Chef Alex Guarnaschelli is going up against some of the country’s culinary masters in a new food competition show premiering in January on Food Network.
“Alex vs. America” puts 15 brave chefs from across the United States take their best shot at beating Guarnaschelli in a head-to-head competition. As a cooking show judge veteran, Guarnaschelli was eager to throw her hat into the ring in competing alongside these chefs.
“This is a brainchild born from the fact that I have watched or been a part of some many great shows. Anyone knows that I’m no stranger to this. I started on ‘Iron Chef,’ which is why I wanted to be on Food Network,” said Guarnaschelli. “I would watch ‘Iron Chef’ and want to be on that show. Of course, along came ‘Chopped,’ then ‘Beat Bobby Flay.’ All of the sudden, I think I’m an accidental competition show cook by default. All these shows where I cut my teeth, I collected a little set of things that I love about it and made this show. What I love is when people come into an arena and challenge people.”
Hosted by chef Eric Adjepong, “Alex vs. America” Guarnaschelli competes alongside three people in the culinary industry who all share the same mastery of a specific ingredient or dish. Each show has two rounds and after cooking, the dishes will be judged in a blind taste test, with only the top three chefs advancing and the least successful from the challenge being immediately sent home, even if it is Guarnaschelli herself.
In several food competition shows, the end goal is often to go head to head with the host or the show’s namesake for the final round. For Guarnaschelli, it was important for her to put herself on the same playing field as her competitors.
“I can not go to the next round. I think it’s more of a matter of, ‘Alex you’ve done a gazillion of these competitions, where’s the way that this becomes fair? Where do you learn and grow?'” said Guarnaschelli. “It could seem like a boxer who sets up a bunch of shoe-ins to boost their record. What’s funny is that when I got there, I thought, ‘Come to think of it, I’m pretty nervous.'”
One component that stands out about “Alex vs. America” is that instead of being tasked to cook something random, the competitors are given an ingredient or dish that they are experts in to compete with.
“Three people come in and challenge me on something that they are well versed on. They are experts in stuff like shellfish, candy, chocolate, etc., and these people have been doing uniquely this for years,” said Guarnaschelli. “I have a lot of experience, but I haven’t spent 30 years purely on one thing. People come forward to challenge me in what they have basically a Ph.D. in and I don’t. We have experts and specialists in an ingredient or technique come forward and say, ‘I’m the bomb.'”
Another thing that takes this show to the next level is that the judges don’t get to watch the cooking process during the competition.
“It’s different than all other competition shows. It influences you when you see how hard they worked,” said Guarnaschelli. “You see the example when people cook for you, think of the divide and how differently you feel. When you see it and know them, you feel differently than in a restaurant, so having that process be removed and not having that personal interface changes things.”
Guarnaschelli says that viewers are in for quite the ride when they tune in to “Alex vs. America” because the stakes are higher not just for the contestants, but also for herself.
“There’s a lot of pressure, the stakes are very high for everyone involved. People expect a certain level from me,” said Guarnaschelli. “For everyone involved, it sounds like a good idea and then you see how nervous you are. There are raw emotions, and I’m putting my reputation on the line. These are not just contestants, they say ‘let me take my life so far as a professional doing this and challenge someone who is a really good cook.’ It’s not just a test for me, but for everyone who comes here.”
“Alex vs. America” premieres on Food Network on Jan. 2, 2022 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. discovery+ members can catch a sneak peek of the first episode ahead of the premiere on Dec. 25.