One of only a few women to have earned the title Iron Chef, Alex Guarnaschelli — a Food Network host, judge and competitor — has released her first cookbook, “Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook” ($30, Clarkson Potter). We talked to the executive chef of New York’s Butter and The Darby restaurants in advance of her Wednesday stop at Wegmans in Gambrills, Md. (6-8 p.m.; free; 1413 South Main Chapel Way; 443-332-6200).
Why was now the time to finally do a cookbook?
I don’t think I knew what I wanted to say. I didn’t know the recipes I wanted to share, so I let the material marinate. The result is something I’m very comfortable with.
Why a comfort-food book?
I had not thought to enjoy home cooking because it’s what I do. You go to the office, and you might come home and cook to relax. What do I do to relax? Not cooking.
But I have a daughter, and I like to cook for her. I like to have that be a part of my parenting experience. I had to dig deep and figure out how I was going to negotiate my relationship with cooking, and it’s through these recipes that I do. You should only cook what’s really in your heart.
It’s spring, which means lots of fresh things at the grocery store or market. What should people try that they may not be eating?
Some people collect shoes. I collect fava beans. I love parsnips. I love ramps — it’s kind of a shame they’ve become so painfully chic. I could eat them until I have heartburn. I love corn. It sounds dumb, but it never gets old.
I would never have people buy something they don’t love. But rutabaga and kohlrabi — it’s upsetting to me that they’re not as popular as corn or strawberries.
You named your restaurant Butter. What’s your favorite way to eat it?
My answer’s maybe pedestrian, at best: On a piece of the best loaf of bread with a pinch of salt. If I’m going to invest in something, it’s going to immediately reward me in flavor payback.
You’ve said you hate the label “celebrity chef.” What do you get from being on TV — from competing on “Iron Chef” to judging on “Chopped”?
I don’t think about it as being on television. When I started cooking, there was no food television like there is now. Now you can start with the intention of being on television.
“Chopped” is much more of a teaching experience, and I’d argue the judges take a secondary role. But I do enjoy competing. It’s like an endless Rubik’s Cube.
So that’s why you competed in various “Iron Chef” contests until you won on “Iron Chef Redemption” in 2012?
Some people want to win an Oscar, some want to be Miss America. I aspired to be an Iron Chef, and I felt like my story wasn’t finished in trying to become one. I would have kept competing again and again.