Turning Culinary Dreams Into a Reality — Sunny Anderson's Advice for Rachael Ray's Kids Cook-Off Competitors
On last night's episode of Rachael Ray's Kids Cook-Off, Sunny Anderson joined Rachael to help dole out the challenges and judge the competition. The focus of the challenges was to help the kids develop their storytelling techniques so they can learn to talk about their food fearlessly in front of the camera, which is important for when one of them wins his or her own Web series on FoodNetwork.com. FN Dish caught up with Sunny to chat about the episode, the kids and more. She reveals her best piece of advice for the kid competitors and how she found her own voice in the business.
One of this week's challenges was about storytelling. How important, in your opinion, is telling a story when it comes to connecting with the audience?
Sunny Anderson: I think telling a story is paramount when it comes to connecting with the audience, because a hot dog is a hot dog is a hot dog until you explain; it's not summertime until you go to Coney Island on the R train, get off, smell that breeze from the ocean, and walk over to Nathan's and get your hot dog with your fries. I mean, if you don't paint a picture and tell a story, who cares almost. ... So, to me, it's what sets one plate of food apart from the other. I'm more interested in the plate of food that has a story behind it than just a plate of food that's sitting out there for someone to eat.
Your background is in radio. How did you find your voice in food, so to speak?
SA: Well, I mean, I think finding your voice in food is like finding your voice in anything. If you truly love something, there really is no end of discussion. It's just a long continuing conversation, and I'm having a long continuing conversation with many things in my life, but one of them is food. So it wasn't really hard for me to find my voice. I think the hardest part about finding your voice in food, in television, is finding it in the right amount of time and using the right words to get people excited about not just tasting your food, but actually getting in their own kitchen and cooking it.
What advice do you have for the kids competing on this show?
SA: I think the advice I would have for the kids is just, honestly, the most cliche thing you've probably heard a thousand times, but it's so true; it's just be yourself. You know, it comes with time, but the longer you are yourself and succeed, the easier it [is] to stay yourself and realize that being you is really truly what sets you apart. I think, obviously with kids, there's this feeling to fit in, and as adults you realize usually the ones that don't fit in are the most successful. So, I mean, I wouldn't tell the kids, "Do what you can do to be different." But recognize how different you are from everyone else, and celebrate it. It's OK. Just be yourself.
As you watched them compete, is there anything that surprised you about them?
SA: Yeah, every, everything surprises me about these kids. Their vocabulary is, like, bar none. I mean, they're saying words I didn't hear or learn about ... until I actually started in food TV. Because, usually in food, you just know what you know. You don't care to know what everyone else knows. I just know I'm making the holy trinity; I know what I'm cooking. ... I mean, and their skill set, I mean, you're down there talking about making agrodolces and vinaigrettes, and they're searing and braising and frying, and their knife skills are crazy. What I'm most surprised by is why I think people watch the show. These are kids that are cooking on par with adults, and I have been on challenge shows tasting before; I have spit out some adults' food. I am not spitting any of this out. These kids are cooking really good food. That's what surprises me is their language and their skill level.
SA: No, I could not see myself doing this at that age, mostly because, at that age, I was most interested in how high I could swing and, you know, if I would get in trouble coming home with mud on me. I think kids these days are way more savvy. When you tell a kid to talk to the camera and "go," they know exactly what you're talking about. I mean, what is going on these days? No, absolutely not, I could not do this show growing up — not even the skill, not the skill of communicating, and the skill level of cooking, no. At this time I was still a prep cook in my parents' kitchen, so I was still just doing all the prep work of chopping and of things of that nature. No, I was not sauteing and making agrodolces with food processors.
The kids had to make dishes that changed their culinary worlds and inspired them to get into cooking. What would that dish be for you?
SA: I would just make a good grilled cheese, with Gouda, smoked Gouda, and a side of homemade ketchup. I think the only thing I wouldn't make would be the bread, because I don't have time to wait. Who wants to wait for the bread to rise? ... So that's what I would do, mostly because, it is the first thing I had that made my mind say, "What?" So then grilled cheeses aren't all the same? They can be different, with different cheeses and different breads, and what's this ketchup all about? So that's probably what I would make. Even in its simplicity, it's something that truly did change my world, allowed me to think outside the box, so to speak — the lunchbox.
What do you think is the most-important advice for someone trying to follow his or her dream, whatever it may be, especially thinking about these kids?
SA: You've got to be a dreamer willing to do the work, and ... I'm not saying work every day and never give yourself time off, but if you make an effort every day to move forward toward your dream, there's bound to be other people that want your same goal that aren't working every day, so you're going to pass them up sooner or later just by the numbers. And then also realizing that you still also have to treat yourself like an engine. You've got to give yourself gas, and I think gas is time off. Don't kid yourself and think that you can run yourself into the ground and get to your dream or your goal. So it's kind of double-edged: It's like, work really hard, but make sure you give yourself a break as well.
Watch Rachael Ray's Kids Cook-Off on Mondays at 8|7c.