We asked Chef Anne Burrell of Centro Vinoteca about her new Food Network show, where she likes to eat, and about being a woman in the kitchen. “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef” premieres this Sunday, June 29th at 9:30am.
Tell us about your new show, ‘Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.’
Every show is based around a menu. The show starts with me preparing the menu at Centro and then moves to the home kitchen, where I break it down and teach people the technique. It’s about how to successfully cook those restaurant dishes at home.
So will you be focusing on rustic Italian, as you do at the restaurant?
There’s some Italian stuff because that’s what I do, but there’s also a focus on standard cooking techniques like roasting, searing…
What common misconception do you hope to correct, what do you think people will be surprised to learn?
Well, I think people think ‘Oh, cooking in a restaurant, you have all this space, I can’t do those things in my little kitchen.’ But actually, restaurant kitchens are pretty cramped with a lot of people in them. You can do great food in a tiny kitchen.
My premiere show is about how to make a great Bolognese sauce, and antipasto of poached egg with grilled asparagus. That shows people, ‘Wow you can poach eggs ahead, who knew?’
And we’ll do a roasted chicken with great mashed potatoes—people think roasted chicken is a big whoop, but actually, roasted chicken is pretty cinchy.
What tricks do you show viewers to make it easy?
Well, how to truss a chicken, and why to truss a chicken…how to do a jus, that’s an easy sauce that goes with the chicken that’s made in the same pot. Showing people that chicken doesn’t have to be dry, that it should have nice crispy skin. You lube it up with olive oil; flip it a couple times so that the top and bottom are crispy. Start it out on high heat, so you get the nice brown crisp skin, and then turn it down and cook it slowly so that the chicken stays juicy.
Sounds like the kind of show people actually want from the Food Network, the kind of technique-focused show that the network seems to have been moving away from.
Well, I hope people are interested, that’s why I wrote these kinds of menus, so that people will think ‘Oh wow, I think I could do that.’
Is there a dish or technique that people often think that it’s harder than it is?
I do a show about searing fish—how to make a crispy skinned fish. People say, ‘I don’t know, I try to sear fish and it gets mushy and soggy and it falls apart, and the skin sticks to bottom of pan…’ I show how to sear wild striped bass, but you can use the technique with snapper or salmon or any fish.
Do you have any tips for getting the most out of a restaurant experience?
I go to work in a restaurant everyday, and I would say that when you go to a new restaurant, put yourself in the hands of the restaurant. People come in and ask, ‘Can you make me this?’ instead of ordering what the place does well. If you let the restaurant do what they do, you’ll enjoy it so much more. Ask the waiters what’s their favorite, they see it and serve it everyday. Or, ask them what’s most popular. The stuff that the servers like, that’s probably what the restaurant is best at.
What should a home cook make for an impressive dinner party that’s still doable?
Any braised dish—that’s dinner party-ish, it has a wow factor and is something that anyone can do. It’s a total do ahead, or even do yesterday type thing. It’s flavorful and hearty. People will be like ‘Wow, you made short ribs!’ You can serve a nice big wine with it, serve polenta with it and people love it. And you’ll have leftovers. Braising takes a little effort to get started but once it you have it going, you can leave it alone. And when people walk in, the house smells amazing.
You’re the executive chef at Centro Vinoteca—do you think it’s harder for a woman to make it big in the kitchen?
You know, I can’t comment because I don’t know how it is to be a male chef, I only know how it is to be me. Being in the kitchen is a hard job for anybody, but if it’s your passion you don’t think of it as being hard. Even a year ago if you had said to me that I’d have my own show, I would have laughed. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also worked hard; if you work hard you can bring about your own luck.
A lot of people ask me about being a female chef versus being male chef…I don’t know, it’s just my job and I’d prefer to be thought of as a chef rather than a girl chef. I’m not like I walk around saying ‘I’m a woman, not a man!’ It is what it is.
What’s happening with Gusto Ristorante? Are you going to be working there soon?
Centro’s not even a year old, and I’m not ready not to go to work there everyday. I’m slated to start at Gusto, and eventually it’s going to happen. Right now, though I’m focusing on Centro and waiting to see how things unfold with the show.
Is Iron Chef as stressful as it looks?
It absolutely is, that hour never gets any longer, and if things go awry, as they sometimes do, the hour still doesn’t get any longer. I mean, it’s incredibly intense and an adrenalin rush, and I love doing it. I love working with Mario.
Would you want to be an Iron Chef yourself?
I would have to think about that, it’s a hard job. I like my role on the show for the time being.
Besides your own restaurant, where do you like to eat out in the city?
I’m a huge fan of Mario’s places, and not just because I work with him. He’s one of the top restaurateurs in the city for a reason. Babbo and Lupa are a few of my favorite places.
And recently I ate for the first time at Momofuku Ssam Bar, and I was like, ‘I want to move in here!’ We had a ton of stuff, way too much food because I wanted to try everything—the pork buns, charred squid salad, hanger steak, kampachi with pickled strawberries and fried capers…I’m also a big fan of the burger at Daddy-o. I go after work; I try not to eat late at night but sometimes I can’t resist. I think it’s the tater tots that put it over the edge.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping I’ll be filming more shows. I filmed six and now we wait to see, and hopefully there will be more.
The premiere is this Sunday at 9:30 in the morning, right? Thank god for Tivo!
I know, I Tivoed my own show the other day! Most people who work nights aren’t up at that time. If it weren’t for Tivo I’d probably miss my own premiere.