About a year ago, I saw a photo of one of my oldest friends, alongside of Sunny Anderson. I was so excited for her, having followed Sunny on the Food Network for many years. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when the same friend (hi, Theresa!) reached out to let me know Sunny was coming back to Philly to talk about her partnership with GetYourFullCourse.com (more on that later)! Be still my heart, I was slated to meet one of my favorite “celebs” and I could not have been more excited.
I moseyed up to Harvest Seasonal Grill in University City just as the sun was setting on an unseasonably warm (and humid! My hair---#icant) fall evening. Dinner tables were setup in the upstairs private room, with plenty of smiling faces, beverages, and excitement for the evening. Tables displayed pamphlets about Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Crohn’s, and Ulcerative Colitis (UC), as well as giveaway boxes, and recipe cards. Sunny was on the horizon, and there was an undeniable energy in the room. Soon enough I heard that famous Sunny voice, and before I knew it, I was face-to-face with Ms. Anderson, herself. After briefly filling her in on my background, I was ready to talk to Sunny about her multi-city tour, as well as a few other “fun” questions…
<Girl giggles and jewelry talk> I know there are a lot of acronyms flying around, so can you tell me a little bit about them, what they mean, and what brings you to Philly? 22 years ago, I was diagnosed with IBD, which is Inflammatory Bowel Disease. This includes both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC), which is what I have. I teamed up with the CCFA (Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America) to tour the country, educating people about the disease, and getting them more comfortable talking about it. People know what it means when you say you have to go get chemo, or radiation. They don’t always know what it means when you have to get an endoscopy or colonoscopy. It’s important for people to understand that IBD is a disease, and not just a disorder. Meaning, it’s incurable and it can be fatal. This disease is like snowflakes and diamonds, every person is different. What affects one person, may not affect another. There’s no scientific proof that it’s caused by food, but through my own experience and tracking, I’ve found that leafy greens and refined sugars are a huge trigger for me.
What exactly is IBD and UC/Crohn’s? Is this something you have to deal with on a daily basis? IBD is a chronic inflammation in part or all of your digestive tract. So what happens with that, is your body isn’t absorbing all of the vitamins and nutrients, or processing food like the human body is supposed to. I’ve actually been pretty lucky because I’ve been in remission for about 15 years now. I have flare-ups once or twice a year, and deal with them accordingly through a lot of self-care, and staying away from certain foods. Through GetYourFullCourse.com, I’ve been able to speak to so many people and use my voice in a really positive way, which is great.
Okay now for some FUN questions!
At what point in your career did you realize you “made it”? That had to be when I made the New York Times Best Seller list for my cookbook, “Sunny’s Kitchen”. It was the first time I realized that wow, people actually know who I am. Cooking shows are free, and easy, but for that many people to go out and voluntarily buy my book, spend their own money, really hit home for me.
What is your go-to meal for entertaining? Oh, a roast chicken. It’s so easy! Throw a little oil, salt and pepper on it; everyone loves it. (me too!)
How do you feel about Food Network having more competition shows than cooking shows? Kind of like how MTV used to play music videos and doesn’t anymore. People always ask me this, and I always tell them that Food Network needs to keep up with the times. People aren’t always going to sit and watch an entire television show of staged food preparation, when they can go on their computer and get the recipe in a few seconds. The thing that competition shows show you, is the process before the cameras turn on. Before the meal is made. It’s exactly what happens in my own kitchen. I have a few ingredients and I have to figure out how to make a meal with it, and I do. Whenever I was on Chopped, I always went for the bacon first, no matter what the other basket ingredients were! <this is where we laughed like the dickens, about how much sense that made, since…well, bacon!)
What’s been your favorite city on the tour so far? Say Philly, say Philly! Any place I can bring my dog! I love my dog, so anywhere I can bring her is my favorite place. (Sunny adopted the most adorable dog, Ella. Check out her Instagram for tons of photos!)
How do you keep so down-to-Earth? As a blogger, I’ve seen how audiences don’t always have the nicest things to say. How do you deal with that? I look at it like this, this is my party. This is MY party, at MY house, and if you’re going to come to MY house, and say something about me, with all of MY friends around, then I’m going to say something back to you. When I was a radio DJ, I always answered the phone and people were so surprised when I did. But look, I’m at work, if the phone rings, I’m going to answer it. So if someone is going to say something on my social media, I’m answering. Some people will be trolls, but they are few and far between. I tell them to keep trolling, it’s not that serious.
Does everyone on The Kitchen really get along as well as they do on TV? It really seems like the best job ever! We do!! It really is so much fun. Do we all hang out together on the weekends? No. But we all get along great and have just as good of a time as it seems like we do on TV.
After our interview, I listened to a brief, yet informative, session by Dr. Lindsey Albenberg from University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital (CHOP). Sunny gave a cooking demonstration on how to make panzanella salad (toasted ciabatta, tomatoes, herbs, red onion, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper), which looked and smelled soooo good! Side note- this is also where I learned, for the first time, that you are supposed to smack your basil leaves. Yes! Smack them. It releases all the molecules and good stuff from the basil, and sure enough in just a few minutes, the whole room smelled like my favorite herb! Guests enjoyed a 3-course meal, which for me included butternut squash soup, coq au vin, and a salted chocolate caramel mousse that made my toes curl.
Meeting Sunny was one of the most fun and impactful experiences I’ve had since starting Philly Food Girl. There’s nothing worse than having expectations of a celebrity, and having those preconceived ideas fall short. Sunny comes with warmth, no pretense, and tells it exactly like it is, in a way that you feel like you’ve been friends with her for years. She is funny, beautiful both inside and out, and it’s clear she has a vested interest in everything she does. One of my favorite parts of the night was right before we left; a man was walking out with a huge foam-board hashtag from the event and Sunny stopped to autograph it for him. His wife quipped, “I’m the one with Crohn’s, not you!” and he replied, “I don’t care! I have the hashtag and SHE signed it!” His smile was bigger than Sunny’s, which after meeting her in person, seemed to be an impossible feat.