These days, there’s a lot of focus on healthy eating. With all the natural and organic ingredients readily available to us, we can make home-cooked meals that we feel good about. And for those of us who don’t cook all our meals from scratch, it’s getting easier to make smarter choices on convenience items too, making healthy eating a breeze.
SheKnows recently had the opportunity to talk with Alex Guarnaschelli about her involvement in the Safeway Culinary Kitchens Search for Our Next Chef cooking competition. She shared her thoughts on judging the competition, plus healthy eating tips and more.
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SheKnows: What kind of things will you be looking for in the Safeway Culinary Kitchens Search for Our Next Chef competition? Originality, technique, creativity? How much will healthy cooking influence the judging?
Alex Guarnaschelli: All of these qualities will play a role. I think because the focus is on freshness and simplicity in preparation, a dish that starts with healthy ingredients will definitely have a good chance of being a winning dish. In the end, though, it’s always flavor that trumps all. When something is so delicious that you can’t help loving it, that’s what wins every time!
SheKnows: What advice would you give the competitors on how to stay cool and collected in high-pressure situations like this competition? Would you say a busy restaurant kitchen is more stressful?
Alex Guarnaschelli: I’d say competitive cooking and making a commitment to a dish that represents your vision of good food is so hard. Those are the kinds of choices any chef faces in a restaurant kitchen, and we’ll see from these competitors. The competition will be really tough but really rewarding. Imagine: This skillet meal contest leads to a job grounded in a commitment to great ingredients and the opportunity to see your winning recipe turned into a dish that will reach millions.
SheKnows: There are stereotypes about French food being high in fat with indulgent ingredients. With your background in France/French cooking, what do you say to that? How are typical French and American cuisines different with regard to healthy cooking?
Alex Guarnaschelli: I would say the differences between French and American cooking are too many to name. There are many French techniques that serve as the backbone of American dishes though. And both cultures celebrate fresh ingredients. What really tips the balance is portion. Eating less but eating what you love can create more balance.
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SheKnows: As an executive chef, how much do you keep healthful meals in mind when planning menus?
Alex Guarnaschelli: I think the best way to keep healthful eating in mind is to remember how you feel after eating a nutritious meal. I find the longer I cook, the more health plays a role in menu choices. I think it’s great for chefs to consider healthy, light choices whether at home or at a restaurant.
SheKnows: How do you eat healthy while maintaining a busy schedule with television shows, judging, restaurant life, etc.? Do you have any tips for eating healthy on the go? What healthy cooking tips would you give home chefs?
Alex Guarnaschelli: I struggle with eating healthy like anyone else. I try to eat things I love and make sure healthy things I love are around me at all times. Cooking your own food, as much as you can, is an important part of healthy eating. For healthy cooking at home, I think good snacks are as important as good meals. Equally important are having a few tricks up your sleeve that are fast and easy so that you can pull off a home-cooked meal on a weeknight.
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SheKnows: With so much focus on healthy cooking and eating these days, have things changed a lot in the culinary industry since you started out? Who are your biggest influences?
Alex Guarnaschelli: I have always been inspired by American chefs; Larry Forgione and Jonathan Waxman are two examples. I think they have always celebrated what local ingredients are best. That sense of connecting place and ingredients makes food great. That is an influence I have always carried with me as I cook.
The Safeway Culinary Kitchens Search for Our Next Chef competition is aiming to not only give one lucky chef a full-time job in Safeway’s kitchens, but also to turn their winning all-natural skillet meal into an Open Nature™ product to be sold in stores, providing consumers with another simple and convenient way to eat healthy.
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At the regional cook-off event held in San Francisco in the Le Cordon Bleu California Culinary Academy kitchens, the heat was on as the four contestants battled it out for a spot in the final. Each of their skillet meals smelled delicious, but it was Chanda Clark’s chicken creole dish that took home the gold and advanced Chanda to the final cook-off in May, where celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli will be a judge. Of the winning dish, Safeway Culinary Kitchens’ Executive Chef Jeff Anderson said that the ingredients used (chicken, rice, peppers and tomatoes) are all easily sourced as 100-percent natural, which played a role in choosing a winner, among other judging criteria.
Keep an eye out to see which competitor Alex Guarnaschelli and the other judges pick as the winner of the Safeway Culinary Kitchens Search for Our Next Chef on May 16.