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We thought we were just going to speak with chef Alex Guarnaschelli — Food Network star and award-winning New York City-based chef about her new restaurant in Miami. Instead, we ended up learning that the Butter executive chef is obsessed with avocados, believes in unique surf and turf dinners, and —given her background — makes up for her lack of Italian restaurant experience with frequent trips to New York’s Little Italy for a little cannoli.
You just opened a new restaurant in Miami—your first outside New York. How have you incorporated local cuisine into the menu, and what are your favorite Miami ingredients to work with?
It was important to capture the [ocean feel] of Miami. We wanted it to be somewhat beachy and Mediterranean. Of course we’re trying to capitalize on local resources of Miami, like avocados and mangoes; they’re dripping off the trees. In Florida I respond to seasonality and natural resources. I have to say I eat an unhealthy amount of avocados here. They’re buttery, creamy and grassy. We don’t think about the fact that there are so many kinds of avocados out there, but I prefer the larger ones.
What’s your favorite way to prepare an avocado?
I’m going to give you a boring answer: I like them with salt, pepper, red wine vinegar, and maybe just a little bit of lemon juice. Or I also like a little bit of blonde miso paste with a sherry vinaigrette and maybe a dot of mustard. You can take your avocado toast and….Anyway, avocado is a lone wolf. I like it best when it’s just there and you bite down on a cube of it. Honestly, you have to respect avocado. It takes years of cooking to know when to step on the brakes with a dish or ingredient. In that way, an avocado is a challenge.
You and Anne Burrell are hosting the “Summer in the City” surf and turf event at New Taste of the Upper West Side in New York City this June. Can you tell me about this new event?
Well it certainly won’t lack for personality with me and Anne hosting. We are both real New Yorkers. It’s an event that’s really big, but there’s an intimacy, an “in your backyard” feel, kind of like an avocado.
How do you make a great surf and turf?
Weirdly I love steak and lobster, but I barely ever have a surf and turf. If I had to make my own, I would have to love to make a maple and soy-glazed pork chop, and char grill some shrimp with chiles and lemon…. Surf and turf can be humble or opulent and that’s what makes it great.
You mentioned being a real New Yorker. What’s your go-to meal in New York?
Do I have to pick just one? I really like Eisenberg’s sandwich shop on Fifth Avenue. I love what it embodies. It’s low-key. I can go in there and get an egg sandwich, and they usually put too much pepper on it, but it makes me happy. Afterward, I might go to City Bakery for a croissant, but don’t quote me on that. I also love to go down to Little Italy. I go to Alleva Dairy and get some smoked mozzarella and then go to DiPalo’s to see what he has. I will go to Ferrara’s and get a cannoli or a sfogliatella. It’s how I connect with the fact that I’m Italian but I don’t really cook Italian. I love the mom and pop feeling there. We have to continue to patronize those places.
What’s your favorite spring vegetable?
Another boring answer. You’re expecting me to say ramps or fiddleheads, aren’t you? But I’m in a parsnip phase now: sliced and gently fried or baked to death in the oven. I’m cheating on ramps with parsnips, and I’m sick to death of asparagus, but I feel bad about that. Honestly? A ramp—with its garlicky and oniony flavors-- it isn’t sure what it wants to be when it grows up.