By Michael Aaron Gallagher • Photography courtesy of Food Network
Taking charge in the kitchen comes naturally for world-renowned chef Anne Burrell. The Food Network star is cooking up a whole new season of her popular show Worst Cooks in America.
Life as a celebrity chef can be a whirlwind. There are talk show appearances, cooking demonstrations, book signings, interviews and endless business meetings. And then, of course, there is the most important part – the cooking.
Far from the bright lights of television studios and haute cuisine of world-class eateries, Anne Burrell began her culinary journey in the small town of Cazenovia, New York. Tending to the family herb garden and enjoying her mother’s home-style cooking were some of her fondest childhood memories.
While her mother, Marlene cooked over the stove, the pair watched famed chef Julia Child on television together, something that helped Anne build a basic foundation and inspired her to try her own hand at the craft.
“My mother was a great cook, she was very creative,” Anne said. “I always liked being able to go out to the garden and pick lettuce for salads, corn on the cob, potatoes – it was all great.”
But discovering her calling didn’t come easy at first. After graduating from Canisius College with a degree in English and communications, Anne struggled to find a direction in her career.
“I started waiting tables in Buffalo, New York,” she said.
Never far from the kitchen, restaurant life slowly began to ignite her true passion. It wasn’t long before Anne decided to follow her dream of going to the Culinary Institute of America.
Soon, she was rekindling her love for cooking and enrolling in the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, where she developed a new understanding of the Italian dining experience. As a part of her training, she also worked at La Bottega del’ 30 in Umbria and La Taverna del Lupo in the Tuscany region of Italy.
Becoming a top chef amidst a sea of fame-seeking copycats and casual YouTubers certainly wasn’t easy. It required an authentic mix of discipline and personality.
Anne believes that each of her life experiences have played an important role in her culinary philosophy and how she prepares each original recipe.
“It’s kind of a fabric of where I’ve been throughout my whole career,” she said. “It all adds up.”
Some days, the years of study and preparation yield amazing results, while other times delectable dishes don’t come so easily.
“It’s one of those days when everything goes wrong and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if I’m ever going to get through this.’ And then there’s other times when you’re like, ‘Wow, this is a fantastically easy day. We got more customers [at the restaurant] than we normally do.’ Sometimes all the chips fall in all the right places.”
Anne’s drive and determination to be the best have propelled her career forward, allowing her to overcome the daily challenges of her profession and exceed her audience’s expectations.
On a recent winter night, Anne returned to Upstate New York. At the Brae Loch Inn in Cazenovia, she autographed copies of her books and posed for pictures with her adoring fans. She’s not just any cook in the kitchen anymore. She’s a star.
But even though her delicious cooking has made her a popular television guest, she’s remained grounded throughout her journey. Humility and hard work are what separate a good chef from a great one, Anne says. “You have to be able to put yourself out there with your ego but then you have to have the humility to be what people are going to come and pay for.”
To create a great meal, you have to create a great experience for your guests. And that means you need to enjoy what’s on the menu.
“Part of being a good cook is developing your own palate, the way you would develop any muscle,” Anne writes in her new book Own Your Kitchen. “You have to use it, flex it, and learn to trust it.”
As an author of two popular cookbooks, including the New York Times Best Seller, Cook Like a Rock Star, Anne says being published and having a Library of Congress number is one of her proudest achievements.
“I feel very lucky to be in the position that I am in,” Anne said. “I also feel very responsible to it.”
For anyone aspiring to be like her, she jokes, “Be careful what you wish for.”
But in all seriousness, her advice to would-be cooks is simple: “Experience it, and love it and do research on it. Read recipes, go to farmers’ markets and practice. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t work out perfectly all the time. Sometimes they don’t, but a lot of times they will. Learn from your mistakes, what you did wrong or what you could do better.”
“When you’re a chef, you find out you have a lot of friends because everyone wants you to feed them,” Anne said.
Of course, Anne’s popularity has never been better. On the heels of her literary success, and with a growing fan-base in the United States and abroad, she also has a new season of her reality series, Worst Cooks in America, set to premiere on Feb. 17 at 9 p.m. on Food Network.
The show (now in its fifth season), puts aspiring cooks to the test each week with a mix of flavor and pizzazz that only Anne can deliver.
But whether she is guiding a new generation of culinary superstars or serving her own homemade recipes, one thing is certain – Anne will continue to dish out advice and share her sizzling secrets for transforming everyday ingredients into the perfect meal.