Anne Burrell’s trademark spiky blond hair, Mediterranean-inspired approach to cooking and fierce love of competition has made her an undeniable force in the culinary industry. Host of three Food Network shows, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Chef Wanted and Worst Cooks in America, the seasoned celebrity chef has worked at several top New York restaurants and is a New York Times best-selling cookbook author.
But Burrell’s passion goes well beyond the kitchen. She has an unwavering love of family and tradition and is committed to raising Type 1 diabetes (T1D) awareness in honor of her 13-year-old nephew, Luke.
“My nephew Luke has Type 1 and was diagnosed when he was a year old,” says Burrell, 49. “He doesn’t know anything else other than living with diabetes.”
In an effort to increase awareness, Burrell blends her celebrity status with diabetes advocacy as an ambassador for the JDRF (formally Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding Type 1 diabetes research. “If there is anything I can do to help to make [Luke’s] life easier or longer, I will do whatever I can.”
Competitive cooking for a cause
Professionally, there are three things to know about Burrell: She has a strong work ethic, isn’t afraid of a challenge and is highly competitive. These traits led her into the competitive culinary ring earlier in her career. “Every time I competitively cook, which is fairly regularly, I love it so much,” she says. “I am like a racehorse who gets to run the Kentucky Derby every time I compete.”
In 2015, the superstar chef competed on the Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars tournament. She squared off against several other celebrity chefs, proudly took home the championship title and donated the proceeds to the JDRF.
“Every competition is such a heart-wrenching experience…When I finally won and beat out all the other chefs, I couldn’t believe I had actually done it,” she recalls. “It was very emotional, but it had the extra, added enjoyment of winning $75,000 for JDRF. That made it extra sweet.”
As a JDRF ambassador, Burrell joins the ranks of nearly a dozen positive role models and leaders in television, music, sports and theater — each sharing a commitment to T1D advocacy. “We are honored to have the support of such remarkable role models who share our commitment to achieve a world without Type 1 diabetes,” says JDRF CEO Derek Rapp. “With their collaboration and the power of their voices, these ambassadors can raise awareness for JDRF’s important mission to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications.”
From the beginning
When looking back on her culinary inspiration, Burrell credits her mother’s home cooking and her childhood “friend” Julia.
“When I was three, I went to my mom and said, ‘Mom, I have a friend named Julia…Julia Child,’” she recalls with a chuckle. “Julia is a huge inspiration to me, but my mother was always a great cook and inspired me a lot.”
Throughout her childhood, exposure to fresh food and cooking was part of the Burrell family fabric. As a youngster, she planted and harvested fresh vegetables from the family garden. “My mom would say, ‘Go out and pick some lettuces for salad for dinner or pull up carrots.’ It was farm to table before it was actually a thing.”
Fast-forward to adulthood, Burrell’s love of cooking brought her to the Culinary Institute of America and later to Italy to study Italian cuisine. “I loved every minute of being a student at the Culinary Institute of America,” she says. “I couldn’t learn enough, couldn’t do enough, couldn’t work hard enough.”
The magic of Mediterranean fare
While in Italy, Burrell developed an intense appreciation for Mediterranean cooking and presentation — an intensity she brings to her profession today. “Everything is fresh, and it’s all about seasonality,” she says. “It’s about working with the best ingredients and letting them speak for themselves.”
When cooking in the season, the ingredients are at the peak of deliciousness and freshness, Burrell adds. “January is not the time for strawberries or tomatoes in a mozzarella salad. But January might be the time for roasted mushrooms or roasted squash.”
When managing diabetes or other chronic conditions, Burrell says it’s best to think of food as a friend, not foe. “Find recipes that include ingredients you feel passionate about and then figure out how to use them and work them into your own diet.”
The first step to healthy cooking starts at the grocery store. “Travel along the perimeter of the grocery store to find the freshest ingredients. When everything is fresh, the food tastes the best,” Burrell says.
Step two is to go with low-tech meal planning options. “Because a recipe is complicated does not mean it is better. Take the pressure off yourself and learn to enjoy the process,” she says. “If you feel joy and happiness when cooking, your food tastes better.”
In 2011, Burrell published her first cookbook, Cook Like a Rock Star, which gives home cooks the confidence to be rock stars in their own kitchens. In 2013, the New York Times best-seller released a second cookbook, Own Your Kitchen: Recipes to Inspire & Empower.
When reflecting on the power of food, diabetes and the importance of healthy cooking, Burrell says education, working with fresh ingredients and having fun in the kitchen will feed a healthier you.
“Helping people learn how to eat better and use [food] to better the body…if I can help someone get better at that, then it is my absolute joy.”
Want to give some of Anne Burrell’s recipes a try? Sample her Grilled Sea Scallops with Watermelon Three-Way & Dandelion Greens by Anne Burrell, Girl Chef’s Grilled Lobster by Anne Burrell, or Grilled Broccoli Rabe.
Want more diabetes-friendly recipes from celebrity chefs? See “Holiday Recipes From Top Chefs” for dishes from Anne Burrell, Rocco DiSpirito, Jennifer Stack and Charles Mattocks.