WW: What are some of your favorite ways to bring out flavor in a dish without adding extra calories?
Alex Guarnaschelli: I think that flavor without them is key. I'm a big fan of spice rubs because I think they really get the palate going. I also love adding a splash of red or white wine vinegar—they're my go-tos. Steaming is a great way to cook things. You can brown some onions and then steam a piece of fish and some vegetables and put the browned onions on top. Then you don't feel like you're eating food that's completely devoid of flavor but you're not adding that much to your bottom line as they say. No bottom line pun intended. It's also important to remember that a little goes a long way, like chocolate for example. If you chop up a small amount of chocolate (Dove is fantastic) and add it to a trail mix, you get a ton of flavor.
WW: What about a classic comfort dish that might use a lot of butter and oil?
AG: I think eliminating oil and butter is a way to get a lot of calories off the roster. You have other options. When I make meat, I try to use juices and renderings from the meat to flavor the vegetables and whatever else I'm cooking to avoid adding more oil and butter to the meal equation. That's my biggest go-to thing. I'm also into eating more raw stuff. I'll cut up some vegetables and throw some lemon on it. It's nice to appreciate an ingredient for exactly what it is.
WW: You've been a judge on Chopped for a long time, and now you have a new show All-Star Academy. What are some of the most common mistakes that you see?
AG: I'd say that time management is a big one. People just try to do too much. I've made that mistake myself. They think they can make a burrito with fourteen fillings in twenty minutes. It's impossible. It looks easy when you're watching at home, but it really isn't!
WW: What is your favorite part about mentoring home cooks and working with other chefs?
AG: I learn a lot from mentoring home cooks because I get fresh perspective on what it's like to learn how to cook. And I think what's great about it is empowering people to do what they already knew they could do but needed to be told they could. Encouraging people to take action to do things, especially when it comes to food which I love so much—there's energy that I really feed off of.
WW: What time-saving tips can you recommend to home cooks?
AG: I think the most important thing is to have a day or two in the week where you really do a lot of cooking, and it doesn't necessarily have to be on Sunday. Do whatever works for you. I'll make a chili, a couple of vinaigrettes, a spice rub and maybe some sauces and then I have them ready to go for the week. I think the more cooking you do yourself, the better you're going to eat.
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli is the executive chef of top NYC restaurant Butter, frequent judge on Chopped and star of new show All-Star Academy, both on Food Network. To learn more about Chef Alex, click here