Celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli ‘87 receives Alumni Award, hosts UD assembly


Rena Salsberg, Staff Writer

“For a moment, I wondered if it was some type of April Fool’s joke or a prank,” celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli ‘87 wrote about receiving the Alumni Association’s Award for Distinguished Achievement.

Guarnaschelli, a cookbook writer and restaurant owner known for her appearance on Food Network shows “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America,” accepted the award this Monday.

The Alumni Association (AA) collects nominations from the community and researches each nominee, AA President Samantha Brand ‘01 said. “We seek to honor achievements that have had a meaningful impact in the person’s field, as well as a meaningful impact on the common good.” 

Among the other nominees, Guarnaschelli stood out because she has been vocal about the impact that the school has had on her life and career and she embodies the HM core values, Brand said. “She is the epitome of grace under pressure, and I think that is something that we can all admire. It’s something that we, as Horace Mann students and alums, can identify with — we juggle so many activities, we want to achieve so many things, we hold ourselves to a high standard of excellence.”

Brand presented the award to Guarnaschelli at Tavern on the Green alongside 300 attendees including past honorees, faculty, and many alums from the Class of ‘87 (including Guarnaschelli’s senior prom date). 

On Tuesday, Guarnaschelli led an Upper Division assembly about her journey in the culinary world. The assembly, which some students called the best of the year as they walked out of Gross Theater, resembled a stand-up comedy show. 

Guarnaschelli wove in jokes with advice, telling students to seek out their own path: “Cooking was not a cool choice when I graduated from HM in ‘87 and when I graduated from Barnard in ‘91. My friends made fun of me because they were all gynecologists or on the hedge-fund lawyer track,” she said.

During her speech, the audience erupted with laughter — or groans of disgust as Guarnaschelli described the worst dish she ever ate on “Chopped” (venison loin on muffin puree). “It was nice to have a fun and engaging speaker during an especially stressful week, and it felt refreshing to laugh freely during the assembly,” Bella Sepulveda (10) said. 

In freshman year, Sam Siegel (12), president of Horace Mann Chefs United for the Culture (HMCFC) and one of the assembly’s organizers, learned that Guarnaschelli, who he loved watching on Food Network, was an alum. Since then, he wanted Guarnaschelli to speak at an assembly. “It was the most interesting and fun assembly that we’ve had in my four years in the Upper Division, and as president of HMCFC, it was a really fantastic capstone.”

After Guarnaschelli briefly described some important moments from her life, the assembly opened up for questions. Students took the opportunity to ask her about her experience in the restaurant industry and dishes that she has eaten when judging Food Network competitions. “We are all going to look at your outfit and judge you — I will, anyway,” she said.

Ending the assembly, Guarnaschelli emphasized the significant role that the school played in her career and life. “Attending Horace Mann taught me the power of diligence and perseverance,” she wrote. “You don’t always come out on top, but you’re in there learning a craft and getting good at something. Putting yourself out there counts for a lot.” 


The Record: What words of wisdom do you have for students who are aspiring chefs?

Guarnaschelli: Get an apron and start cooking.