Friday, September 26, 2014

Don't touch your face after cutting a jalapeño and other advice from Alex Guarnaschelli

The daughter of a cookbook editor, Alex Guarnaschelli grew up surrounded by food. Today, she's executive chef at The Darby in New York City and a regular judge on the Food Network's "Chopped." She shares her story for First Job Friday.

Q:How long have you worked in the restaurant industry?
A. Twenty-three years.

Q. What was your first job in the industry?
A. I worked at Larry Forgione's "An American Place"  in the pantry/pastry section. I made a lot of peanut butter ice cream and wrapped a lot of Camembert cheese in phyllo dough.

Q. What are the lessons you learned from your first restaurant job that have stayed with you throughout your career?
1. Never wipe your face right after cutting a jalapeño.

2. When you start something new, take it slowly. It's better to shuck one oyster perfectly in five minutes than 10 badly in two minutes.

3. If you're in charge, try to be as calm as possible. If you're not in charge, try to be as calm as possible.

4. Egg custards separate and overcook easily. Don't neglect them as they cook.

5. American ingredients have great regionality and deserve great respect.

Q. What was your first big break?
A. When Guy Savoy told me I could work the fish station at his eponymous Parisian restaurant.

Q. What helped you reach career success?
A. My parents' belief in me. Great mentoring and occasional kicks in the a**. Patience and hard work.

Q. Why is having and being a mentor important for restaurant/hospitality careers?
A. It was critical for me to keep my confidence up and my thoughts on track. I wouldn't have done half as much without those relationships. That, and reading cookbooks and eating out whenever possible were a great help.

Q. What advice would you give to those seeking out a career in the restaurant industry?
A. Be patient with yourself and the craft of cooking. It takes a lot of hard work, repetition and dedication. Cooking is manual labor with great fun involved. Try to enjoy and find that beauty in food.

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