What an interview! Sunny has had a career in radio, TV, and is a NYT best selling author. Yet, what sets this interview apart is not Sunny’s unbelievable accomplishments, it’s her candor in talking about the journey to get here. I learned SO much from my conversation with Sunny: she talks about being honest about the work you enjoy and being intentional to make sure you don’t get “promoted out of it”; she talks about finding mentors through hiring managers; she talks about working for free to get your foot in the door; she talks about taking risks and betting on oneself. Her story is one of determination and resilience, and Veterans in any industry can learn a lot from this interview.
Sunny is a chef, entrepreneur, Food Network personality, and radio personality. She grew up as an Army brat, and served in the Air Force as a radio broadcaster and journalist.After leaving the Air Force as an award-winning broadcaster, she continued her travels as a radio DJ in many cities, culminating in her dream job in New York at a No. 1 rated radio station.
In 2005, she appeared on Food Network’s Emeril Live!, and shortly after, she left her radio career and closed her catering business to focus on chasing yet another dream: sharing her recipes with the Food Network audience. Her first show, Gotta Get It, a food gadget show, premiered in 2007, followed by Cooking for Real, How'd That Get On My Plate and Home Made in America with Sunny Anderson. She's currently a co-host on The Kitchen.In September 2013, she released her New York Times best-selling debut cookbook, Sunny’s Kitchen: Easy Food for Real Life (Clarkson Potter). Sunny lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, with her rescue pets.
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Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Appalachian Hills is Sunny Anderson. Sunny is a chef, entrepreneur, Food Network personality, and radio personality. She grew up as an Army brat, and served in the Air Force as a radio broadcaster and journalist.
After leaving the Air Force as an award-winning broadcaster, she continued her travels as a radio DJ in many cities, culminating in her dream job in New York at a No. 1 rated radio station. In 2005, she appeared on Food Network’s Emeril Live!, and shortly after, she left her radio career and closed her catering business to focus on chasing yet another dream: sharing her recipes with the Food Network audience. Her first show, Gotta Get It, a food gadget show, premiered in 2007. That was followed by Cooking for Real, How'd That Get On My Plate and Home Made in America with Sunny Anderson. She's currently a co-host on The Kitchen. In September 2013, she released her New York Times best-selling debut cookbook, Sunny’s Kitchen: Easy Food for Real Life. Sunny lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, with her rescue pets.
How do you explain what you do for a living?
I say that what I do for a living is find things that I love and try to get other people excited about those same things. Whether that’s food, music, or pop culture. When I moved from radio to television people would ask me if that was a hard transition. I would tell them that it wasn’t very difficult because I felt I was still doing the same thing - sharing what I love with other people. At first, I was cooking on the side completely for free just because I enjoyed it. Then that turned into a catering business and everything went from there.
What was your transition out of the Air Force like?
I went to high school in San Antonio and also served in the Air Force in that area. I was lucky that I was able to have a part time job on the side while still in the military. The jobs in the military that I liked was writing and telling stories. But if I got promoted, I would get promoted out of that role. In fact, I didn’t want to get promoted so much that I purposely failed my promotion exam. After that I was directed to study at my desk for hours a day. That took my away from doing what I loved. Then I failed the test again and I think that’s when my command realized that I didn’t want to get promoted. So I knew I would need to leave the military if I wanted to keep doing what I loved.
So when I got stationed in San Antonio, I knew I needed to do some planning. I started to get experience in that field outside the military. I was focused on getting a job in New Orleans because I had visited there before and had some heard some really good radio.
I encourage people in the military to try part-time work while you’re still in the military because you can really figure out what you want to do. As I was transitioning out, I sought out assistance from the military transition office on base and that was extremely helpful.
I can really sense your determination. That’s really great.
It’s a gift and a curse. That side of me really gets things done for me but I also know that not everyone’s used to that. Not everyone tries to plough through life the way I do. But that’s the cool thing about the military. I was able to be a bit more hard headed and strong willed.
The civilian world has a lot of respect for veterans. People know that we’re going to get the job done. And by and large I think that’s correct. People are willing to work with you if they recognize that determination in you.
I love to share ideas with people. A lot of people will tell you to keep your goals quiet. But at every point in my career, I remember reaching out to people around me for help and advice. And it was because of that that I’m where I am today. A lot of people will look for mentors that have the job they want. But I tell them to be mentored by the person that hired the person that has the job that you want. That person will know what qualifications you will need to land in your dream position.
Do you have any advice for someone that wants to pursue a career in radio?
I always tell people to offer to help for free. If someone is willing to take you in for you to just learn the ropes, try to do that. That’s how I got my job in New Orleans right after the military. I cold called a radio station and told them that I was getting out of the military and wanted to work there. And that’s how I was able to get my foot in the door. A major key to getting things done is just reaching out and being willing to work and learn. When you’re reaching out to people, make sure you mention that you were in the military. People often want to help veterans and appreciate the skills that you have to offer. Your experience in the military is just as important as a four year degree.
I love walking around seeing veterans wearing military caps and pins. We should let people know that we exist. You shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘Yes, that’s who I am.’
How did you transition into television come about?
For me, leaving things behind is really easy because it gives me the opportunity to try something new. I know that if I’m really comfortable, I’m not really growing. I also think you can always go back to something you did before if you want to. I was top-rated in radio when I left so I felt like if I wanted to, I could always go back. And with my catering business, it just wasn’t possible to continue doing that while getting into television.
I left radio right after I went on Emeril Live!. I kept in touch with the show’s producers. I would meet with them and talk to them about what qualifications a TV show host would need. One of the executives I would keep in touch with once a month or so. Later on, after I got my own show, I asked him if that was annoying that I kept reaching out. And he told me that it wasn’t annoying at all - it kept me top of mind for them.
I didn’t really have an end game. My plan was to just keep on trying until I achieved what I wanted. During that time, I went broke but I never lost my spirit. I was picking up odd jobs to make ends meet. I believe that nobody is willing to take a chance on you if you’re not willing to take the chance on yourself.
A couple of years after I got to the network, the President of Programming told me that they hired me because I just wouldn’t leave them alone. At the time, I thought that was kind of an insult but over time I’ve come to appreciate what she meant. That I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and I was willing to do whatever it took to achieve my goals.
I had a year’s worth of savings when I left radio. But that didn’t turn out to be enough. So I encourage people to save a lot of money if they are wanting to go out and try something new. But I never pitied myself during that process. You need to realize that being uncomfortable will force you to work toward what you want.
I really admire all the hard work you put into making your dreams a reality.
I have things I want to do in my life and I want to give them a try. If everything isn’t a success that’s not a bad thing. Everyday I try to take a step closer to figuring out exactly what I want to do. I’m 44 and it feels like yesterday that I moved to New York at 26. In between there was a lot of work. I’m just enjoying writing recipes for a living and the communications and opportunity to meet new people.
What’s next for you?
A few years ago, I teamed up with a company to create Inflaldium which is an inflatable snack stadium. We also have other products as well - lots of party stuff.
I’d like to do another book in the future but not a cookbook. I want to do a book of a different genre.
For military members that are thinking about getting out, start preparing long before you get out. If you’re not sure what you want to do, try testing out different things you might be interested in. I really think it’s all about figuring out what you’re passionate about and chasing it.