When he isn’t making fans laugh and engaging audiences with his acting chops, Anthony Anderson feels at home in the kitchen. And for years, his cooking has taken a backseat to television… But thanks to a new AOL webseries, Anthony Eats America, the Compton-born actor is getting to combine his love of food and with his love of storytelling.
“When I was living in New York for Law & Order, I was asked to be a judge on Iron Chef America, then to be on Chopped. So it was only a matter of time that I started doing something in the cooking space on my own," says Anderson, 42, in an exclusive EBONY.com interview.
Premiering this summer, the 12-episode series captures Anderson eating his way across America one kitchen at a time, as he connects with home chefs to learn the secrets of their signatures dishes. EBONY.com talks with Anderson about his new venture and his budding green thumb.
EBONY: How did you come up with the concept of the show?
Anthony Anderson: It started as a kid, when my mother stopped cooking for us. I'm the oldest of four kids, three boys and a girl. My mother started playing bingo and decided, “You're old enough to cook for the family so I’m going to bingo after work.” So my love and affinity for cooking was born out of necessity. Since the age of 11 or 12, I've been doing it.
AA: AOL approached me about doing some content, and I told them that this was the idea that I had, and that I had been kicking around for a while. And they bought it. Here we are now, Anthony Eats America. It’s me going across the country hearing about people and their cuisine. These aren’t traditional chefs and these aren’t restaurants. We’re just finding interesting people who love to cook. And the stories on the show are just about them, their love of cooking and how that makes them feel.
EBONY: What’s been one of the memorable experiences or stories from the people you've interviewed?
AA: I met a young woman who has over 250 first-place wins at the county fair. She has three children, a daughter and two sons, and she taught her daughter how to cook. Her daughter is a second-generation county-fair winner already. And they’ve competed against one another and came home with first and second place wins respectively. It’s pretty cool.
EBONY: Ideally, what do you want viewers to get out of the webseries?
AA: Because it’s not a cooking show (that’s just the backdrop for it), I want to show viewers that anyone can do this, whether you’re boiling a hot dog or scrambling some eggs. If you’re interesting, we’ll come to you. It's not about being a chef or a trained cook, it’s just about having an interesting story and being a fun person who enjoys feeding people. So what you forgot to put the main ingredient in the dish we’re cooking. So what! That’s not what it's about. What this is about is you having fun.
EBONY: What are your favorite dishes to cook? What are you known for?
AA: I make a mean sweet potato pie and pumpkin cheesecake. I'm just now getting into desserts and cheesecakes. I’m known for my braised short ribs that I braise for four-and-a-half hours. I’m known for my oxtails that I cook for five hours. I make fried chicken, macaroni and cheese—all of the staples of our community’s food. And of course things that I shouldn’t be eating as a Type 2 diabetic.
EBONY: How do you balance your love of food with your diabetes?
AA: It’s about making healthier choices. If I fry some chicken, I’ll have a piece of it but I make sure that I’ll also grill some. Everything is good in moderation. And that’s not to say that I don’t indulge on occasion because I do. But I do have a healthier lifestyle.
EBONY: Does that healthier lifestyle have any place in Anthony Eats America?
AA: The show is about the individuals and their journeys. The only thing that will be about me is this 1,000 square-foot garden. I’m growing my own vegetables, my own herbs, and eventually once the season turns you’ll see the results of this. My garden will be on the show as well as my gardening tips.
EBONY: You have a garden? What are you growing?
AA: I’m planting a little bit of everything. This is my first time actually planting like this. I joined my community garden in the neighborhood and I got a plot that is 1,000 square feet, and the house [where] I grew up in Compton was only 1,500 square feet. So it’s kind of crazy that my garden is almost the same size as the house I grew up in.
EBONY: You’ve come a long way!
AA: I’ve come a long way. Eventually I will grow everything: broccoli, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, lettuce, rosemary, collard greens, corn, beets… Anything that you can grow in a garden, I’m going to have it in mine.