It’s pretty easy to spot Anne Burrell amongst a sea of chefs. It might be the perfectly spiked coiffure, the knee-length skirt below her chef’s coat or her infectious laugh. The chef, who hosts "Worst Cooks in America", is where she is today because she decided to wade through uncharted waters. As someone who comes from a family of zero restaurateurs, Burrell had to figure out the way to the top of the culinary world all by herself. "Cooking is a learned skill. It doesn’t matter if your mom or grandma was a great cook—it’s not a genetic thing. Granted, there are people that are going to be better at it than others, but I feel like anyone who wants to cook, can," she said in the keynote speech for the 2017 SmartWomen Luncheon & Expo.
Even as she made the journey to become a top celebrity chef, she dabbled in a teaching career, embraced Italian cuisine, and preached the gospel of piccolinis. Burrell has come a long way from being a little girl who learned cooking from her mom to a chef who teaches others. More importantly, she is happy to be that chef who makes people feel good: "I’ve also had people come up to me and say, ‘You helped me get through chemotherapy […] So I realize what I do also has a great responsibility," she said in her keynote. Here’s all you need to know about Burrell’s transformation.
As a kid, Anne Burrell was a big fan of Julia Child
Anne Burrell’s earliest childhood memories include watching legendary chef Julia Child on television. It was the early seventies, and Child’s show, "The French Chef", had become a phenomenon in the culinary world. For little Burrell, Child was not just a popular icon, but a friend who showed up every day to talk about food in a soothing lilt. In fact, the three-year-old Burrell was so taken by the PBS show that she would tell her mom she had a friend named Julia, referring to the television celebrity (via Anne Burrell).
A chef like Child was what Burrell wanted to become growing up (via Restaurant Girl). She also grew up in a household in Cazenovia, New York, where farm-to-table was the basic style of cooking. But on an everyday basis, it was watching her mother whip up dishes with fresh ingredients that made her fall in love with cooking. "My mom was a great cook, and we always had a big garden out in the backyard. So she’d be like, "Go out and pick lettuce or tomatoes or dig up potatoes for dinner." I loved doing that. I loved being involved in the garden. I mean, I didn’t like to weed it, but I liked to plant it, and I liked to harvest and then use all the stuff," she told All Recipes. And that, in more ways than one, contributed to Burrell’s passion for good food.
Being a chef was not her first career option
Growing up, Anne Burrell wasn’t especially interested in academics or extracurriculars and, when she turned 16, took up a job as a fry cook at McDonald’s, as she told Bella Magazine. Little did she know then that she would one day become a world-famous chef working at kitchens of important restaurants across the world. However, as a kid, Burrell had dreamed of becoming like Julia Child when she grew up. But the dream fizzled out as she got older and finally disappeared when she decided to major in English and communications at New York’s Canisius College (via Anne Burrell).
After graduation, she landed a job in a non-culinary field – "a rotten job, actually," she told Canisius College Magazine. Thankfully, she realized that she was "way too young to be miserable" and decided to start afresh by joining the Culinary Institute of America. It was not an easy decision though. At that time, "being a chef wasn’t the cool thing […] Chefs weren’t rock stars then," she said. Besides that, her dad was quite apprehensive of her career choice. "He was like, ‘You wanna do what? A girl like you wants to go to work in a kitchen?’ And there was not even a Food Network to aspire to be on — It was just like I just knew that I wanted to do it.," she told NBC News.
She was influenced by Italian cuisine
Joining the Culinary Institute of America was one of the best decisions that Anne Burrell made. "[C]ulinary school was the first time in my life that I was at the right place at the right time," she told Starchefs. Soon after graduating, Burrell left for Italy. "I wanted to expand my horizons," she told Canisius College Magazine. "When I went to Italy it was like ‘Wow, this isn’t anything like what I know of Italian food and I love it so much more.’"
She spent three months at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, soaking in the culture and cuisine of the country. Following that, she worked at restaurants in Umbria and Tuscany. Both brought in new experiences that only deepened her love for the Italian way of cooking. For example, at La Bottega del Trenta in Tuscany, she recalls that "[T]he day [a new olive oil] was released, everyone gathered at the restaurant and we grilled bread with bruschetta and ran across the street and poured the new olive oil over it […] to this day it was the purest flavor I’ve ever experienced."
Burrell began work at Felidia in New York
Burrell came back from Italy eager to apply the skills she had gathered in Italy to the kitchens of New York restaurants. Burrell began working for Lidia Bastianich, an award-winning chef and restaurateur. To get in, she had to pass an interview that, as Burrell recalls, included grating fresh roots of horseradish (via Food Network). Horseradish, like some varieties of onion, can be pretty harsh on the eyes when it’s cut. So, in a way, Burrell had to shed some tears to be part of Bastianich’s restaurant operation.
It was a challenging, yet fulfilling experience for the chef, who was 27 at the time. "Working at Felidia was one of the toughest jobs I have ever had, mostly because I put so much pressure on myself […] I was the only girl in the kitchen beside the pastry department. I was determined to work harder than the guys in the kitchen," she told Restaurant Girl. On the other hand, it also helped her be the chef she wanted to be. "That experience solidified my Italian foundations and French technique," she told Starchefs.
Anne Burrell took a break as a chef to teach
With top restaurants such as Felidia and Savoy in her portfolio, Anne Burrell eventually transformed into an especially sought-after chef in New York. But as work continued at a heated pace, Burrell began to burn out. She wasn’t alone. A 2017 study by Unilever Food Solutions revealed that over 70 percent of chefs are sleep-deprived, while over 60 percent report feeling depressed. Over half were so stressed that they felt they were at a "breaking point." So, at just such a point in her career, Burrell wisely took a sabbatical from the restaurant business and began teaching at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York (via Restaurant Girl).
Teaching proved to be a profound experience for Burrell. "I needed a change of scenery, but something still involved with cooking and it definitely made me a better cook. It really made me question cooking techniques and ask myself a lot of "Why do I do this…" sort of thing," she said. One of her students at the Institute was restaurateur, chef, and Top Chef contestant Alex Eusebio (via Canisius College Magazine).
Though Burrell enjoyed teaching, she felt that teaching was something that chefs took up at the end of their careers, not at the beginning where she considered herself to be. More importantly, she realized that she missed the buzz of restaurant kitchens and so itched to get back into full time cooking.
Meeting Mario Batali changed her life
After her stint teaching, Anne Burrell got back to wearing her chef’s hat and became the executive chef at Lumi, a restaurant known for its Italian cuisine and being featured in the popular series Sex and the City (the restaurant, according to Open Table, is now closed).
Later, she was hired by the big guns of the restaurant industry — the now defamed chef Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich’s son Joe Bastianich — to join the team at Italian Wine Merchants. This opportunity, little did she realize then, would change her life even more dramatically than previous opportunities. At the Batali-Bastianich company, Burrell’s responsibilities included making salumi and helping out with events (via Starchefs). Then Batali picked Burrell to act as his sous chef in the reality show competition "Iron Chef America". "Why he asked me, out of the hundreds of people who worked for him, I never questioned it and I never looked back. I was just very, very lucky," said Burrell (via Canisius College Magazine).
"Iron Chef America" was both a stressful and delightful experience for Burrell as she assisted Batali with prep work and making dishes. "My philosophy is: I want to help as much as I can and I am not going to be the reason Mario loses," she told Restaurant Girl. "Iron Chef" proved to be a stepping stone for Burrell, who went on to expand her culinary empire by appearing to great effect on other Food Network shows.
Anne Burrell went on to host her own show
Riding on the fame that "Iron Chef America" brought her way, Anne Burrell landed a job as executive chef at Centro Vinoteca in New York in 2007. She crafted a menu there after a heavy amount of research and investment of time. "It’s building something from scratch. It winds up being your baby and you are very invested in something like that," she told Canisius College Magazine. Though the restaurant closed in 2008, it served as the stone that she stepped on to launch her own Food Network show, "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef".
Soon, Burrell would be called in to co-host "Worst Cooks in America", a show that shot her to fame and defined her as someone who demystifies cooking for even the most seemingly hopeless home cooks. "I try to take the fear factor out and let people know that it doesn’t have to be this awesome, daunting experience," she said (via Canisius College Magazine). For Burrell, doing Food Network shows of this type was not much different from teaching her previous students how to cook. "TV is just the medium to getting the message out there – at the end of the day, I’m just a cook," she said (via Own Your Kitchen).
Anne Burrell was sued for discrimination
Anne Burrell worked at Centro Vinoteca as executive chef for a year, conceptualizing a stellar menu that gained many positive reviews. When it comes to a restaurant, however, food is only part of the fabric that makes up the whole. In March 2009, what came as a shocker for fans of the high-energy chef was the news of a lawsuit filed against Burrell for workplace discrimination. The lawsuit, as reported on Eater, alleged that Burrell used derogatory words to address the female staff at Centro Vinoteca. "The male employees were not treated in the same or similar manner and the plaintiffs were treated in this manner because of their sex," the lawsuit alleged, per Gothamist.
Allegations aside, the restaurant itself seemed to be sinking down under, announcing bankruptcy just a few months after the lawsuit against Burrell had surfaced. And Burrell, as a reader writing to Syracuse.com reported, might not have been the most pleasant chef you might want to hang out with, given that she was "condescending", in the letter writer’s words, to an audience. It does seem ironic, given the sweet and patient mentor she appears to be to the most disappointing chefs in America. Still, the writer mentioned that the chef was rude and made little effort to connect with her fans.
Her ex-fiancé is an award-winning chef
Anne Burrell’s private life was under tight wraps until "Chopped" host Ted Allen made a public comment about her relationship status in Romaine Patterson’s show on Sirius XM. He said, "I am not going to put a label on Anne, but she is dating a woman right now" (via Page Six). Allen’s little news spread like wildfire, with everyone talking about Burrell’s sexuality without her full consent. Yet, responding to the hullabaloo, a representative for Burrell said, "Anne doesn’t feel she was outed. She has made no secret of her relationship. Her significant other is a very private woman. They have been together for a couple of years and spend a lot of time together. It is no secret in the culinary world."
The woman was none other than James Beard award-winning chef Koren Grieveson. Burrell and Grieveson were engaged in 2012, according to a tweet that Burrell posted on New Year’s Eve of that year. Things had progressed so much that Burrell told ET, "I think we’re thinking of a destination wedding, maybe in Vieques, [Puerto Rico]. That’s where we got engaged, and the first time we ever traveled together was to [Vieques], so it’s kind of a special spot for us." Yet then the relationship ended, and almost five years later, Burrell found love for the second time.
Anne Burrell opened a restaurant, but it floundered
Anne Burrell’s calendar was choc-a-bloc full with her Food Network show schedules, with little time to spend in a kitchen where she was most comfortable. "I wanted to get back to my roots […] I wanted to get my hands in food again. That is my absolute passion," she said in a 2017 keynote speech for the SmartWomen Luncheon & Expo. Acknowledging this urge, she partnered with a long-time friend Phil Casaceli, who owns the popular bar Daddy-O in NYC. Together, the two staretd a restaurant in Brooklyn called Phil and Anne’s Good Time Lounge in 2017 (via People). In stark contrast to what the joint was named, the co-owners had far from a good time managing it.
The arrangement was that Casaceli would take care of the admin work and the bar, while Burrell would head the kitchen. The duo put in their own money, and efforts to turn the place into a popular NYC hub. Burrell told People, "This is my baby, I want to be involved." And involved she was, showing up at the restaurant every evening after her hours shooting for a Food Network episode. As months went by, Casaceli found Burrell a tough partner to work with, as Eater reports. She wouldn’t take his suggestions and would often flaunt her celebrity status, he claimed. He also alleged that Burrell ultimately shut the place down without prior warning — a claim that Burrell’s representative refuted (via Daily News).
Anne Burrell’s hair style has evolved over the years
Ever since Anne Burrell first appeared on television as Mario Batali’s sous chef in "Iron Chef America", viewers have known her as the chef with spiky blonde hair. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine any other style on Burrell’s head. But according to an interview with The Daily Meal, her childhood hair was a stark contrast to the piece of art that she sports today. As a kid, she said that she had "horrible hair […] it looked like my mom put a bowl over my hair to cut it. I had the braces, and the pin-straight hair. I just started to get creative with my hair and it never stopped," she said. She further said that she had a Dorothy Hamill hairdo but wanted a rather fluffier and more eye-catching Farah Fawcett one.
And so, she made over her hair quite early in her life, to dramatic effect. "In high school and everything, I’ve always liked the spiky hair. What can I say? I’m a child of the ’80s," she said (via "Anne Burrell"). Maintaining those spikes is a lot of work, as explained in the Rachael Ray Show, it includes a series of time-intensive steps to ensure the hair is blow-dried to look like that of a "troll doll". Burrell colors her hair herself, using Clairol 7th Stage — a shade that Marilyn Monroe also reportedly used, as Burrell told amNY.
Anne Burrell got engaged during the pandemic
Anne Burrell bumped into her second love through the dating app Bumble. She and Stuart Claxton, a sales marketer at Univision, hit it off from their first online conversation. Claxton found Burrell to be "a wonderful surprise" on their first in-person date. "When she sat down in front of me, I was like, ‘Wow, she’s so hot’," he told Today. The duo dated for two years before Claxton decided to pop the big question in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Claxton first sought permission from Burrell’s 75-year-old mom for her daughter’s hand. With her mom’s input, Claxton planned the perfect set-up to propose. "Anne’s mom dressed up the room and decorated it and set the table. It was better than I would have come up with myself," he said.
Having a fiancé and a teenage stepson at 50 was never part of Burrell’s plan, but she seems to be happy with the unexpected change nonetheless. "Once you get to be a woman of 50 years old, you don’t really think that marriage is going to be on the plate for you […] I was always really focused on my career and marriage was never a huge thing in my life that I was looking for. Then when I met Stuart, my opinion about all that changed," she told People.