In Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America, chef Anne Burrell has seen it all. There have been contestants who accidentally started fires, confused sugar for salt, drank the cooking wine and even tried to make grilled cheese using a blender. “People have learned a lot about cooking from Food Network,” Anne tells Closer. “But thankfully, not everyone has learned everything. There are still plenty of worst cooks out there that need my help!”
This New York-reared culinary school graduate and restaurateur got her start on television in 2005 as a sous-chef on Iron Chef America. Anne eventually made a niche for herself as one of the channel’s best cooking teachers. “Being able to cook and talk is a special skill,” admits Anne, 52, who has been putting aspiring home cooks (and sometimes celebrities) through culinary boot camp on Worst Cooks since 2010. The current season will air its exciting finale on May 29.
How did you first become interested in cooking?
My mom was a really good cook, and I always loved to help out. We planted a big garden every summer. To be able to see things start from seeds and grow was great. My mom could say, “Go out and pick lettuce for dinner, or dig up potatoes.” It was so fun. Cooking to me was always like an arts and crafts project with something to eat at the end.
Did you have any culinary heroes?
When I was 3, I went to my mom and said, “Mom, I have a friend named Julie. Julie Child!” I watched her every day on TV. She is still my idol. I sort of feel simpatico with Julia because we are both these big, kooky, loud ladies with a particular outlook on things, but with a definite joy in what we do.
When did you decide to be a chef?
I started waitressing when I was in college because I wanted to buy a car. A week in, I knew I loved the restaurant business. The people were just so fun, the camaraderie was great, and I loved the hospitality aspect. After I graduated from college, I got a miserable job working at a physician headhunter company. I lasted a year. I was thinking to myself, “I am 23 years old, and I am too young to be this miserable.” That’s when I decided that I was going to culinary school. If you weren’t teaching people to cook on TV, what do you think you’d be? A therapist! Sometimes I feel like, as a chef I am a therapist because there is so much wrapped up in food — emotion, family, holidays, body image.
What are your culinary guilty pleasures?
Anything that comes from a potato, like french fries, potato chips, I am on board! I also love a hot dog!
Do you have any treasured family recipes that were handed down to you?
One recipe that has stayed with me since I was a little kid is my mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing. It is a sausage-mushroom stuffing with lots of sage and walnuts. When we were little, my sister and I would set up this teeny-tiny black-and-white TV on the kitchen table and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while we cut up toast squares for the stuffing. I just loved being a part of it. Whenever I make this stuffing, it just brings up those memories.
Do you ever miss cooking in a restaurant kitchen?
Sometimes I would say yes. I miss the atmosphere of a restaurant kitchen, the camaraderie. But then, on other days, I’m like, “Nope!” I am happy to just be cooking in my own home kitchen.
You got married last year to Stuart Claxton. Do you cook for him a lot?
Yes, I got to marry my Prince Charming in October! I cook almost every night. Stuart is easy to cook for because he loves everything. I can always tell when he really likes something because he will take a bite and say, “Mmmm,” and then with every bite he will keep saying it. So if he doesn’t say that, I’m like, “What’s the problem?”
What are some of his favorite dishes that you make?
Filipino chicken adobo — he loves that one. And anything with pasta. He’s crazy for pasta. Stuart is English, so usually on the weekends, I make a big English breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, sautéed mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and potatoes that are fried in bacon fat.
What is the best thing about finding your husband later in life?
For the first 20 years or so that I lived in New York City, I was so focused on my career. I was never as committed to having a personal relationship. So finding Stuart at this point in my life has been amazing. I got to get myself established in my career, and now I have a partner, too. Aw, that’s nice. Plus, Stuart came into my life with his son Javier, so it’s like I got a 2-for-1 deal. That whole family dynamic has been amazing. I feel like I got the whole package: I was able to focus on my career, and now I can really put my effort, care and love into my marriage.
Who are your closest pals at Food Network?
Do you have one tip to make anyone a better home cook?
Find a recipe for whatever you want to make. Read it before you start. Even if you don’t stick to it completely, at least you have a road map of where you’re going.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?
Be serious, but don’t take things too seriously. Learn how to laugh at yourself and roll with the punches. Be adaptable, because sometimes things don’t turn out the way you think they are going to, but sometimes those things become even better than what you were planning. And when things don’t go your way, use it as an experience and don’t make those mistakes again.