Five questions with Alex Guarnaschelli of “Chopped” and “Alex’s Day Off”

Alex Guarnaschelli has become ubiquitous on Food Network lately, first on “Chopped” as a frequent judge, and now on her own show, “Alex’s Day Off,” which airs Sunday mornings at 9:30 am ET/PT. The premise of her new show is showing how a working mom, restauranteur and TV personality can juggle all of that and still cook great meals at home.

But our questions focused on Alex regarding her role as a judge on “Chopped.” A few months ago, we published a post asking the producers of the show why the judges have to be so angry and tough on the contestants, and it spawned a lot of comments from viewers who also felt the judges were too harsh. So we had the opportunity to ask Alex about the show–and in particular if the harsh criticism is real or fabricated by producers……

Premium Hollywood: I think I speak for anyone who has watched “Chopped”….are you guys told by the producers to be as harsh as you are to the contestants, or is that how you want to come across?

Alex Guarnaschelli: The producers don’t tell us how to act. We talk a lot, we deliberate, we argue, we struggle with what some contestants make, we wish everyone could be a winner, we sympathize with how the contestants feel, we sweat along with them, because we know how hard it is to compete under such pressure. Sometimes, I may have spoken 10 minutes with someone about their dish and had it edited down to a facial expression due to time. That can be hard to watch! I also think we use a lot of “chef speak”. We speak to each other as we would in the kitchen.

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The Next Food Network Star: do you believe in karma?

For those of us pissed off that the judges of “The Next Food Network Star” kept giving Debbie Lee pass after pass this season, despite the fact that she was dishonest and deceitful while acting all jolly and Korean, karma reared its head in our favor. More on that in a minute, but last night’s showdown between the final three of Lee, Melissa D’Arabian and Jeffrey Saad was actually very exciting to watch.

They began the episode by having the three finalists meet Emeril Lagasse at his restaurant, and Emeril announced their challenge for the week–in honor of the upcoming film, “Julie & Julia,” the contestants would have to create their own ultimate 3-course meal for some very distinguished judges. Each would have $1000 to shop as well as the help of a sous chef. After shopping (and Jeffrey being way under budget), they arrived back to find out who their sous chefs would be….naturally, former contestants….Jamika, Michael and Katie, who would be paired with Melissa, Debbie and Katie, respectively.

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I have a question for the producers of Food Network’s “Chopped”….

And that is, do you instruct the judges to be so bitter and critical, or did you just choose judges that you thought would fit that bill? The show, in its second season, is becoming more unwatchable by the episode, and not because the tempo of the show creates pressure that occasionally causes a contestant to slice off a fingertip or serve raw poultry and fish bones. It’s because of those judges–the likes of Alex Guarnaschelli, Aaron Sanchez, Amanda Freitag, and Geoffrey Zakarian–who sit on their high horse and just rip these poor chefs to shreds.

If you haven’t seen the show, let me give you a brief synopsis. Host Ted Allen (who is the show’s lone bright spot) introduces four chefs, who are usually restaurant owners, head chefs, or seasoned sous chefs, who will go head-to-head in a competition of three rounds. Each round, they are given a basket of mystery ingredients–ingredients that usually do not go together, maybe like duck breast, avocado, maple syrup and passion fruit. They have to create an appetizer, main course and dessert–but after each round, one contestant is “chopped,” or eliminated, until the dessert round pits the two remaining chefs, who square off for a $10,000 prize.

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The Next Food Network Star: Into the fire to start Season 5

Nothing like being thrown into the fire, huh? Last night, Season 5 of “The Next Food Network Star” kicked off with the ten finalists meeting in their cramped living quarters, and then being basically being thrown into a cage with wild animals…..well, you know what I mean. They had to cater a party for the network’s “sweet 16” party, where celebrities and Food Network stars would be eating their creations and critiquing them. Yikes.

The ten (Brett August (Washington Heights, N.Y.), Katie Cavuto (Philadelphia, Pa.), Melissa d’Arabian (Keller, Texas), Teddy Folkman (Alexandria, Va.), Eddie Gilbert (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), Jen Isham (Orlando, Fla.), Debbie Lee (West Hollywood, Calif.), Jamika Pessoa (Atlanta, Ga.), Michael Proietti (New York, N.Y.) and Jeffrey Saad (Los Angeles, Calif.). were broken up into two teams of five, with Bobby Flay picking those teams. Bretty, Teddy, Jamika, Melissa, and Jen made up one team and Michael, Debbie, Katie, Jeffrey and Eddie the other. Each team had $1200 to shop for their ingredients and five hours to prepare their dishes. The event would be held at Alex Guarnaschelli’s Butter restaurant.

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