Fans of food on TV first came to know Anne Burrell as the spiky-haired assistant to Mario Batali on "Iron Chef America." Starting in 2005, she and Batali competed in close to 30 challenges, rocketing Burrell from sous chef to Food Network host.
While she's a regular at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, this year she's co-hosting a first-time event called Medianoches & Mixology on Feb. 21. It will take place at Miami's Wynwood Walls and feature riffs on the medianoche sandwich from chefs selected by Sef Gonzalez, whose popular Burger Beast blog explores comfort food in South Florida. A medianoche and a Cuban sandwich are close cousins. Both are made with roast pork, ham, mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles. But the medianoche gets a soft eggy roll instead of a crunchier Cuban roll.
Burrell will be joined by producer and musician Emilio Estefan. On Feb. 23, she'll give a cooking demonstration at the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village.
By phone from her home in New York City, Burrell says nothing makes her happier than Miami Beach in February.
Q: I've seen you at festivals in the past and you always seem to be having a very good time.
A: I'm a pretty happy person. I like to have a good time. I like the camaraderie of being with all of the other chefs. I really do have a great time seeing everyone. It's like spring break for chefs. Most people are from out of town. Everyone's just a little looser and everyone's happy to be in the sun.
Q: Are there certain Miami restaurants you always try to visit?
A: I haven't started to look around at what's new this year. But we always have Michael's Genuine and MC Kitchen. I try and swing by Yard Bird for a piece of fried chicken. We'll see. I want to start doing my research to see.
Q: The fifth season of "Worst Cooks in America" is now running. Is there one characteristic that all bad cooks possess?
A: Common sense is not common sense unless you've learned it first. Cooking is just like everything else. Always, always, always on "Worst Cooks," when people start to take the lessons we teach them, they always get better.
Q: Do you miss working in a restaurant full-time?
A: There are some parts about working in a restaurant that I miss. I really do enjoy the energy of a restaurant kitchen, and the camaraderie of working in a restaurant and the customers. There's so much I miss about it. But then I see people and it's Thanksgiving and they're going to work. I don't miss that so much.
Q: Do you look at the careers of other chefs and think you'd like the same things?
A: I always think it's dangerous to do that. The grass is always greener somewhere else. I think I'm pretty lucky. It's not hard to look over and say I'm a little envious of that. But as rule I try not to do that.
Q: There was just a story in the New York Times about how women chefs are finally getting their due. Has being a women made being a chef more challenging?
A: When I was in culinary school, there were only 10 percent women students at the [Culinary Institute of America]. That ratio has changed a lot, but still as professionals in restaurants, there still are not that many girls. When people say to me, how does it feel to be a girl chef, it feels pretty normal to me because I don't know how to be a boy chef.
Q: What do you like to do when you're not working?
A: I do karaoke all the time.
Q: How often?
A: It depends. If I had time, I definitely would go twice a month.
Q: What do you sing?
A: I always start off with "Country Roads" by John Denver. I always do private room karaoke. It's for selfish reasons. That way, I don't have to wait for other people. If I have a room, I can sing all night. I can have the mike all night long.
Q: If you weren't a chef, what would you be?
A: A therapist. If you think about how much emotional stuff is wrapped up in food and how it affects people, it's about your family, your self-image, your emotions. There's a lot that's wrapped up in food.
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