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Shay Spence
June 05, 2017 01:58 PM

Since her first Food Network show Secrets of a Restaurant Chef debuted in 2008, Anne Burrell has used her years of industry experience to inspire home cooks to become the executive chefs of their own kitchens. And yet, viewers may be surprised to learn that she’s never opened up a restaurant of her own—until now.

Speaking to PEOPLE from behind the stove at her newly opened New York City eatery, Phil & Anne’s Good Time Lounge, Burrell explains why she waited so long to make the move. “I always had said: ‘When it’s time, the universe will make it apparent to me.'”

That serindipitous moment came when Phil Casaceli, Burrell’s friend of 12 years, made her an offer she couldn’t refuse on a space in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. Casaceli owns Daddy-O, a casual whiskey bar in the city’s West Village, where Burrell has been a long-time regular.

“We met because that’s my local,” Burrell says. “I just loved his bar! So then a year and a half ago Phil came to me with this real estate deal, and I was just like, ‘This is the universe making itself apparent to me. Pull up your big girl panties; it’s time.’”

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In a city that’s experiencing skyrocketing rents at an unrelenting pace, Daddy-O is a rare gem that’s maintained its fuss-free, local charm—something the pair seeks to replicate at Phil & Anne’s. “New York has gotten so serious with its drinking culture,” Casaceli says. “It’s all about speakeasies and taking 20 minutes to make a drink. I have much respect for that, but it’s taking the good time out of drinking. We take this business seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. That’s what’s gotten lost in New York.”

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They consider the space to be “totally 50/50” as a bar and a restaurant, with Casaceli handling the cocktails while Burrell, of course, takes charge on the food.

The menu, which is divided up between “Light”, “Medium”, and “Heavy” dishes, features favorites from her cookbook, Cook Like a Rockstar, like shaved asparagus salad with red onion and Pecorino, dry-rubbed ribeye steak, and braised chicken with mushrooms and almond puree (which she calls “my favorite recipe I’ve written in my life.”).

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It’s clear that their laid-back approach to drinking culture carries over into the food offerings. “I just put stuff on the menu that I want to eat, that I feel people want to eat,” says Burrell. “I wanted food to be thoughtful and creative but also accessible.”

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The space is small—this is N.Y.C., after all—but vibrant with the color scheme, replicating the bright, patterned clothing that Burrell is known for sporting on television. In fact, the wallpaper in the intimate space in the back (which they call the “sexy room”) is modeled directly off of one of the chef’s favorite blouses.

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And lest you think this is another instance of a celebrity chef slapping their name on something and calling it a day, Burrell has put in the serious time to make it her own. “This is my baby; I want to be involved,” she says. “We have no investors—it’s our personal money, so it’s us betting on ourselves. That’s why things like hospitality and all the personal touches are so important.”

This was proven during our conversation, as Burrell was behind the stove making tomato sauce in preparation for dinner service, periodically giving her cooks a lesson that was nearly indistinguishable from one of her mentoring sessions on Worst Cooks in America.

“I’m a teacher, that’s what I do,” she says. “It’s my job to teach my staff so they can teach others. It goes from the top down. I like to tell people why we do things.”

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Though she is continuing her hectic schedule with the Food Network, the chef says that will not detract from her presence at the restaurant. “I’ll come right from the set to here every single day. I’m committed to doing the best job that I can, and being a leader for my team. I like to lead by example and so does Phil.”

And despite the blood, sweat and tears that went into it—”everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong”—Burrell is on cloud nine. “I keep having these moments of extreme joy, where I look around and say ‘Everyone’s in my restaurant.’ It brings me to tears.”

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