Sunny Side Up

‘Cooking for Real’ host Sunny Anderson takes a shine to the pleasures of food — and her former city, Detroit

Sunny AndersonTalk about fusion food.

Food Network personality Sunny Anderson’s nomadic childhood as an Army brat and her diverse careers as a Detroit radio station DJ and Air Force pilot led to a cooking career in which she routinely combines the likes of German jagerschnitzel with Southern-style cheesy grits.

“Cooking and comfort have always been huge for me,” says Anderson, a onetime east-side Detroiter who worked at WDTJ (105.9 FM) before moving to New York City in 2001. “I eat, therefore I cook, and there’s nothing more exciting than being the one who makes that food happen.”

It was chance and circumstance that led Anderson to the Food Network studios, a place she says oozes creative energy. Answering a producer friend’s plea in 2005, she appeared as a special guest on Emeril Lagasse’s show, cooking side-by-side with the celebrated chef. It was, she says, her greatest “foodie” moment. The network, not oblivious to her grace and ease on camera, approached her and, after a handful of meetings, she was hired. “This is all just an extension of me,” she says. “I wake up thinking about the recipes I’ll create, and I go to sleep dreaming about what I just ate.”

Mixing soul-food flavors with uncomplicated and accessible ingredients, the low-key and self-effacing host of Cooking for Real approaches her work not as a chef, but as a cook who enjoys eating. “I’m just like everyone else,” she says. “I go to the grocery store, I buy my stuff, and I try to figure out how to make it taste good.”

Her style fits right in with the current home-cooking trend that’s making big names of so many TV chefs. “Food to me is not fancy,” Anderson says. “I like to talk about it, explore it, and then try it.”

Anderson creates her menus with a nod to her former influences. That includes Detroit, a place she calls the essence of music and culture. Citing a special fondness for her former city — which she mentions often on her show — Anderson dishes fervent praise for its ethnically diverse neighborhood eateries, which, she says, rival similar options in New York. Local traditions culled from her well-traveled life aren’t Anderson’s only influences. Seasons play a significant role.

Summer thoughts? “I’d make myself a nice bacon- and cheddar-stuffed burger on the grill, a light fruit salad with poppy-seed dressing, and have a snow cone for dessert,” she says. Pair that, she says, with an ice-cold Bell’s, and you’ve got yourself the perfect meal.