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Thursday, April 3

Food Network Addict Interview: Sunny Anderson, Part I

The commercials proclaim she’s a real DJ. A real Air Force vet. A real food lover. Looking at the state of television today, you can pretty much guarantee that anything deemed “real” will be anything but; it’s the misnomer of the millennium.

Still, the ebullient and aptly named Sunny Anderson—whose new Food Network show Cooking for Real features a “fresh, uncomplicated approach to classic comfort foods”—might just prove that modern-day truth wrong. For real.


I spoke with Sunny last week by telephone and asked her about her background, her new show, and how she felt being the newest African American host on a network occasionally criticized for its lack of diversity.

The warmth and candor she displayed when discussing her military background, her food experiences, and her outlook for the future makes me believe she has that intangible thing it takes to spark a successful show on Food Network. And I don’t say that about just anyone.

So let’s get...(sigh)real with Sunny.

Food Network Addict: I’m sure you’ve heard about the JAG and Robert Irvine controversies, so let’s just get this straight: Are you really a real Air Force vet?

Sunny: [laughing] Yes, I joined in ‘93 and got out in ‘97. I’d love to forward you some of my documents, if necessary. I had a great time in the military. I did news stories and hosted radio shows. My dad was in the Army and I chose the Air Force; it’s [like] a family business. I have never… I could never falsify anything about the military. What they do for us is quite amazing.

Much to my surprise, Sunny really did forward me a document outlining her military experience and honorable discharge. Future scandals averted!



FNA: You worked in radio for many years in the military and after you got out. Was cooking always an important part of your life during that time?

Sunny: It was one of those weird things. You’ve got something and you don’t even think it’s something. When we were moving around a lot [as a kid], my parents’ goal was not just the cultural exploration but also the [exploration of] food. And being in the military, there’s so many ethnicities. You’re living next door to someone from Vietnam who can show you how to make spring rolls. Growing up with that was really amazing for me.

FNA: You’re not a trained chef, though.

Sunny: No, not at all. I’m a cook. There were always dinner parties [in my family] and the kitchen was very central. Growing up was all about exploring. We’d be somewhere like Germany, eat something, and then try to make it at home. I’ve taken cooking courses, though. I’ve taken a knife course. Anyone who claims to know everything about cooking, I’m so sorry for them because they’ve closed the door on food.

Sunny’s first stop after getting out of the Air Force was New Orleans—a city she had only visited a few times before. It was there, she says, that she fell in love with the local cuisine. It must have been a strong connection, as the premiere episode of her show “Noshin N’Awlins” is dedicated to the Crescent city. “When you get somewhere like that, you’re going to cook,” says Sunny

While she enjoyed her time in New Orleans, Sunny’s goal of making it to a major radio market meant she needed to move to either New York or L.A. She chose New York—eventually landing a gig at the top hip-hop station, Hot 97.

Sunny: When I first got to New York, people kept asking me “What’s next? What’s next?” and I didn’t have an answer for them, but I was still cooking for people. I didn’t put two and two together.

This casual hobby of cooking for friends and coworkers turned into a pretty big endeavor for Sunny. Bringing food here and there for people in the studio turned into catering big name events (including one for New York's Olympus Fashion Week), with her free time at the radio station (and during commercial breaks) spent using the building’s kitchen and calling her friends at home to ensure everything was on track.

Sunny: At first it was like, “It’s friendly. I’m bringing food. Let’s eat and hang out. Someone brings a bottle of wine, I bring a dish.” One summer my boss and all the executives went to a house out in the Hamptons that the radio station had and I brought my mac ‘n cheese, my chicken… a lot of standout dishes. A week after that I started getting booked by all the station’s executives. I didn’t even know I was in the running; I thought I was just cooking for friends. It was a total organic thing. I didn’t set out to do it, which is probably why when it got a little too big for me I had to stop. I couldn’t wrap my brain around doing it full force while still doing radio.

Cooking constantly, Sunny naturally talked about it on the radio. Eventually, an audience coordinator for the Food Network show Emeril Live heard Sunny and invited her to be a guest on the show.

********************************************

Make sure to check back tomorrow for Part II of the interview in which we find out out how the title Cooking for Real came about, her thoughts on race and the Food Network, and what she did when she first pulled up to Food Network studios to be a guest on Emeril Live.

I'll also have my review up tomorrow of the first episode of Cooking for Real. Lots of Sunny going on over here at FNA! Hope you enjoy it.

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11 Comments:

At 4/03/2008 1:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

she sounds REAL. seriously though, she seems like a genuine person-i will have to try to see her show!

 
At 4/03/2008 2:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to her show. I think the network needs some changes and updates. Right now, I'm afraid they are turning that awful Guy into the network star. I'm sorry, but he is gross. He talks with his mouth open and stuffed, and just looking at him is a real stomach turner. My old fav's are starting to become unbearable. I like Paula Deen, but the Party show is pure torture. So, back to Sunny, I'll be happy to see her debut show.
Laura

 
At 4/03/2008 5:45 PM , Anonymous Alec Smart said...

Yee haw. Sunny days are straight ahead. I think you stand a good chance at success with that positive attitude.

Hope you can bring in some more fresh air with you because the natives are getting restless being forced to watch some pretty crap shows hosted by some egotistical personalities. I mean we expect crap shows, but it is the overacting and bloated heads some of these hosts develop that is hard to take. Many end up hating them just becuase of how they act onscreen.

I think you story will turnout better.

And do you know what is Doc Gibbs is doing these days ? I hope he is getting enough to eat. Emeril fed him well.

 
At 4/04/2008 10:35 AM , Anonymous clutchfan74 said...

Awesome.

Just from what you've showed us so far, she seems very real and down to earth. This show seems like it will be a refreshing change for the network.

 
At 4/20/2008 12:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

No. No. No. I am a die hard Food Network fan. This show is all
wrong. I don't like how Sunny, eats the food she cooks (corn cob)and
drips butter and lime all over the cutting board and her face. She
licks her fingers while she cooks. No. No. unsanitary and GROSS to
watch. Did she lick the spoon with her tongue?? No...please that is
gross. Tell her to pull her hair back. I don't care for the recipes.
I am a women of color and I just don't get what this show is about.
Where is B Smith, Ina and Martha when you need them. Please revamp
this show, my kids and I cook daily and we simply were turned off by
this show. Are you letting anyone on food network now? She stated using a brown bag was "green", instead of a bowl that can be reused? Is food network trying embarrass women of color here? If you want
a real concept, Give us a call. Good looking, stylish, we don't lick
our fingers and YES, we can cook.

 
At 5/01/2008 5:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment is directed to "anonymous"--it's really sad to hear you put down someone of color who has finally made it to food network. Look how long it took for them to put one of us on. So what's the problem? Are you hating or what? It sounds to me like you wish you were there instead of Sunny.

 
At 6/09/2008 4:49 PM , Anonymous Cynthia S.-Milwaukee, WI said...

SMELLS LIKE A HATER IN THE AIR!!!This comment is also for the anonymous hater. I have to STRONGLY agree with what the other anonymous had to say about you and your hating words. I watch the show faithfully as well as the other cooking shows. I have to say that Sunny is doing a WONDERFUL job!! If you are a die hard fan of FN you should have taken notice that none of the cooks on FoodNetwork cooking show with long hair has on a hair net or hair pulled back. I also see alot of spoon licking...Watch Paula Dean! As a woman of color(since you wanted to throw that in there) I am assuming you are not dumb, but the concept of the show is kind of the same concepts of any other cooking show on the network... Cooking! As a woman of colored you should be ashamed hating on the next sista. You are trying to find any and every small flaw. Dont watch the show if you dont like it! The show wasnt made personally for your approval anyways. Every recipe she has is not going to appeal everyone, just as the same as the other cooks. She is doing nothing different than any of the other cooks on their shows. I guess she's just keeping to real for you. I am curious as to how you feel about the Neely's! Be a Congratulator not a Hater! But I see you cant do that because you trying the bring the next person down and pitch yourself "concepts" At the same time. What a sad shame. HATER!!!!!!!!!!

 
At 7/13/2008 11:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

COME ON,PAULA'S TAKING THAT SOUTHERN CRAP JUST TOO FAR THAT BIG HEAD ITALIAN BROAD IN HER GUIDO WORLD IS UNWATCHABLE.BOBBY FLAY'S EGO WILL FINISH HIS TIRD ASS ,CAN WEE BEAR ANY MORE CLOSE UPS WITH ANTON.IS IT THE NEELYS OR THE GINA NEELY SHOW,SHES HARD TO LOOK AT. WITH THAT SAID SONNY AINT SO BAD

 
At 7/13/2008 6:34 PM , Anonymous Kevin Hill-Pensacola, FL. said...

Kevin H.-Pensacola, FL.
First I want to say that I am not a professional chef, however I have been cooking for over 20 years. I'm also a loyal Food Network fan and a man of color. Please know that I am in no way trying to turn this into a racial thing but the women who calls herself "Anonymous" struck a nerve with me talking about Sunny Anderson on the Food Network. In my opinion all of the Chef's and staff of the Food Network do an outstanding job of providing us with instructions on different cooking techniques and countless new recipes that this so-called "Anonymous" writer probably can't come up with herself. Sunny Anderson along with Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Mario Batali, Paula Deen, Pat & Gina Neely and countless others are among my favorites. Listen Up Anonymous!!!....I don't ever recall any one of those host talking negative about other people. In my opinion people who knit-pick and criticize others do so because they are a)jealous or b)can not do what they are criticizing people for in the first place. If you don't like a show because of the host or personal reasons there's a neat little invention called a remote control...USE IT AND CHANGE THE CHANNEL! I want everyone at the Food Netwok to know that I feel confident in saying that there are more of us who look foward to watching your shows rather than trying to pick them apart. Keep up the great work and keep the recipes coming. Hopefully one day these "anonymous critics" will get a life and find something that they are good at doing other than bothering people. There are a lot of us food enthusiast out here that look foward to watching you all and learning from you as well. Thanks for all you do!
Sincerely,
Kevin Hill- Pensacola, FL.

 
At 1/31/2009 7:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe Sunny was the first African American on the Food Network. Do you remember Curtis Aikens? I have to agree with the other "anyonymous". I don't like for anyone to lick their fingers or the spoon while they are cooking. And yes, she should not fiddle with her hair while she's cooking. Nobody is hating. Some of us just hold ourselves to a higher standard of excellence. That's all.

 
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