To the worst cooks in America, Anne Burrell is a mentor. To those of us in America who know how to cook (and eat), she’s a favorite TV presence. Worst Cooks in America – now in it’s fourth season – premiered February 17th. It’s the show where Bobby Flay and Anne Burrell are to clueless chefs what Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton are to talented singers. Burrell’s new book – Own Your Kitchen – also recently hit shelves, so it would seem Burrell’s taking 2014 by storm. We sat down with Burrell at her new neighborhood spot – The Clam – for pasta, cocktails and thoughts on her hypothetical redemption rematch with Geoffrey Zakarian…
What would be your ideal food day?
My ideal food day? Oh my gosh. Well, it depends on the day. I mean, a day like today, where it’s snowy, wet and yucky outside, I want to be home in my pajamas on the couch with a TV marathon of something-or-other and comfort food – whether it’s meatballs, a big pot of chicken soup, or a big dish of pasta. Something that says, okay, it’s a gross day outside, and you’re having a personal snow day.
What do you think people respond to most about Worst Cooks In America?
The first season, when we started, people were like, ‘Worst Cooks in America, what the heck kind of show is that? It’s a terrible name.’ And then the recognition of it grew and people were like ‘Oh my God, are the people really that bad?’ You start off laughing at them and then you see these sort of lovable losers turn around, dig deep and really transform themselves into, I wouldn’t say a chef, but a very decent home cook. And they do it themselves. And it’s all through hard work because the boot camp is an intense place, and if they don’t really buckle down and learn the information, they’re not going to be there long.
Do you think it’s kind of like The Voice for food, in a certain way? Has anyone ever compared it to that?
Well, we were before The Voice, and I like to think The Voice kind of took their idea of the mentors from us. There really wasn’t a show with mentors on it before Worst Cooks. And so I would like to say we were the first. You’re welcome, Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton. You’re welcome.
Do the mentors get competitive?
Of course! I mean, there’s definitely a lot of smack-talking. At the beginning and end of the day it’s about the recruits and what they learn, but as any chef goes, there’s a good healthy dose of competition between us.
Do you think in general that it’s really important for anyone to have a basic knowledge of cooking? Is that big for you?
It depends. I mean, I can’t imagine how and why, but some people are just not that interested in food. I think people have the interest level of what they want to have. I think anyone can learn if they want to. Cooking is one of those things that people think, ‘Oh, my mom and my grandma were good cooks, so I should be.’ It’s not a genetic trait. You really have to learn how to do it just like anything else.
Could you tell us just a little bit about your new cookbook, Own Your Kitchen?
Well my first book Cook Like a Rockstar was my history of becoming a girl chef, and this is my journey as a girl chef. So, you know, the other one really starts off with super basic cooking techniques and this starts off at the beginning. It’s written through my eyes, through my travels and through dishes that I really like to make and eat. It’s written in a very approachable way. Whether you’re an advanced cook or a novice cook, you can still be successful at the recipes.
What I also love about it is that the ingredients for the recipes are what I call “grocery store ingredients”. It’s not crazy stuff that you have to search all over the place to find. You can go for the most part to find all of the ingredients at your local grocery store. Or, you know, some substitute thereof which would be included in the recipe. They are written in a way that everyone can follow. It doesn’t treat anyone like they are stupid, and it’s kind of fun; you feel like my voice is there cooking with you.
Do you think being a woman chef in the culinary industry is different than being a man chef? The conversation seems to be everywhere recently. What do you think about it?
I don’t know why it’s all of the sudden such a hot topic. There have never been very many women in the kitchen. There are probably more now than there ever have been before, so why are we noticing that for the first time? I don’t get it. People ask me what it’s like to be a girl chef and I’m always like, ‘I don’t know. What it’s like to be a boy chef?’ It feels pretty normal to me. There aren’t more woman chefs recognized because there are just less of them. I think if you look at it – the percentage of woman chefs that are recognized versus the percentage of man chefs that are recognized – they’re probably fairly even-ish. Maybe girls even have a little bit of the upper hand.
Why do you think less women get into the industry than men?
It’s a really hard life. It’s physically hard, it doesn’t pay well, it’s really long hours – it’s nights, it’s weekends. A lot of times women have to decide: Do I want to have a restaurant career, or do I want to have a relationship and a family? That’s a big decision.