Cooking for a Cause

A celebrity chef puts her passion for food to work to educate people about a common health concern.

By Diana Price

 

Here are just a few a of the hats that Sunny Anderson, celebrity cook and co-host of Food Network’s The Kitchen, has worn in her career: US Air Force broadcaster, radio DJ, journalist, caterer, and New York Times best-selling author. The consistent thread stringing these various pursuits and successes together? Her love for sharing her passions with others.

Sunny’s fans love her for her straightforward approach to creating food that is both comforting— she initially launched her catering business after friends kept calling on her for her famous trays of mac ’n’ cheese and other favorites—and inventive, combining American go-to dishes with flavors and ingredients she has discovered in her wide-ranging travels. As an army child, she lived around the world, and then she continued her explorations during her own air force career.

There is fearlessness in Sunny’s approach in the kitchen. The recipes that fill her cookbook, Sunny’s Kitchen: Easy Food for Real Life (Clarkson Potter, 2013; $22.50), cross cultural boundaries and combine ingredients from culinary traditions around the world to create signature fusion recipes. Asian flavors, German specialties with a twist, traditional southern cooking—all have a place in Sunny’s heart and so are passed along in the recipes she loves to share.

The same passion, honesty, and fearlessness that guide Sunny’s professional life are evident in a new, personal project. Sunny has partnered with Janssen Biotech as a spokesperson for Get Your Full Course (GetYourFullCourse.com), a program to provide information about the paired role of nutrition and appropriate therapy in the management of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

A group of conditions that cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract (all of the organs involved in consuming and digesting food), IBD affects roughly 1.6 million Americans, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (ccfa.org). The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases are ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease. The symptoms of these conditions, which can include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgent need to move bowels, abdominal cramps and pain, and constipation, can be uncomfortable and potentially debilitating, affecting patients’ quality of life and overall health.

Sunny has been living with ulcerative colitis for 20 years. She was initially diagnosed with the condition at age 20, after experiencing extreme abdominal cramps and noticing blood in her stool. Her father, a physician, encouraged her to see a gastroenterologist. After a colonoscopy and further testing, Sunny was diagnosed with UC. The experience was frightening, she says, as she struggled with the symptoms and the diagnosis: “I was totally stressed out. I was young and living in a foreign country as a new recruit in the air force. There were many nights I cried myself to sleep and then woke up and did the same.”

Sunny’s compassion for the physical challenge and emotional impact of living with IBD, combined with her platform as a professional in the food world, drew her to become involved with Get Your Full Course. “I wanted to share my story because I understand the struggles faced by the IBD community,” she says. She hopes that by bringing forward her personal experience she can encourage more-open dialogue around IBD, which can help those living with the disease understand the conditions and seek effective treatment.

Becoming educated about IBD is key, Sunny says: “I encourage fellow IBD patients to become smarter about their disease. There are great resources available from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America and from Get Your Full Course.” Learning the facts about IBD can also help patients identify myths that can stand in the way of getting effective treatment, she adds: “There is a lot of misinformation out there about IBD as it pertains to diet and nutrition, such as people thinking diet choices will cause or cure the disease.”

Encouraging a public dialogue will help people not only understand the condition and get effective care, Sunny says, but also find the comfort of community: “Sometimes it seems like people with IBD are in the shadows. The more I talk about IBD, the more people who also live with it won’t feel like they are alone.”

Most critical, she says, is for people living with IBD to know that a diagnosis of Crohn’s or UC need not be a limiting factor in life. Learning the facts about the disease, finding strength in community, and talking openly and honestly with a doctor about symptoms, diet, and therapy options—all can help you live a full life with IBD. “I don’t let UC rule me and stop me from chasing my dreams,” Sunny says, “and I encourage other women—and men!—living with IBD to adopt the same mentality.”

As part of her partnership with Get Your Full Course, Sunny has created recipes that she says are “based on foods rich in the nutrients that people with IBD sometimes lack due to the way the disease affects their intestines.” One of her favorites, Sunny’s Caprese Panzanella Salad, is included here.

For those facing IBD who want to give this or any of her other recipes a try, Sunny notes, be sure the foods included are a good fit for your unique needs and potential food triggers: “Every person responds differently to certain foods, and it is important to work with your doctor if you have IBD and listen to your own body in identifying the diet and foods that are best for you.”


 

RECIPE

Sunny’s Caprese Panzanella Salad

1 loaf ciabatta bread, cut into 12 slices
Olive oil spray
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 large tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
8-ounce ball fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
A handful of basil
A handful of parsley

Heat a cast iron grill (or outdoor grill) to a medium heat.

Spray each piece of bread with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Place on the grill until toasted and slightly dry.

Tear or chop the bread into pieces (a little larger than bite sized) and place in a bowl. Add tomatoes, onion, and mozzarella. Drizzle with olive oil, vinegar, and honey. Toss in basil and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.


 

Photo courtesy Get Your Full Course

Makeup by Lucky Smyler