Chef Anne Burrell approaches life with the same fearlessness and charm she exudes in the kitchen. Find out why she fits right in when visiting Barbados
The first time I saw Anne Burrell in person, she was at Oistins Fish Market in Barbados, alongside her fellow Food Network cast member Marcus Samuelsson, taking in the local vibes. She was genuinely having a good time, appreciating the food and chatting with the locals. Had it not been for her resume of achievements, celebrity status and gawkers, many of whom were approaching her for “selfies” and autographs, she could have been just another member of the crowd, absorbing the unique culture of the Barbadian hot spot on a Thursday night.
The following day, Anne and I were introduced at the Mount Gay Rum party at the Beach House in St James, the first official event of the Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival, at which Anne has served as a headliner for the past two years, sharing her expertise and creations. I immediately befriended Anne’s manager, Sarah, and was promised an interview with the celebrity chef. I was positively stoked.
Anne Burrell, “La Cuoca Straordinaria, ” has worked at some of New York’s top restaurants, such as Savoy and Lumi. She has battled alongside Mario Batali as his sous chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America and she currently hosts Chef Wanted, Worst Cooks in America and Secrets of a Restaurant Chef on The Food Network.
Anne and I agreed to meet at “The House,” the Elegant Hotels all-adults hideaway on the West Coast. She casually yet gregariously greeted me in a white body-fitting tee and pretty orange cotton skirt, and quickly sunk back into one of the plush white sofas which were set out on the art-deco inspired deck, overlooking the brilliant West Coast beach.
“It’s really lovely here. It’s really beautiful,” she exclaimed. “I love coming here. The people are amazing. I love that education is so important here. I love that the people don’t just embrace their heritage but that they then go ahead and do things. In Barbados, kids grow up with a sense of hope. I can appreciate that because I come from a small town. I was always like, give me my wings and let me fly.”
As a testament to her commitment to education and the young people of Barbados, Anne visited the students at the Culinary School of Barbados Community College. As a female chef, who has made a name for herself and achieved great success in a male-dominated profession, Anne was impressed with the assertiveness and confidence of the female chefs-in-training.
“I remember when I was in culinary school and people would come to visit, I would be so excited. I remember that, and I try to give back. I loved working at the culinary school with all of the kids. The kids were so cute! I loved so very much how Barbadian women do not take any crap. They give it to you straight. They boss the boys around. They do not pull any punches. I love it. There are going to be some strong Bajan girl chefs coming up.”
Anne shared a story about a female student from the culinary school who was selected to assist her at Ambrosia, the flagship event of the Food & Wine and Rum festival, where four internationally acclaimed chefs (Anne Burrell, Jose Garces, Aaron McCargo Jr and Mark McEwan) and 13 of the top Barbadian chefs/restaurants prepared dishes for participants to sample. As they prepared the food, the young assistant was asked by Anne to sample the unfinished product. She obliged—and candidly declared her disapproval. Anne was both grateful and impressed with her confidence and her honesty. When the final product—a curried lamb with cauliflower on roasted potato, accompanied by kale salad and pickled mustard seeds—was complete, the assistant told Anne that it was not only delicious, but also the “best tasting dish at the event.” Anne appreciated her feedback, because she knew that it was sincere.
Anne’s love for Barbados’s people, indigenous flavours, activities and venues was evidenced in the self-professed “beach girl’s” appreciation of the more casual and less pretentious tourist attractions, such as swimming with the turtles, taking part in limbo and karaoke and simply relaxing on the beach and enjoying casual ocean-front dining.
Next year she hopes to get on the more rustic East Coast and just relax. “I don’t want to feel like I need a vacation from my vacation.”
Anne was adamant that when she travels, she wants authenticity. “I don’t want fancy. I want to eat what everyone else eats.” Her favourite Barbadian dishes include local street food, such as mahi, marlin and flying fish with “homemade hot sauce” and macaroni pie. One of her favourite places is Cuz’s Fish Shack at Pebbles beach.
“I’ve also been hanging out on the beach at Ju Ju’s. They have really good wine and delicious fried flying fish and some really yummy seared mahi-mahi and they played great local music for us on the beach. We all got a chance to let our hair down.”
I asked her whether she thought that the chefs at Ju Ju’s were intimidated to be serving her, to which she replied, “Oh no! This is what they do! Like it or leave it!”
While she was enjoying the West Coast beach café at Ju Ju’s with dear friend and Barbadian hotelier Ralph Taylor and his wife Stephanie, a local fisherman happened to be returning to shore with his most recent catch, an ample-sized mahi. Taylor purchased the fish, which was later prepared at his home by Anne herself, using her own signature recipe.
Anne certainly has a “catch your fish and eat it too” sort of attitude towards life. When asked to provide some words of counsel to creative individuals who are struggling to make a name for themselves in their chosen art form, she said, “Believe in yourself. If it’s right for you, you will find a way to make the money work. Be aggressive about what you believe in. Own what you do.”
Anne Burrell is unafraid— she is confident, kind, progressive and absolutely beautiful. She has an impeccable sense of style that is so fitting to her personality— beautiful knit dresses, caftans and linen that set off her trademark spiky blonde hair.
She is unpretentious and enjoys the simple pleasures of life, seeking out the true flavour and indigenous spice of the people and the places that she visits. This is why her infusions are so creative and unique. This is why we love Anne Burrell.
Braised Chicken with Pomegranate Molasses
Serves: 4 Time: About 45 minutes
Mise en Place
Extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
Crushed red pepper
8 chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin
1 cup pomegranate molasses
1 cup chicken stock
1 thyme bundle
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 bunch fresh chives, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
1 Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil, toss in 2 smashed garlic cloves and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Bring the pan to medium-high heat. When the garlic is golden and very aromatic, remove it and discard;—it has fulfilled its garlic destiny.
2 Season the chicken thighs with salt and place them skin side down in the pan. Don’t crowd the pan or the thighs will steam instead of brown—you may have to work in batches here, no worries. Brown the chicken thighs really well on both sides, about 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the thighs to a baking sheet and reserve.
3 Ditch the oil from the pan and add ½ cup of the pomegranate molasses along with ¼ cup of chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it evaporate by half—it should be slightly thick and syrupy.
4 Return the chicken to the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and cook in the sauce for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until it clings to the chicken in a yummy embrace.
5 Transfer the chicken to the baking sheet and roast for 10 to 12 minutes or until cooked through.
6 While the chicken roasts, add the remaining molasses, stock, and garlic to the pan along with the thyme bundle and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Taste and season with salt if needed. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the liquid is thick and syrupy. Discard the garlic cloves and thyme bundle.
7 Remove the chicken from the oven, transfer to a serving dish, drizzle with the sauce, and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and chives before serving.