Celebrity chef Sunny Anderson is a bona fide world traveler. After growing up as an Army brat and serving as a member of the United States Air Force, she worked in radio, ran a catering company, and served as a magazine editor before beginning her still-active tenure as a Food Network regular in 2008 as the host of “How’d that Get on My Plate?” Since then, the now 41-year old Anderson has logged air time on numerous other cooking and food-related shows, including “The Kitchen,” “Beat Bobby Flay,” and “Top 5 Restaurants,” among others. Examiner chatted with the affable Anderson on April 20. During the interview, she shared her tips for maintaining a healthy diet while away from home, named her favorite travel destinations, and explained why she calls California restaurants the Avocado Mafia.
Sherry Wight: You are a world traveler in addition to being a Food Network star and just an all-around superstar in the kitchen, so tell me: is it really possible to eat healthy while you’re traveling?
Sunny Anderson: Now you know I’m here to tell you yes, and you know I believe it. I travel all the time and there was definitely a time in my career where going on the road meant that I was going to come home not being able to fit [into] the clothes that I packed…. Extended Stay America has actually done a study that found that if you’re away from home for two weeks, you can gain up to two to three pounds.
[But] it’s very easy to eat healthy while you’re on the road. The trick is making sure that you’re the one in control of what you’re putting into your system, and that means cooking and prepping some things on your own, and it’s easy to do because it isn’t like you’re making puff pastry [at a] Michelin starred restaurant, you know? We’re [talking] real food for real people. That’s what I’m into at Food Network. [And it can] all happen in a kitchen-kitchen –with pots and pans and a stove– at Extended Stay America hotels.
SW: What’s your favorite dish to prepare while you’re traveling?
SA: A lot of time in this business, people ask me about my favorite go-to recipes, and one thing I’ll always say is quesadillas. I love nothing more than having tortillas in the refrigerator, some shredded cheese –or even sliced cheese– and knowing that if I get a rotisserie chicken or maybe some fish… or maybe if I have a steak at dinner, I can chop it up and put it in there. A quesadilla is my go-to. It’s simple and there’s no recipe needed.
I also love going to the grocery store so I can get fresh ingredients like tomatoes and cucumbers and onions and I make a panzanella salad. I put together a cookbook… called “Away from Home Cooking” and it’s [available for] free online [and features these recipes and more]. They’re all simple-prep… and they’ve all been approved by the American Cancer Society.
SW: That’s amazing. Panzanella is oh so yummy.
SA: It’s my everything. Yeah. Any salad that requires bread, not as some kind of accoutrements like croutons, like it’s actually an ingredient, I love. And the tomatoes… I mean, you can take a bad tomato and make it good by putting it into a panzanella salad because you’re just squeezing all of that liquid out [and putting] a luscious salad dressing over the top.
SW: Since you are such an accomplished traveler, what’s your favorite place to visit?
SA: Oh gosh, there are so many places I love to go. If I want to [go somewhere where] where awesome meals [are everywhere], it’s New Orleans. I have a best friend that lives there. I also love New York City. As an Army brat and Air Force vet, I’ve lived in so many different states and countries and I find that there’s every type of cuisine [there].
I love California. I call it the Avocado Mafia there because everything you order, you can get an avocado on. You can order salad and [they’ll ask] “would you like an avocado?” Roasted chicken, “would you like an avocado with that?” You can order a piece of cake, “you want some avocado on the side?” I love it. Plus there’s a thousand kajillion places to get a good burger in California.
SW: As a Food Network star, you’ve done a lot of shows. I looked at your resume and it was absolutely overwhelming to read it all. Of all the the chefs that you’ve worked with, who has really inspired your creativity over time?
SA: I would have to say it’s been my mom and grandma as far as inspiring creativity. Usually when I get together with cooks and chefs who are my peers, it’s less about being creative and more about watching how they cook and what they do and getting into their type of food. But inspiring are people like Rachael Ray. She’s such a sweetheart, she works really, really hard, and to see her throw together menus and recipes daily, she’s pretty awesome. And I love Bobby Flay, too.