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Vancouver Observer's one-on-one interview with celebrity chef Anna Olson

The well-known restaurateurs Anna Olson, Alexandra Gill and Andrew Morrison  attended the KidSafe charity event last month. We had the opportunity to speak with Anna Olson, and learn a bit more about her past and what is happening in the upcoming year.

Q: Who inspired you to become a chef and who inspires you today as a modern-day chef?
A:  My grandmother would have to be my first inspiration, because family is so important to me and cooking in the kitchen together was an after school hobby. I’m a second-career chef, so after university I worked at a bank but then realized I was meant to be in the kitchen. My modern day inspiration would have to be my husband, Michael. We worked together professionally and so we are very co-operative together in the kitchen. I really value his inputs and expertise.

Q: We are so used to seeing you as calm and collected on TV, would you say that accurately describes the everyday Anna Olson, or are you different off TV?
A: I feel that I am pretty much the same on and off screen. For baking, it is so precise so it takes being organized for things to run smoothly. I feel like I need to keep calm, stay focused and be organized when I bake.

Q: What’s your favourite cuisine?
A: One of my favorite cuisines has to be Eastern European because that is what I grew up with and made with my grandmother. I enjoy making Polish dishes, such as strudels and making recipes with poppy seeds.  Also I like the decadency of French pastries. Malaysian food also intrigues me as there are many different flavour combinations.

Q: Have you visited Vancouver before? If so, which restaurants do you like?
A: I come to Vancouver once a year, but I usually have a very packed work itinerary when I am here so I don’t get a chance to try a lot of different restaurants. This time I was here, I got to go to Refuel, and quite enjoyed it. I’m not really a fine-dining person so I usually like to go to more casual restaurant with share plates.

Q: Have you ever had a baking or cooking worst-nightmare?
A: Oh yes, it happens all the time because I am constantly making new recipes. I’ve made my fair share of bricks through testing my gluten-free recipes for my new book. I believe that if there is nothing to improve, then I am not trying hard enough.  This being said, there is usually a method to fixing recipes.

Q: Do you have any plans for upcoming cooking shows?
A: Yes, I’m just finishing filming a new show called ‘Bake with Anna Olson’, which is more detail-oriented compared to my last cooking shows. It builds on baking techniques progressively throughout the series.

Q: So, will your new show be similar to Sugar and have the ‘switch-up’, where you take a recipe and re-create it with a fancier twist?
A:  Not really, since that’s already been done in Sugar. This new show focuses more on the techniques of baking instead of creating a whole new recipe. For example, I do a section of pipework for decorating cakes.

Q: What aspects of your job do you like the best? (e.g. cookbook writing vs. TV show)
A: I get the most satisfaction creating recipes because it makes me happy when I see people using them. I also really enjoy getting feedback when I’m creating recipes. Fans will comment on my Facebook page what went right or wrong with their recipes.  In terms of filming for TV, I get nervous doing live shows but they are easier than taped cooking shows because we need to do at least 3 to 4 tapings in order to produce one show (a much longer process than people think)!

Q: How is the ‘Back to Baking’ cookbook different from the Sugar cookbook?
A:  The ‘Back to Baking’ cookbook contains a lot of what I call “little essays.” These give pointers and explain what might happen while you are making a recipe.  This makes the book friendly to new bakers and definitely a lot more reassuring. Also, there are a lot of visual references in the book and sections dedicated to allergy specific baking.

Q: Would you say ‘Back to Baking ‘ is more directed toward beginner bakers?
A:  Not really, because this book contains intricate recipes as well. However, I find that children are fearless, and even if they are beginners, they will start out with my Hungarian sponge cake, which is definitely a more challenging recipe than starting with basic cookies.

Q: What’s your favourite holiday treat from ‘Back to Baking ‘that you recommend our readers to make and why?
A: I would highly recommend readers to try making the White Chocolate Raspberry Lime Cheesecake, Yule logs, the classic butter tart, and I have a pear, Gran Marnier, and White Chocolate Trifle. You will not be disappointed!

Q: Which three criteria would you consider most important when judging a dish?
A: I would have to say that obviously taste comes first, texture to follow and probably ease of effort would be the third important criteria. There is usually a way to make a dish simpler (depending on the recipe).

Q: Have you collaborated with any of the other food writers at this event before?
A: No I have never so this will be an interesting combination. I am sure as stimulating conversation will spark up as we are all different types of food writers. 

Q: Finally, if you could have dinner with anyone past and present, who would it be?
A: A person from the past would have to be my grandmother. She didn’t get to see me enrolled in culinary school and I know she would be very proud of me. Someone from the present would have to be French pastry chef, Pierre Hermé (French Vogue magazine dubbed him as the “Picasso of Pastry” and he is most well known for his macarons). He is an inspiring chef and I am sure anyone can learn from him.  

Book signing after the event. 

Be sure to get your own copy of Anna’s new book, “Back to Baking.” There are entire chapters on low-fat and low-sugar baking, egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and much more- 200 timeless recipes fit for everyone!

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