Food Network star and acclaimed restaurant chef Alex Guarnaschelli credits her parents (her late mom was legendary cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli), for cultivating her sense of taste and her culinary skills early on. So it’s no surprise that as she has raised her own daughter, 16-year-old Ava Clark, the two have spent many hours enjoying food — and each others’ company — in the family kitchen.
The techniques they swear by — everything from a trick for evenly seasoning meatballs to amping up the flavor of garlic bread by adding sautéed shallots — are detailed in their book, Cook it Up: Bold Moves for Family Food (Clarkson Potter, $30), which comes out Tuesday. Guarnaschelli, who has a home in Bridgehampton, will also talk about the book with Newsday’s Erica Marcus at the paper’s Melville location on Sept. 14 in a Long Island LitFest and Newsday Live event.
Refreshingly, the mother-daughter duo focuses on the joy of cooking rather than Instagram-perfect results. They kindly elaborated on their low-key philosophy in a recent Q&A, taking turns explaining how they think about kids and parents together in the kitchen.
At what age is a child ready to start helping in the kitchen?
Ava: I think it depends on the difficulty of the recipe and the kids’ desire level. You can't make a kid do stuff at any age. My mom never pressured me, so I am hoping to find food and cooking at my own pace.
WHAT Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present Alex Guarnaschelli in conversation with Newsday's Erica Marcus
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14, Newsday studios, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville
INFO $45 (includes a copy of "Cook It Up" by Guarnaschelli and her daughter, Ava Clark); newsday.com/alex10
Do you remember the first dish you prepared all by yourself?
Alex: My parents had to go to a dinner party and I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. I had to roast a packet of chicken thighs in the oven. I set the temperature and put them in to cook them for what seemed like a long time. I pulled them out of the oven and they looked stunning! Golden brown, sizzling skin. The whole nine. I put them on a plate, cut into them and they were actually raw in the middle.
Ava, were you ever picky about anything your mom tried to feed you?
Ava: I don't know about picky, but there are definitely things I don't like to eat. My mom worked really hard to make me love broccoli and that kind of worked. I'm not a big kale person and honestly squash is a touch and go ingredient for me also. … My mom says I'm like my grandfather: I like what I like.
Alex, do you have any advice for parents with picky kids?
Alex: My father always said: "Leave kids alone. They will eat when they're hungry." I think trying to relax and be calm about the topic of food and meals, in general, can certainly defuse a picky eater situation.
Ava, what are the best pro tips you’ve gotten from your mom?
Ava: My mom is really big on putting pinches of salt and splashes of vinegar or citrus in various places while cooking. Constantly seasoning and adjusting the seasoning while you're cooking is really important from a professional standpoint. Also, when in doubt, add an anchovy or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Alex, have any of Ava’s ideas and innovations made it onto your restaurant menus or tv shows?
Alex: I would say her general approach in the kitchen inspires me everywhere I cook. I'm not pressuring her to produce anything that I can use anywhere professionally. I just want her to love cooking!
Can you each name a favorite recipe from the book and explain why it’s a favorite?
Alex: I love Ava's poached egg and avocado toast. Simple techniques explored thoughtfully so everyone can have a great breakfast. Or lunch.
Ava: I feel inspired by the blueberry pie. It's my grandmother’s recipe passed down all the way to me. Such a satisfying dish to make.
So many of the recipes in your book are influenced by your parents’ and grandparents’ food. This book really honors their memory. Can each of you describe an ingredient, technique or recipe of theirs that you particularly cherish?
Ava: I love the salmon and rice bowl recipe. I use my grandfather’s special cleaver to prepare everything for this recipe.
Alex: The dark chocolate cookie recipe in the dessert chapter started out as one of the very first things I made in a professional kitchen. The art of good cookie baking is underrated. It took me several tries to get the cookies just right and now I'm so proud seeing it in this cookbook and sharing it with my daughter and everyone else.
I know you two have spent time on the East End. Does your cooking change when you are on Long Island? What inspires you out here? What are some of your favorite summer-into-fall ingredients?
Ava: My mom shops in a lot of farm stands and that influences what we eat. Tomatoes. Corn. Now, moving into fall, lots of squash and fall greens. Potatoes are my favorite. My grandfather grew up on Long Island and he would always rave about the potatoes he ate as a kid. It's really cool to eat potatoes from the same place he did.