Chef Alex Guarnaschelli doesn’t consider herself a relevant chef. “But I’m on TV a lot, so that certainly helps,” she says, laughing. On TV a lot is an understatement: Guarnaschelli regularly appears in a half-dozen shows on the Food Network, and she is executive chef of the popular French-American restaurant Butter in midtown Manhattan. She is opening a new restaurant in Miami this fall and is releasing her second cookbook in 2016. It all sounds pretty relevant to us.
We caught up with Guarnaschelli over a big bowl of French fries to discuss her grueling Food Network schedule, her active social media presence (“If I read all the comments I’d never get out of bed!”) and why you’ll never see her open a chain of restaurants.
Every time I turn on the Food Network, you’re on there. How much time do you spend filming shows every week?
Well the shows shoot all of their episodes in batches, so the work isn’t constant. It ebbs and flows fairly erratically. Chopped is going into our seventh year, which I can’t believe, and then there’s Iron Chef America and I guest star on Beat Bobby Flay. I do a lot of drive-bys. But I can go a week without any work in the studio and then have a week with 80 hours.
You’re an avid user of social media. Does feedback on your Instagram or Twitter accounts ever affect what you put on a menu?
No, I still serve the same things. You can’t let social media dictate what you’re doing. I engage with people a lot though. It’s fun! Food is so visual. I learn a lot about what people respond to, what they like and what theyʼre thinking. It’s like great market research. You know, 4,000 people will like your picture of French fries and only 500 will like your picture of squash.
Has your take on French-American food evolved in the years since you’ve helmed Butter?
Geez, I suppose it should have now that youʼre asking me. To me French-American food means that I apply French techniques to American ingredients. Those are for the most part the constraints I impose on myself. That way I can give definition to what’s served and let it have meaning. So while there is a limited body of French techniques I could apply, the list of ingredients that can theoretically fall under the American food umbrella is boundless. Iʼm always looking at new ingredients, always playing with stuff and exploring, but my sensibility hasn’t changed all that much.
What’s your new Miami restaurant going to be like?
It will have the same French-American sensibility that I have at Butter, but it won’t be Butter 2. I will use ingredients indigenous to the area like avocados, mangos and guava. I’m really excited about it.
Why are so many chefs opening restaurants in Miami right now?
Miami is definitely enjoying a chef renaissance. It’s equidistant from New York and California. It’s accessible. It’s got the external food influences of mesmerizing places like Cuba. And Miami is just stunning. I think it’s forever blowing up because it’s so beautiful.
What is your favorite city to eat in?
New York. That’s part of the reason why I live here. But I also really love Paris. I lived there for almost seven years. Turn any corner and it’s an adventure.
Are there any other cities in the U.S. that you love eating in?
Charleston. There’s a concentration of talent there that I just can’t handle. And the resources are great, from the shrimp and oysters to the grits. One place I love there is Hominy Grill. It’s just straight-up, good Southern food that I want to eat and eat and eat.
I also love Los Angeles. It’s a great food scene. There’s tons of talented chefs and again there’s tons of natural resources. If you combine great chefs with great resources for ingredients, it’s the perfect storm. I like Gjelina in Venice a lot. The food at Mozza is delicious, but probably everyone says that. I like Joan’s on Third, which is more casual stuff. Those are the places that really speak to me. But I like to eat lots of different things. When I’m driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, I like to stop at Neptune’s Net for some fried fish. And go to the Santa Monica Farmers Market and eat my way through all the citrus.
Are there any chefs you’re in awe of right now?
What Anita Lo makes at Annisa always impresses me. It’s got lots of technique but is always so simple and delicious.
What’s your new cookbook going to be about?
It’s going to be sort of like a double album of greatest hits. Lots of iconic dishes, basics, things I think people really want to cook at home. Cooking is my profession, but it also happens to be my hobby. When you’re a chef in a restaurant, you’re concerning yourself with a lot of other things besides the cooking. When you’re at home, you get to express your craft more.
Many celebrity chefs have a dozen restaurants and they do television shows and they seem to be spread pretty thin. But you only have Butter and the soon-to-open Miami restaurant. Does this help you stay focused on the craft?
Yes. I’m probably never going to be someone who owns a lot of restaurants.
Because I don’t want to. It would be like having 15 children. I don’t know how people do it.
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep