Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli Swoons Over Cakes, Functions on High-Octane Coffee

"For dinner at the restaurant, I had braised chicken with all different kinds of chiles from the Greenmarket, Eckerton Hill Farms. Dark meat: the breasts for the customers, the sides for the staff."
Photo: Melissa Hom

After five years helming the kitchen at Butter (where she says she sees “plates that have been scraped with bread” by the model-type clientele) and frequent appearances on Iron Chef, Alexandra Guarnaschelli now has her own show on the Food Network. The Cooking Loft, which airs at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays, fits Guarnaschelli’s style of applying French techniques to American seasonal ingredients, but for her the opportunity still feels “like when you dream you’re going to be a Rockette when you’re five.” We asked the Greenmarket obsessive what she's been eating this week.

Saturday, October 25
I was on Nantucket for a cooking demo at the White Elephant hotel. I had a couple of sourdough pancakes in the early afternoon at Arno’s on Main Street.

And then for dinner, I ate at Sfoglia on Nantucket. Oh my God, what didn’t I eat. I ate chicken-liver crostini, a roasted chicken with fennel, and a huge — like ridiculously, embarrassingly huge — homemade apple tart, which was just shy of pornographic. I had a glass of Suave and a glass of Brunello.

Sunday, October 26
For breakfast, I had a handful of almonds and a Forelle pear. I put some lemon juice on that; I really love fruit with a lot of acid.

Because I was in Cape Cod, on my way home I had clam chowder, fried clam bellies, fried clam strips, and raw clams. I love clams. Is that obvious? I have family in the Massachusetts area, but I’m from Manhattan if you can believe it — one of the true New Yorkers.

At home I had the Sunday-night-guilt dinner, which was a huge salad to atone for my sins: radicchio, frissée, endive, and arugula, with a sherry vinaigrette.

Monday, October 27
I didn’t have breakfast. I always drink coffee from Joe, so I had a latte at Joe.

And then for lunch I went into the restaurant. I had grilled shrimp with almost a half a pound of green olives. I got stuck on a container of green olives. I like big, meaty green olives — I couldn’t stop eating them. [The shrimp] were on the menu that day as a special.

And then I made some white-button mushroom soup for dinner. A lot of times I eat family meal. The person who makes staff meal is a wonderful cook from Columbia. As is true in a lot of restaurants we eat a lot of chicken, and he makes the most ridiculous braised chicken dishes. But on Monday, I made soup and ate it. [It was just] leeks and vermouth and shallots and garlic. I don’t know what I’d do without garlic and onions and leeks, honestly; I wouldn’t eat much.

Tuesday , October 28
Tuesday morning I had Wheat Chex. I love cereal — crunchy cereal. Wheat Chex and Special K mixed together and sliced kiwi and skim milk (the one place where I don’t mind skim milk). And coffee. I cannot function without coffee. And I do find that now that my daughter exists, I eat what she eats in the morning. Two years ago I’d probably have a coffee roll from Dunkin' Donuts. We chefs, I think we like to eat what we don’t make; because I’ve always been a savory chef I tend to gravitate toward desserts. So when I have the opportunity to eat healthy, I seize it.

For lunch I ate at home, some charcuterie with my husband. We had some Sullivan St. Bakery bread, which is my favorite bread in the universe. [We had] their ciabatta, nothing fancy. I like it because the bread's kind of cooked, kind of well done, chewy. I brewed some lapsang souchong tea, which is my favorite tea. I buy it loose at Kalustyan’s, which is a really important store for me. I get a lot of spices and teas and dried fruits from that store for the restaurant and for my house.

For dinner, I had sautéed mussels with some wheat berries. I made it in the restaurant. That actually was an extension of staff meal — it’s called the leftover special; it’s really good — you should try it sometime. I sautéed the mussels, cooked the wheat berries, and then mixed them together. I can’t taste every dish I’m preparing. Usually I taste sauces and vinaigrettes — the things that form the foundation of the dishes. You know that every time a dish gets made, it’s going to taste the way that sauce tastes.

Wednesday, October 29

I always go to the Greenmarket on Wednesday mornings. So I stop at Tisserie and get a high-octane coffee, the only way to start the day. And then there’s this one stand where they sell powdered apple-cider doughnuts. So while I’m picking out all these beautiful vegetables and fruits, I, of course, am delicately making my way through the bag of apple-cider doughnuts — you eat four before you realize you started eating because they’re just … To me, they’re dreamy. I love cake and doughnuts and cupcakes, it’s really my big weakness. I grew up in a house where my mother did a lot of cooking, so the Fanny Farmer Cookbook was a staple in my life at a very young age. When I was 12, my parents would be asleep in bed in the morning and I would just get up and make a coffee cake or cornbread from scratch. There was an early tradition of making things from scratch in my life that has never left me.

[At the market] I bought some beautiful Kirby cucumbers, and Italian dandelions from Keith’s Farm. I shop a lot at Paffen Roth's Gardens. I bought for my house and the restaurant. Often since I work a lot at night I bring stuff home for my husband and he cooks it for my daughter and I go to the restaurant. My husband’s a really good cook, thank God.

Wednesday lunch I had an omelet. And actually I make a really crappy omelet. I shouldn’t say crappy. I always start out with the intention of making a beautiful omelet and it always tastes good but it doesn’t always look so pretty. Nine times out of ten I will turn an omelet into a scramble at the last minute and pretend like that’s what I always set out to make. So we got some great scallions and some goat cheese from Patches of Star and just had a really simple omelet with an excessive amount of cheese in it, which is the only way to have an omelet. This one actually was an omelet.

For dinner at the restaurant, I had braised chicken with all different kinds of chiles from the Greenmarket, Eckerton Hill Farms. Dark meat: the breasts for the customers, the sides for the staff.

Thursday, October 30
Today I actually baked a coffee cake. I have a friend in from out of town and I wanted to pretend to be domestic. The best way to do that is to turn the oven on and put something with cinnamon in it in the oven. The Quick Coffee Cake [from Fanny Farmer]. I think it’s on page 495 of my childhood version, my mother has it.

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