In the Kitchen: Food Network’s Sunny Anderson

By Fabiana Santana

Collard greens & baconShe’s one of the Food Network’s most relatable, real stars and her show says so. Sunny Anderson is the star of “Cooking for Real” – a show that focuses on cooking down-to-earth, delicious meals for real people with real lives. While the path that brought her to food TV was a winding one with pit stops in broadcast, the music industry and even backstage at Fashion Week, her easy approach to food and success of her show punctuate the fact that this is where she belongs.

Sunny’s recipes focus on affordable, easy-to-find and even easier to use ingredients – a dream for single women, and it’s all kept organized thanks to what she calls “her guy”. Sunny’s fresh, uncomplicated approach to cooking makes her recipes easy go-to options whether you’re eating at home alone or entertaining friends. And it is refreshing to have such genuine personality on television – someone who is happy to share her life, not just her skills. She’s the real deal.

You started out in radio and broadcast. How did you decide to turn that into a career in food?

That is one of the most asked questions I get. And it’s one of those that every time I answer it, I want to really have some amazing answer but what I do know is that there is so much that went into the transition. The single line that runs through both careers is communication. That is what I truly love in live and I was raised to do what you love regardless of the amount of money you get for it. I was in radio broadcast and had all these experiences cooking and catering with my company “Sunny’s Delicious Dishes.” And since I was on the air I would start to talk about how much I loved cooking and what I was cooking up at home and for clients. Emeril’s staff heard my show and liked it and invited me on as a guest on his show back in 2005. When I was on that show, in that moment I realized that that was the next level of my communication. I love cooking and I love communicating and this was the way I could share that. I found my dream and my mentor in one day. Well, my mentor actually found me.

You were a caterer to the stars – what was the most elaborate event you worked on?

The biggest challenges for me were the bookends – the first and last jobs I did. The first because it was my first. It was a catering job for a Sony Records business meeting and I was worried about things like did I have the right clothes on, the right staff with me. The one thing I didn’t worry about was the food. I knew that was going to be good. And the last one was a backstage event at Fashion Week in 2006. I knew it was my last catering job – I had decided to move to California for the guy I was dating. And I kept thinking, “is this the right thing? I am leaving what I love for a guy?” I had two choices, to shrivel or grow in terms of my work. And I decided to shrivel for my personal life and a relationship that didn’t work. I know now that if I had stayed I would have grown, but everything happens for a reason so it all worked out. Tough decision begets growth.

So you come back and wind up on the Food Network as host of a few shows before you become the star of Cooking for Real. How did you come up with that concept and those recipes.

“Cooking for Real” is me. Those are pretty much the things I cook at home. It really is a peek into my kitchen.

I’ve got my guy in the dining room and I am yelling out ingredients and he is writing them down for me and then I take that list to the studio. When I started I had about 100 recipes under my belt and after 6 episodes, many of those were gone. So every time I cook it is a chance to write a new recipe. I am inspired by going out to eat, too. And I will come up with meals at home and then develop these recipes that stem from that meal, I test them with the network and break them down for the shows. And my guy watches an episode and says “Hey! I remember that meal”.

Who do you hang out with the most at the network?

Behind the scenes, I love, love, love Santos, my sous chef. We talk about food all the time. Oh, and my culinary producer Sarah. We have conversations only foodie could have.

Outside of the crew – Aida Mellencamp. I love her. She is my buddy. We really are two peas in a pod. We text, we talk, and when she is in town we always try to have lunch and catch up.

What was the most interesting food journey you learned about for How’d That Get On My Plate?

The maraschino cherry. Maraschino cherries are actual cherries that are soaked for months in a fluid that takes out all their natural color and flavor and they are actually turned into a kind of day glow food product. After I got back from the factory and saw how they were made I vowed to never eat them again, but the truth is, I would totally eat one right now!

What is your favorite make at home meal for yourself?

To really satisfy myself, I will make mac and cheese, fried chicken and greens. Home style, comfort food that makes me happy.

What is your guilty pleasure meal?

A frozen candy bar. You can bribe me into anything with a frozen Snickers or a Mars bar. Maybe over ice cream.

What is one must have ingredient?

Puff pastry. I love carbs. Just roll it out and stuff it with honey and nuts. Then cook for 20 minutes. I love the idea that it is only 20 minutes to me eating! And it’s home made!

Can you give us a great recipe for women on the go who still want a home cooked dinner at the end of the day?

My sweet and sour collard greens are a great side dish that can easily turn into a meal. It is flavorful, yummy, healthy and done in five minutes.

Sunny’s Sweet ‘n Sour Garden Collards

Recipe courtesy Sunny Anderson, 2009

Yield: 6 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 slices bacon, cut into pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

1 bunch collards, trimmed, ribs discarded and thinly sliced

4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a sauté pan on medium heat, add the oil, bacon and onions and cook until the fat has rendered, the bacon is crisp and the onions are tender. Add the collards and sun-dried tomatoes to the pan and continue to cook until the greens wilt, about 2 minutes. Add in the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately.

“Cooking for Real” airs on Food Network Saturdays at 12pm/11c, Sundays at 10:30am/9:30c and Wednesdays at 1:30pm/12:30c.


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