"My friends were telling me it was the best mac and cheese they’d ever had. I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I have something here.’"
Sunny Anderson brightens up Saturday mornings on The Food Network's new chat-show-meets-cooking-show, The Kitchen. With her co-hosts Katie Lee, Jeff Mauro, Marcela Valladolid and Geoffrey Zakarian, Anderson puts the fun back in weekend cooking.
She spoke with ESSENCE.com about why the kitchen is an emotional space for her, how her mother's mac and cheese recipe changed her life, and what every serious cook should have in their kitchen.
As a foodie, what does the kitchen means to you spiritually, emotionally?
I’m an Air Force vet and an Army brat so every single year we moved the kitchen was the first room in the house that we put together. It’s the soul of our house. On my mom’s side of the family the kitchen is also very territorial. If I could build a gate and a bridge with a high tariff to get across I would because sometimes I feel like the kitchen is my own hibernation cave and I just want to be in there by myself and cook and create and be silent. A lot of times, because I come from radio, people ask me what music I listen to in the kitchen, and I tell them I don’t. If anything, maybe it’s news, but I just like to be in there silent.
What’s the first dish that you made when you were young that let everyone know you meant business?
I can’t remember any one specific thing, but I do remember having fierce arguments with my brother for copying what I made. I used to hate it. He wouldn’t be hungry, but I’d be hungry and I’d go into the fridge and I’d make something work, and then he’d go and make exactly what I made. I used to get so annoyed that he took my creativity to fill his belly.
What’s the dish you cooked that made you realize you could do this for a living?
It would have to be macaroni and cheese. I believe my mom makes the best mac and cheese, and I constantly would ask her for the recipe and she would give me what she said was the recipe but… something was wrong, something was missing. She didn’t want to give up the goods. So I ended up getting into the kitchen and trying to figure out my own recipe. I thought it was good, but then I started feeding my friends and they loved it and they were telling me it was the best mac and cheese they’d ever had. I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I have something here.’
I imagine you’re always whipping up something in the kitchen. What do you recommend everybody have in their kitchen?
One of the things that you should always have in your kitchen is a good knife. You can go to your local grocer or local culinary school and take a knife skills course, because it’s like having a gun without a gun license. That knife could kill you if you don’t know how to use it right. A good box grater is great for grating, great for mincing garlic, getting zest off of lemons, etc. And if you can afford it, get a really good stand mixer or food processor. I would probably put food processor above all, because one of the things I love in my kitchen are old cookbooks that tell you how to make cakes and cookies based on how many stirs that you do with a wooden spoon and a bowl. We all know we don’t need a stand mixer. Your arm can do that work, but a food processor … whoo, girl! Yes. And maybe a thermometer. I think a lot of times people's ovens tell them that the temperature is 350, but it’s really 345, and five degrees is the difference between a good cookie or cake and a bad cake. I think a lot of times when people’s recipes don’t work out it has a lot to do with temperature.
Are you an oven or microwave girl, when you’re in a rush?
The microwave is the least used thing in my house. I use it to heat up coffee. What did I use it for the other day? Oh yes, I was melting butter. Microwaves don’t do it for me. I don’t even do popcorn in the microwave.
The Kitchen airs Saturday mornings at 11AM ET/PT on The Food Network.