'The Kitchen's' Sunny Anderson: How the Army helped make her a chef

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When Sunny Anderson reflects on her life, landing on Food Network's "The Kitchen" makes perfect sense.

An Army brat, she grew up in many locales, and her parents, from the Carolinas, were adventurous diners.

"We didn't have the same thing over and over for dinner," she tells Zap2it from her Brooklyn, N.Y., home. "We were constantly trying new ingredients."

Still, becoming a chef was "not something I could have planned," she says. "When you grow and mature and start doing things that make you happy," cooking was a natural career.

Besides, she adds, "It's really hard to make a cake for yourself and not share it, and when people like what you make, it emboldens you to cook more for others. It snowballed into a career I never planned, and I am really happy."

Anderson was in the Air Force for four years and worked at the military news agency. Later while working in radio, she whipped up dishes at home and brought them to the station.

"Catering was not my plan," Anderson says. "I started to charge my friends for the groceries. It was so rude to charge for the service of cooking. I thought they would not ask as much if I put a price on it. And that backfired."

"'Oh it is just $5 for a tray of mac and cheese and a tray of greens?' " she quotes her friends as saying. " 'Well, can you do my friend's baby shower? Can you do the conference I have in my office? So it just kind of spread."

By 2003, Anderson was living in a Jersey City apartment building with a common kitchen area certified by the health board that gave her enough room to work.

"I could do volume and I found a local chicken place that would fry my chicken for me," Anderson says.

Now she devotes her time to the Food Network shows, and is in partnership writing cookbooks for Extended Stay America, a hotel chain featuring full kitchens.

"To me it is a match made in heaven for a girl who likes to travel and eat," Anderson says.

What did you have for dinner last night?
"A frozen vegan Ethiopian meal that got delivered from Fresh Direct."

What is always in your refrigerator?
"Beer, different types of milk -- almond milk, soy milk, heavy cream, half and half -- fake eggs, lots of butter, all kinds. One of my fridges is just sauces. I have three fridges. I am an active cook in the business."

What will you not cook?
"Puff pastry that goes to lazy and impatient. You are going to eat it in five seconds; why should it take you five hours? There is nothing I don't like cooking."

What would you like to learn to make?
"Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and a real Twinkie."

Photo/Video credit: Food Network