Alex Guarnaschelli Blogs All-Star Academy: Why ‘Team Alex’ Will Win

03/01/2016 at 04:04 PM ET

Food Network
Food Network

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-auchool Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

For those of you watching All-Star Academy along with me on Sunday nights on Food Network, you can imagine my initial anxiety when none of the mentees seemed to want to pick me!

It is definitely interesting when Andrew Zimmern, Robert Irvine, Curtis Stone and I stand before the students and essentially ask to be picked as their teacher. But it reminds us chefs that teaching someone how to cook is a huge responsibility. I feel that way when I am home with my daughter and she asks if we can cook something together. Make cookie batter for the first time? Cook a piece of fish? Make a tasty rice pilaf? Wow.

After some interesting dialogue with Lee, he signed on and so did Lisa. They could not be more different home cooks and they could also not be more alike!

Lee is a talented chef who just doesn’t have the same amount of experience I do. I forgot he was a home cook, to be honest, when he made homemade tortillas from scratch or “just a little something I like to make from my kids.” He shook off the compliments modestly. And the tortillas were tasty. That distinctive taste of the Masa, the earthy and fresh quality of the dough made them delicious. I got lost in the flavor and knew I wanted him to join my team.

RELATED: Alex Guarnaschelli Blogs: My Method For Delicious, Simply Cooked Mushrooms

Lee loves to take a risk and he brings some of that Santa Barbara flair into his cooking every time. As a native New Yorker, I always find that perspective and connection to fresh ingredients and great produce like a breath of fresh air. Like me, Lee is an emotional cook who makes food from the heart; that can be the best and worst quality in a person. Likely, it will work to his advantage.

Food Network
Food Network

On the other side of “Team Alex,” we have Lisa. She is a tremendous home cook but she also has a lot of experience, in and out of the kitchen. She whips up a “massaged” kale salad with the richness of olive oil and lemon. I was surprised at how much flavor her first salad packed and that something arguably simple could also have so much finesse. She has that professional cook drive and energy. She cooks healthy and limits her ingredients here and there. I respect that enormously. I also worry that it could become a disadvantage.

What is great is her steadfast determination to win All-Star Academy—I love that! She wants to win for herself and for her husband. She clearly relaxes when she cooks. She falls in love with the flavors as they swirl together when she is standing at the stove. I can see it happening as I watch her and I relate. I often cook at home for my daughter and I find it so rewarding. My daughter loves to slice up vegetables and roast them until tender and devour them. Now, don’t get me wrong: she won’t touch a piece of broccoli and isn’t in love with Brussels sprouts but eggplant and peppers are a winner and we make it work! It doesn’t matter how fancy or complicated the recipe. In fact, the simpler the better. It’s about enjoying watching food take shape and then eating it!

RELATED: Alex Guarnaschelli Blogs: How to Up Your Cocktail Game (Think Watermelon Ice Cubes)

This a cooking show about mentoring and about these skilled home cooks expanding their repertoire even further. I know that Andrew, Robert, Curtis and I are teachers/mentors but I am learning a lot myself! I love Lisa’s determination and calm, steady actions.

The toughest part is living this experience with the cooks and feeling responsible for their fate. I have stood in front of judges when my food didn’t turn out so well in these competitions. That’s the worst feeling, like trying to avoid the obvious with a smile. Someone once told me, “No matter how good or bad, stand behind your food with great conviction” or as the great Rachael Ray told me the first time I met her on a TV set, ”Smile for no reason at all!” There’s nothing like a smile and great homemade tortillas and other goodies to get the win on All-Star Academy.

We will see how my team fares in the coming weeks, because there can only be one home cook that wins.

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The Latest Craze in Disco Styles Is See-Through Jeans—but Beware of Foggy Bottoms
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The Latest Craze in Disco Styles Is See-Through Jeans—but Beware of Foggy Bottoms

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On a clear day, you can see forever—or at least that’s the wicked thought behind L.A. designer Agi Berliner’s transparent idea: see-through jeans. Exhibitionists notwithstanding, most folks wear them over bathing suits or as attention-getting evening wear with halters, garter belts and body stockings. Created for the disco crowd, the $34 jeans are selling like, well, hot pants. In just six weeks, 25,000 pairs have already been sold in such major department store chains as Macy’s, Bonwit’s and Saks.

“What’s limiting American designers is that we’re afraid to do something different,” says Berliner, 32, a Hungarian émigré who fled with her family to the U.S. in 1956. Agi thought up the gimmick in London while marveling at the way plastics were being employed by designers of punk fashion. In her L.A. office, where she designs for La Parisienne junior sportswear, Agi spent five days on the phone and six weeks testing to come up with the right plastic.

Agi herself tried out the French-cut jeans with the zipper in front, and quickly found several problems: Some plastics tore away from stitching, others wouldn’t bend and all fogged with perspiration. The ideal material proved to be a vinyl supplied by a bookbinder. The steam was eliminated with a series of vents behind the knees and in the crotch. “They’re no hotter than polyester pants,” claims Agi, “and if you wear them with tights, they won’t stick to your legs.”

Whatever the discomfort and despite the problem of Saturday night feverishness, discomaniacs report one major advantage of the plastic pants: no laundry bills. To keep Berliner’s see-through jeans clear, all the wearer needs is a little Windex.

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Love this show!

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