Food Network celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli grew up with parents who loved to cook. Looking back, she has advice for parents today who have a rough time in the kitchen.
You mention a lot of your inspiration coming from your parents in the kitchen. Do you think that this bonding time helped form your relationship with food?
I think my relationship to food has always been somewhat excessive and very passionate. I grew up with parents that were always cooking, and it was no surprise to anybody when I chose to become a chef. I also think chefs sometimes choose cooking because they want to have a better relationship with it. But if you work the grill all night cooking meat, all you want to eat is dessert (and vice versa)! So, I am still grappling with the idea that a chef can have a healthy relationship with food — always a struggle because it’s so delicious!
What did your parents do to make cooking and food something that you could do together, but not have it become overwhelming for a young child?
My parents made sure I always knew what we were eating and how it was made. My mother would cook and I would be a spectator to all of these elaborate dinners and dishes. She would watch Julia Child on TV and write down the recipes and then dash to the kitchen to re-create them. It was very inspiring.
The average parent finds themselves strapped for time to make meals during the busy workweek. What would you say to those parents who find it difficult to integrate lessons with being in the kitchen?
I think the lessons should come naturally and don’t have to be like a classroom. A child witnessing their parents cook and create meals from what they have on hand, repurposing leftovers or cooking on a budget are all realistic and true-to-life lessons that help anyone as they forge their own relationship with food. I would tell parents to relax and realize that kids just want to be around you and are using you as an example. Cook at home and cook as freshly as you can manage. Kids understand you’re working to support the family, too. Communication about your choices is a lesson unto itself!
What was your favorite dish to cook with your parents?
I really love tomato sauce and meatballs. My father would make them with tons of garlic and parsley and put loads of tomato paste in the sauce. Very distinctive and brightly flavored food. My mother was more of a mellow type with carrots in the marinara sauce and basil in the meatballs. Two different schools of thought.
What is some advice you’d give to parents of picky eaters?
Picky eaters are a real thing and I don’t believe in making them feel marginalized. I think there is a balance between letting kids know that this is what is for dinner and this is what other potential options are. There has to be some measure of honoring kids with things they like so they can build a healthy relationship, both emotionally and culinarily, with food.