Anthony Anderson talks about how Julia Child inspired his love for cooking
By: Gibson Johns
Two of the things that Anthony Anderson loves most in life are his family and cooking. And when those two things can come together -- when he cooks for his family, with his family, around his family -- there's nothing better, in his eyes.
With two grown children (Kyra and Nathan), a regular judging gig on "Iron Chef America" and being the star and executive-producer of ABC's hit sitcom "Black-ish," now in its third season, Anderson is a busy, busy man. But it's for that exact reason that those moments in the kitchen with his family are so special.
"Very seldom do we have time to get together where we can shut down the outside world and just talk about us," he explained to me in an exclusive interview for his partnership with Lipton's Chef Fest.
It's not just his blood relatives that he considers to be his family, though. When I asked Anderson over the phone about his relationship with his fellow "Black-ish" cast members three seasons into their show, his voice perked up, with the pride he has for the incredibly successful show becoming very clear. His children on the show, played by Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown and Marsai Martin, in particular seem to hold a dear place in his heart.
I talked to Anthony Anderson about his partnership with Lipton, the evolution of "Black-ish" and how Julia Child inspired him to get in the kitchen.
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Check out my full conversation with Anthony Anderson below:
Where did your initial love of cooking come from?
It came out of necessity, really. You know, I tell this funny story sometimes: I always had an affinity for cooking shows growing up -- I would watch PBS and Julia Child and other shows. That was my thing. One day, my mother came home when I was eleven or twelve-years-old, and she said "Your dad is going to hungry when he gets home from work, so you better cook him something!" I'll never forget that day: Julia Child had roasted a chicken, and that's what we had to eat that night. I had never seen this before, but she had stuffed the cavity of the chicken with herbs and citrus. We had lemon and orange trees in the backyard -- as well as avocado trees -- so I picked some lemons and oranges and stuck them into the cavity with salt and pepper, along with an onion. I got some butter -- this was the first time I had ever seen this, too -- and massaged it on the breast between the skin and the meat. I didn't have any twine, so I took a shoestring and tied the legs together and roasted that in the oven. I also cooked two cans of sweet kernel corn and a box of mashed potatoes and a can of biscuits. My dad came home, we all sat down and ate together, and he was like, "Damn! Your mama really cooked tonight, didn't she?" And I was like, "Uhh ...Mom didn't cook that, Dad." He said, "Then who did?" I said, "I did." He said, "Well, what are we eating tomorrow?" [Laughs]
That's how my love of cooking started! I didn't only enjoy cooking the meal, but what I really got off on was watching my father and everyone I feed now enjoying the meals that I prepare for them. That's why I love it, and that's what it's all about.
And that initial passion for cooking is still informing some of your career decisions, judging by your partnership with Lipton on their Lipton Chef Fest. Talk to me about that.
Chef Michael Symon and I have been friends since he was competing -- and I was judging -- on "Iron Chef America" for the Food Network, so we developed our friendship back then. And I judged in his favor -- he actually won! Our relationship has been recultivated over the last eight or nine years now, we've been guests on "The Chew" together, and we always talk about doing things together. This opportunity presented itself with Lipton, and he asked if I would be part of it and I said, "Hell yeah!"
You both recently took part in an event in Atlanta last month, during which you took part in a cooking demo. How was that?
It was the second part of our venture with them, and we did a demonstration. He asked what I wanted to cook for the people that were going to be in the audience, and I chose some oxtail stew. There's a story behind why: [Cooking this dish] was a time where me and my family would come together, and we would all pitch in in the kitchen and help make this dish. I had taken that away from that [image] as I had gotten older and made the dish with other friends and family. It was always our time to check out of the outside world and talk about what was going on in our lives. Very seldom do we have time to get together where we can shut down the outside world and just talk about us. That's why that meal was special to me, and that's why I picked it. That's what Mike and I talked about while we did the demonstration in Atlanta.
You talked a lot about cooking with your family. Do you still cook with your daughter?
I do, but not as much as we used to in the past, because my daughter is a junior at the University of San Diego. Growing up, though, this was her dream! I remember asking her when she was 8 years old what she wanted to do with her life, and she said she wanted to be a celebrity chef, live a gated community in Malibu and have her best friend live with her so they could just shop for handbags and shoes. [Laughs]
That was at eight years old. For the longest time she wanted to be a chef -- she saw me in the kitchen and I would always invite her in -- but at a certain point she realized she didn't like to eat certain things. But I was like, "You have to know the taste and the texture of things to compare them and pair them with other things." And she didn't want to do that. Her dreams of being a celebrity chef were soon dead, but we still do cook together when we have time. That's one of the highlights of my day -- being in the kitchen with my daughter.
Let's talk a little bit about "Black-ish." Three seasons in, do you consider your cast members to be a sort of second family for you?
Absolutely! Since day one I've seen them as family. These young actors that I've cast as my children on the show, I saw them as my children when I hand-picked them. It's definitely a blessing and an honor to work with them. Not only do I get to see them grow professionally, but I also get to see them grow personally, as well. To be a part of both their professional and personal life is truly a blessing, and I love it. I look at them as if they're my own children.
Looking at where the show is now, four years after you initially came up with the idea of it, how has it evolved differently than you would've expected it to?
It's no different than how we saw it evolving. When Kenya [Barris] and I sat down and had this initial meeting four years ago now -- about what we wanted to do and the type of show we wanted to create -- this is exactly how we saw it. We looked at the landscape of television, and we saw what was missing for us and determined the point of view that we wanted and the stories we wanted to tell, and we realized that we had more in common than we didn't. We just started talking about both being from the inner-city in Los Angeles -- she from Inglewood and me from Compton -- both of us being first generation successes, both of us being the only African-American families in our neighborhoods with our children in private schools, living a life of privilege and the trappings of the success that we have and dealing with that.
So, what we're doing now has been a constant evolution from day one. We're right where we wanted it to be -- right where we saw it. We pride ourselves on dealing with divisive topics that bring different people to the table. It sparks conversation and, hopefully at the end of that conversation, when people leave the table they have a better understanding of each other. It's something we wanted to do, and we're doing that and being authentic in the stories that we tell. It's what keeps propelling us forward. We don't try to sugarcoat things, and we try to be honest with ourselves. Being honest and authentic is what resonates. When you're true to yourself and aren't trying to pander to one specific audience, people see the truth in that and they see themselves in that, regardless of who's telling the story.
That's the biggest compliment that we've gotten: Overwhelmingly, people from all walks of life, have said to me that when they see my family up there, they see their family. That's when I knew that we had something and that we were succeeding in what we wanted to do.
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