How Celebrity Chefs Eat On The Cheap (Like, Dinner For $10)

Photo: Courtesy of Alex Guarnaschelli.
Living on a budget can be a drag, especially at dinnertime. You love splurging on your favorite meals, but when you're working with abbreviated funds, that isn’t always possible. Believe it or not, restaurant chefs know what it’s like when you’ve got to cook AND watch your wallet at the same time. Food Network chef Alex Guarnaschelli loves the challenge of cooking on the cheap. "The best are budget meals that skimp on money but not on flavor, like simple baked potatoes, roasted carrots, slow cooked onions and braised cabbage. Such simple easy things make a budget easy to respect.”

In order to get some recipe ideas that over deliver on taste even while scrimping on cost, we asked top chefs to give us their go-to cheap meals and best cost-cutting kitchen secrets. Keep reading, and prepare to feel zero regret as you plan your next dinner at home.
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Photo: Courtesy of Chef Alex Guarnaschelli.
Alex Guarnaschelli
Food Network star and Butter executive chef Alex Guarnaschelli grew up eating budget-based meals. “My father used to make me meals from just rice and tomatoes with a little garlic and chili flakes that were so satisfying,” she says. Her go-to $10 dinners are focused on one good ingredient that “provides substance and satiates hunger. Examples can be some ground meat, a can of coconut milk, or a grain like barley or some polenta.” Her favorite? Bread. “I’ll bet you’ve marinated plenty of chicken breasts, flank steaks, and vegetables, but how about garlic bread?” Leaving it overnight allows the garlic flavor to bake through, and it’s the kind of dish you can make different every time by adding mozzarella or something spicy, like red pepper.

Overnight Garlic Bread
Serves : 6 to 8

1 (13-inch) loaf Italian bread
7 medium garlic cloves, grated
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 10 to 12 thin slices
1 tbsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Cut the bread in half lengthwise, as if you were making an oversized hero sandwich.

2. Mix the garlic with the olive oil and spoon over the length of the cut sides of the bread, using the back of the spoon to fully spread the garlic over the bread. Arrange the butter slices on the bottom half of the bread. Sprinkle with the salt.

3. Use a small fine-mesh strainer to dust the cayenne evenly over the whole bread. Close up the bread and wrap it tightly in foil, sealing the ends. Refrigerate overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Put the bread in its foil wrapping in the oven and bake until it feels hot to the touch, 35 to 40 minutes.

5. Transfer to a baking sheet and unwrap the foil carefully, as hot steam will escape from the bread. Bake, unwrapped, until the exterior develops a little crispness, 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, slice, and serve immediately.
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Photo: Courtesy of Chef Michael Symon.
Michael Symon
Michael Symon, host of ABC's The Chew, looks to Italy when creating cost-effective meals. His spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes could feed four people for just a few dollars, and packs great flavor thanks to quality ingredients, like imported olive oil and fresh garlic.

This recipe highlights how just a few basic ingredients can come together to create something special. Because there are so few elements, it’s important to use fresh herbs, plump and firm garlic, and the best quality Parmesan you can get your hands on.

Spaghetti With Olive Oil, Garlic & Red Pepper Flakes
Serves 4

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried spaghetti
1/4 cup olive oil
5 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp unsalted butter

1. In a very large pot, bring 5 quarts water and 3 tablespoons salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until just al dente, about 1 minute less than the package directions. Occasionally give the pasta a stir, so it doesn’t stick together. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.

2. Meanwhile, put a large skillet over low heat. Add the olive oil and garlic and cook until the garlic is soft and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes along with the reserved pasta water to the garlic. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a simmer.

3. Add the cooked pasta to the pan, stirring the noodles into the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and black pepper as needed.

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley, Parmesan, and butter. Serve immediately.
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Photo: Courtesy of Melissa D’Arabian.
Melissa D'Arabian
Melissa D’Arabian won America’s heart when she won season 5 of Food Network Star. Her grand prize: the hit show Ten Dollar Dinners. Some of her money saving tips? “Try clear-the-pantry week: This is a week when you really don’t buy any other groceries — you dig into your pantry and you really try to stick to the food you already have. You’d be amazed what you can get away with. It’s a great opportunity to see what you have lurking in the pantry — and who doesn’t have frozen meats tucked away in the freezer? Let’s face it, if you don’t use it, it’s going to go bad and that’s wasting money.” Her chicken curry with veggies is a great recipe for using what you already have to make a delicious meal.

Curry Chicken With Veggies

2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp red Thai curry paste
1 yellow onion, sliced with the grain
2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
1 tsp dried basil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of 1/2 lime
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Lime wedges, for squeezing


1. Cook 1 tablespoon of the oil, the curry paste and onions in a large sauté pan over medium heat, stirring often and letting sizzle, 5 to 6 minutes.

2. Pat the chicken dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add the remaining oil to the pan. Cook the chicken in the onion-curry mixture until golden on all sides.

3. Add the broccoli, carrots, basil, garlic, and lime zest and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are coated, about 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, and tomatoes and bring to a simmer.

4. Let the chicken simmer until cooked through and the sauce begins to thicken, about 20 minutes. Squeeze with lime juice before serving.
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Photo: Courtesy of Billy Parisi.
Billy Parisi
Chef Billy Parisi was responsible for creating one of the world's most expensive hot dogs. Dubbed the "1700 Carat Hot Dog," it's an extravagant version of one of America’s favorite foods. Luckily, he also created a MUCH cheaper take on the recipe that elevates the humble hot dog to new levels.

Balsamic Glazed Portobello Hot Dog
Makes 1 hot dog

1 Hebrew National Hot Dog, heated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
1 grilled and sliced portobello mushroom
2 tbsp finely minced yellow onion
1 hot dog bun, toasted
1 tbsp white truffle infused olive oil
1/2 tbsp balsamic glaze

1. In a large sauté pan on high, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then add in the mushrooms and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes. Next, add in the onions and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes

2. Finish by folding in the white truffle infused olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper.

3. To Plate: Place the heated Hebrew National hot dog in the toasted bun and add on the cooked mushrooms. Drizzle on the balsamic glaze. Enjoy!
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Photo: Courtesy of Chef Aarón Sánchez.
Aarón Sánchez
Celebrity Chef Aarón Sánchez, who is also the owner of Johnny Sánchez restaurants in New Orleans and Baltimore, looks to chicken for his $10 dinner. "When creating an affordable meal, you want to make something that's going to be flavorful and filling. I love to make 'one pot' dishes using a combination of proteins, veggies, and something to make the dish stretch, like rice or noodles. Chicken is an affordable protein that you can buy in family size, and the crispy rice adds texture, absorbs the flavor, and really binds everything together for a hearty and delicious meal."

1 (3 pound) chicken cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
Salt and pepper
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup pure Spanish olive oil
1 onion, small dice
1 green pepper, small dice
1 roasted red pepper, small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup prepared tomato sauce
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
12 ounces beer
1/2 cup sherry
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups Valencia rice, soaked in cold water for 1 hour
5 saffron threads, optional
1 cup sweet peas

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and lime juice. In a paella pan, heat the olive oil. Brown the chicken, remove the chicken from the pan, and set aside. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic to the paella pan. Cook until translucent.

2. Add the tomato sauce, cumin, and bay leaf; cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken, wine, beer, and sherry, and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and adjust the seasoning. Add the drained rice and the saffron.

3. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and cook in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the rice from the oven and add the peas, fluffing the rice and mixing in the peas at the same time. Serve hot.
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Photo: Courtesy of Marc Murphy.
Marc Murphy
Landmarc chef Marc Murphy says it's all in the planning process when it comes to preparing budget meals. The key is to be flexible and take advantage of supermarket sales to stock up on your favorite ingredients, and consider items like frozen vegetables since they pack the same nutrients and are often less expensive than the fresh ones. He doesn't waste anything, either. Instead, "Paper towel can be your best friend. It helps with [saving] lettuces, vegetables, and even herbs. Transfer the ingredients into tupperware and cover with the paper towel; it absorbs the moisture and allows the ingredients to stay fresh longer.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Nikki Dinki.
Nikki Dinki
The Next Food Network Star
alum and co-host of Cooking Channel’s Junk-Food Flip, Nikki Dinki likes to stretch her ingredients to get the most out of them. “I always like to stretch the meat in my dishes with other meaty flavors. In this recipe, the black beans and ancho chili plus smoked-paprika spiced green peppers take the place of some of the chicken and really enhance the flavor. So in the end, you're buying and eating less meat while actually making a better tasting (and better for you) meal.”

Another tip? Make it look good. “Even a super inexpensive meal can look totally crave worthy if it's presented the right way. Take a minute and make sure there are contrasting colors on the plate, and place the food on top of each other to create height. These things will all lead to a prettier plate."

Green Pepper Tacos With Pineapple Salsa
Serves 4; makes about 2 cups salsa

For the salsa:

1 cup finely chopped fresh pineapple
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
Half a serrano or jalapeno chile, finely chopped
Juice of half a lime
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

For the tacos:
1 tbsp olive oil, more if needed
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 boneless or bone-in chicken thighs (3/4 pound or 1 pound), skin removed
3 large green bell peppers, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
4 medium-large flour tortillas
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (large pieces)

1. Prepare the salsa. Place the pineapple, onions, peppers (bell and hot), lime juice, and salt in a medium bowl; stir together until combined. Stir in the cilantro. Let the salsa sit at room temperature while you make the taco filling.

2. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Heat the oil in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. While it is heating, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the black pepper over the chicken thighs. When the oil is simmering, add the chicken to the skillet and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on the bottom — 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and cook the other side until golden brown — 3 to 5 minutes more. Then, transfer the skillet to the oven and bake the chicken until it is cooked through — 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Remove the skillet from the oven and transfer the chicken to a plate. Place the skillet back on the burner, this time over medium heat, adding more oil if needed for sautéing the green peppers. Add the peppers and stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until the peppers are slightly tender, 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chili powder, and paprika, and cook until the peppers are tender — 3 to 5 minutes more.

4. Meanwhile, shred the chicken. Toast the tortillas until just slightly charred by holding them with tongs over a gas burner flame or by placing them under the broiler for 15 to 30 seconds per side.

5. When the peppers are cooked, add the chicken and beans to the skillet, stirring to combine. Cook until the beans are warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Spoon the pepper and chicken mixture onto the tortillas, dividing equally. Add a spoonful of the salsa to each and scatter some feta over the top. Fold up and enjoy!
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Photo: Courtesy of Maria Loi.
Maria Loi
Maria Loi, gourmet chef and restaurateur, is often described as “the Martha Stewart of Greece,” and her $10 dinner nods to her Greek heritage. “I think a great recipe that is full of protein, not very expensive, and can feed many is my froutalia — the Greek frittata. Eggs are a delicious and cost-effective way to add protein, minerals, and vitamins into your diet; add any vegetables, herbs, and spices you like to make it your own! You can also mix in cooked beans or pasta to make it more filling.”

Greek Frittata With Seasonal Vegetables & Herbs
Serves 6-8


10 cherry tomatoes, halved (or whatever tomatoes are available)
1-2 zucchini, thinly sliced (depending on the size)
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
6 whole eggs
6 egg whites
1 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup anthotyro cheese (can substitute ricotta)
1/2 bunch of fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil as needed, plus more for the baking pan
Greek yogurt (full fat preferred), for garnish

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a well-oiled, large skillet over medium heat, combine the tomatoes, zucchini, and onion; season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté until they look softened, approximately 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg whites, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Fold in Greek yogurt, crumbled feta, and anthotyro cheese; whisk until well combined and airy.

3. Pour the egg/dairy mixture into the skillet with the vegetables, add the basil, and stir briskly to combine all the ingredients.

4. Bake the froutalia for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until thoroughly cooked. Cut into pieces, serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, and enjoy!
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Photo: Courtesy of Josh Capon.
Josh Capon
Josh Capon, executive chef and partner behind Lure Fishbar, B&B Winepub, El Toro Blanco and Bowery Meat Company in New York City, and Lure Fishbar in Miami, says the key to cooking is being smart and making a little go a long way. “Things like a paella, risotto, or arroz con pollo are great for making a small amount of protein, which is usually the most expensive ingredient, [last]. You can feed a lot of people by stretching it with a starch and a lot of veggies.” His go to $10 meal? “Roasted chicken all day, every day. It's not only cost effective, but when done well it's just simple and delicious. It pairs with anything, can be used a number of ways and makes for perfect leftovers for chicken salad! Don't forget to use the bones to make a great chicken soup!”
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