Courtesy of the USTA
Alex Guarnaschelli is a tennis fan and a New Yorker, so being one of the chefs curating menus at the U.S. Open championships was a natural fit.
The Food Network star returns to the Grand Slam tennis tournament — which runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 11 in Flushing, New York — with her Mediterranean pop-up Fare, where guests can have a full sit-down restaurant experience on the grounds of the Billie Jean National Tennis Center. The chef will also be serving dishes at the first Flavors of the Open culinary event on Aug. 25 during Fan Week — where guests can sample drinks and foods that will be available during the tournament, mingle with the celebrity chefs and watch a private players' practice session within Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Guarnaschelli tells PEOPLE that she knew she wanted to be a part of the U.S. Open culinary roster when she attended as a spectator years ago. "I was eating all this delicious food and watching the match, and it was beautiful. And I just thought, 'This makes me want to cook here,'" she says.
"You can stand there and drink a giant soda and have a hot dog, or you can have another kind of experience where you're eating a fish tartar and an elegant salad. I love that the experiences at the Open run the gamut of whatever mood you're in," she adds.
The chef says the annual Grand Slam event offers a special culinary environment.
"People are looking for experiences that feel 360 [degrees]. There's comprehensive great food, great drink, great entertainment, ambiance. And then you have, on top of all of that, the sport itself," says the Alex vs. America star. "I went to the Open for a couple of years before I had my restaurant, Fare, and I just was sort of bowled over by the opulence and the elegance of it all."
As for cuisine at Fare, Guarnaschelli says she was inspired by the city surrounding her — which is where she grew up — and the tournament itself. "More than anything, I'm a New Yorker. And I think part of the U.S. Open is the context it's in. We are in New York," says the chef, who uses local ingredients — including handmade burrata from Little Italy and Italian ices with pickled cherries — in homage to her hometown. "It all has hints of New York experiences," she says.
The self-proclaimed "rookie tennis player" admits the curated experiences at the tournament are what keeps her coming back year after year.
"I'm hoping that because I want to be there at the Open that everybody will come and join me, have a drink, have some snacks, watch some great tennis, and just enjoy the entire experience," she says.