Through 150 decadent and smart recipes, the Food Network icon explores how the relationships with her family have shaped her as a chef and home cook.
“Each recipe overflows with love and purpose, technique and soul, and, most of all, genuine joy for nourishing the people in your life who matter most.”—Gail Simmons, food expert, TV host, and author of Bringing it Home
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR AND FOOD NETWORK
Growing up with a legendary cookbook-editor mother and a food-obsessed father, Alex Guarnaschelli has always loved to cook. Now, with a daughter of her own, food and cooking mean even more to Alex—they are a way for her to share memories, such as shopping in Little Italy with her father for cured meats and aged cheeses, and tasting the recipes her mom would make from the cookbooks of the iconic authors she worked with.
And, more than anything, cooking is what Alex and her daughter, Ava, most love to do together. In
Cook with Me, Alex revives the recipes she grew up with, such as her mom’s chicken with barbecue sauce and her dad’s steamed pork dumplings, offers recipes for foods that she wishes she grew up with, such as comforting and cheesy baked ziti, and details dishes new to her repertoire, including sheet pan pork chops with spicy Brussels sprouts and a roasted sweet potato salad with honey and toasted pumpkin seeds. From meatballs two ways (are you a
Godfather or a
Goodfellas person?) to the blueberry crumble her mom made every summer, Alex shares recipes and insights that can come only from generations of collective experience. These recipes reflect the power that food has to bring people together and is a testament to the importance of sustaining traditions and creating new ones.
“Alex Guarnaschelli is one of the best cooks I know . . . and I know firsthand. Alex has the best food vocabulary in the game, and now those words come to life in her book
Cook with Me. I’m placing this one right on my kitchen shelf at home just for the Spatchcocked Chicken and Slow Cooker Brownies alone . . . destined to become instant classics in anyone’s kitchen, including mine.”
—Bobby Flay, chef
“I trust Alex with my taste buds. In
Cook with Me, every dish has an aha moment of unexpected flavor and texture. What’s not to love? The recipes are comforting—and daughter-approved!”
—Carla Hall, celebrity chef and author
“What I love about Alex is not just her amazing knowledge as a chef and her passion for food, but she’s also the greatest combination of storyteller and teacher. With this book, you’ll learn something new on every page while also feeling like you’re cooking alongside a close friend.”
—Molly Yeh, blogger and Food Network host
Cook with Me is 100% Alex — whip-smart, honest, unfussy, and exactly how I want to cook (and live!). Each recipe overflows with love and purpose, technique and soul, and, most of all, genuine joy for nourishing the people in your life who matter most. This book is a must for every kitchen!”
—Gail Simmons, food expert, TV host, and author of Bringing it Home
“Every once in a while, I read a cookbook that makes me want to drop what I’m doing and rush into the kitchen. Alex
Guarnaschelli’s Cook with Me is one such cookbook. It’s filled with love, family stories, and sophisticated yet extremely doable recipes for home cooks.”
—Jennifer Segal, author of Once Upon a Chef
“There has never been a time when Alex Guarnaschelli has invited me to her home for dinner that I didn’t jump on the opportunity. Her meals are as special as her friendship, and now with this cookbook I don’t have to wait to be on the East coast to enjoy her delicious and inspired dishes.”
—Giada de Laurentiis
“Food Network personality [Alex] Guarnaschelli (
The Home Cook) serves up a compendium of doable dishes with plenty of encouragement and cleverness.”
Cook with Me blew me away . . . Only ICAG (Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli) can make cheese toast or flaming broiled provolone seem like a four-star dish. Throughout the book, her signature way with flavors and global influences make this a must-have title of 2020.”
—Eat Your Books
Alex Guarnaschelli is a judge on numerous Food Network shows including
Beat Bobby Flay, the host of her digital series
Fix Me a Plate, and one of three women Iron Chefs on
Iron Chef America. The daughter of esteemed cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli, Alex grew up in Manhattan immersed in food. She moved to Paris to work at Guy Savory for four years before returning to cook at Daniel. She has been the executive chef at Butter Restaurant since 2003 and lives in New York City with her daughter, Ava.
My father was a man who, above all things, loved the Fourth of July. Fireworks are illegal in New York, so we would drive out to Mom and Dad’s modest country house in Milford, Pennsylvania, and, on the way, stop at the local fireworks warehouse for “supplies.” I think he actually chose to buy a house in that spot because fireworks were legal there. He’d load the car with small, low-key fireworks, drive them home, and set them off on the front lawn, lighting each one and stepping back in sprightly, boyish wonder as it shot up with bursts of light. He literally looked like a little kid. I realized right then and there that we never know our parents as children. Instead, they are the custodians of our childhood and as such always seem larger than life as we grow up. Parents can do anything, fight anyone, buy anything, and, in my case, cook absolutely anything. That “cook anything” part became pretty significant to me as time went on.
Everyone seems to have grandmothers or a mother who cooks and passes down recipes (or maybe, more infamously, doesn’t pass down recipes). I have received so many letters from people who wish they had gotten their grandmother’s secret trick to great coleslaw or had asked their mom what that missing ingredient was in her legendary cinnamon buns. I always think there is no secret or missing ingredient to these hand-me-down recipes, only the absence of the person and the comfort you felt as they cooked them. In my case, I only wish my father would come back and be alive and cook for me. Eat with me. I can’t accept that he won’t. That’s not a very “tidy” feeling. It leaves too many loose ends and questions and wishes, so this book is for him.
I know a cookbook isn’t necessarily the place for tragedy. It’s just that, for me, the parent and the food are inextricably connected. In my family, food marks the spot; we use food for all occasions and all states of mind. My father had a sort of oddball role in the kitchen of my childhood. He did the less glamorous cooking: the weeknight dinners of Risotto with Tomatoes and Parmesan Cheese (page 153) and Whole Roasted Fish (page 218), the “on the fly” cupboard dinners like a Whole Roasted Chicken (page 76), and the penny-pinching meals we needed, too. My dad would have cooked the whole chapter of One & Done dinners (pages 60–73), while my mom would likely be stuck somewhere in the middle of the Baking for Breakfast (pages 235–46) or Cookies & Such (pages 265–87).
My dad also taught me that you have to do what you love for a living and that, ideally, your professions, passions, likes, dislikes, and hobbies, should be rolled into one. That was his idea of a free life lived on one’s own terms. To my dad, freedom meant never sitting at a desk, never donning a suit or a uniform, and always waking up with a desire—even if you are exhausted or have a cold—to go and do the day’s work. “Do what you love,” he said, “because you’re going to be doing it a lot and for a long time.” He was right about that. I dove headfirst into a career in cooking and never looked back. But I didn’t grow up wanting to become a chef. I didn’t have a closet full of aprons and chef jackets. I didn’t handwrite recipes with crayons as a kid. I didn’t win any local hot dog cook-offs in fourth grade. I started out after college.
I began with a “basic skills” class at the now-closed Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School and then took a once-a-week cooking class for five weeks. We did communal cooking and then ate the food we made and discussed it. My teacher? Peter Kump himself. He was wonderful. The most important thing happened on the day of my enrollment: I went to the school store and bought my first knife. A huge Wüsthof-brand chef’s knife. I tore open the box and examined my purchase. There must’ve been twelve inches of blade. Too much for a hotshot like me. I stowed the knife carefully in my bag and brought it home to my mom and dad to show them what I intended to do. “Look, Ma,” I said, digging around in my bag to show her. I found the knife and pulled it out from under a mess of papers. The blade cut through the skin of the three middle fingers on my right hand, and I watched in shock as blood seeped from my fingers and soaked my bag. Was this the first lesson? I think so.
We chefs have such hang-ups about arrogance and vanity. There’s something we find commendable about being pale, hungry, somewhat malnourished (ironic for chefs, right?) or hungover (probably both), and definitely sleep deprived. This is a good “look” and symptomatic of the job. The chefs that roll up in ski parkas with their knives wrapped in elegantly woven wool pouches, sporting suntan marks that can only have come from ski goggles? Well, you do the math on that—how much time have they spent in their kitchens? I guess that first encounter with a knife awoke something deep inside me: the awareness that I was leaving childhood and school behind and trading it in for a savage profession, one that would demand all my attention. The price if I took my hands off the wheel? After my first knife misstep, I did everything I could to avoid the answer to that question.
I cooked so much for the next sixteen or so years that I rarely ever made anything to eat for myself—I cooked as if there were repercussions for not cooking. One night, I wanted some tea and had to boil the water in a stainless-steel measuring cup because I didn’t own a pot. The instruction sheet for how to use my oven was still inside it the day I moved out of my West Village studio in 2006. Some chefs don’t cook for joy or to feed themselves. They cook for sport. They cook for everyone who comes to the restaurant. They report to work for the camaraderie and to forget whatever they really need to get done in their larger life picture. Peeling 200 pounds of beets and cutting them into a 1⁄16-inch dice can be easier than facing a sick parent or an angry spouse. Work is a place to go to stay off the streets, a place to find community and stay out of trouble. It can be a rewarding refuge from one’s own life.
Do I sound grumpy? I don’t mean to. I’m trying to describe my personal pursuit of passion and expertise. I wanted to become an expert at something, to master a craft. I wanted to wake up with desire and passion and to push through any conflict that impeded my path. I have come to accept that it may be the constant seeking of knowledge and striving for satisfaction with my work that drive me toward success. Becoming an expert is lonely and, in many cases, so can be the life of a chef. But our strange reality is something we must embrace—we have to in order to survive and thrive. This isn’t always a convenient philosophy for significant others, husbands or wives, and friends who don’t work in the industry and therefore have a hard time understanding its peculiarities. But it is a point of view that can change. In fact, all of that changed for me when I gave birth to my daughter, Ava.
Did having a child change my cooking? My kneejerk response is no. But I think I’m wrong. I think that’s when I realized that even if you are a chef who basically lives at the restaurant and not at home, having a child changes the meaning of home. I can’t go to my apartment, eat frozen yogurt on my bed, and doze off to an episode of
Chopped with my coat still on. Now when I get home, there’s a little human looking up at me. It took a while for this reality to pervade my cooking, but that’s definitely when the idea of myself as a home cook came to life.