chopped.