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Food Network Star Pays Visit to OCSA’s Culinary Students

Laughter filled the room as celebrity Chef Alex Guarnaschelli impressed Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) students from The Mekjian Family Culinary Arts & Hospitality Conservatory with her expertise and down-to-earth personality during an exclusive OCSA master class held on Thursday, Nov. 9.

Executive chef at Butter restaurant in New York City, Guarnaschelli is also a winner of the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and a judge on “Chopped” and “Chopped Junior.” Early in her career, she spent seven years cooking at restaurants in France, including Guy Savoy and La Butte Chaillot.

OCSA students, parents and VIP guests excitedly filled the school’s Event Center for a private demonstration from Guarnaschelli about creating herb-infused olive oils to transform an ordinary meal into a gourmet dish. She cooked olive oil with thyme, curly-leaf parsley and rosemary, and used it to prepare a rich grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with brie and topped with oil-roasted sesame seeds. Four culinary students worked with Guarnaschelli prior to the talk to prepare samples of the dish, which they passed out to the audience with a side of savory marinated olives.

In speaking to Guarnaschelli beforehand, she shared her hopes for what OCSA students would learn from her visit: “I hope the students walk away with 60 percent inspiration and optimism about their field of work and 40 percent realistic views of the craft of cooking and working in restaurants and food media.

“Cooking is a unique form of commitment,” she continued. “You are cooking a lot when other people aren’t. As my dad said to me, ‘Do you want to eat Thanksgiving dinner with your family, or do you want to cook it for strangers?’ That’s a question I might ask of the students.”

Throughout her demonstration, Guarnaschelli answered thoughtful questions prepared by OCSA students from grades 9-12. Some of the topics included her favorite foods, when she first fell in love with cooking, how to win a cooking competition, using new technology in the kitchen, and how to find balance when you have such a successful career.

“Why do you want balance?” she responded. “I don’t have a hobby. My profession and my hobby are one in the same, and I’m really happy about that. That makes some of those tough Thanksgiving dinner services worth it.”

The last question was on her experience as a chef in a male dominated industry. Guarnaschelli expressed the importance of focusing on developing one’s own skills, rather than on intimidating forces outside your control.

“Just be good at it [cooking] and forget everything else. Being good at it is so rewarding. It adds so much wood to your own furnace that what’s around you matters less,” she said.

Guarnaschelli was brought to OCSA through the school’s second annual Master Artist Series, which was launched last year as part of the school’s 30th anniversary celebrations. The Master Artist Series gives OCSA students the opportunity to study alongside notable industry professionals, artists and teachers.

The series will bring more incredible artists to OCSA later this school year, including author Alice Sebold, Broadway sensation Megan McGinnis, jazz saxophonist Dave Koz and others.

For more information on OCSA’s Culinary Arts & Hospitality Conservatory, visit

Photo credit: Cheryl Walsh

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