Anna Olson was in Thailand recently for the debut of her “Fresh Flavors with Anna Olson Tour,” part of the Asian Food Channel’s Culinary Masterpieces. program. Loookeast met with her before the first of her two nights of dinners at VIU, St Regis Bangkok.
By Laurence Civil.
Anna had gained her love of baking and cooking as a child in their intimate kitchen. She graduated in political science and sociology at Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario and spent a few years in Bangkok.
“After graduating I knew that law wasn’t for me, so I gravitated to banking,” says Anna, “After a year or so I noticed that I was working in an environment surrounded by people who were both passionate about their job and loved what they were doing. I wasn’t getting the same satisfaction; it just wasn’t working for me. When I went home uptight after a bad day in the office, I would bake not because I wanted to eat. Some go to the gym; this was how I de-stressed. That was the defining moment when I knew my future career was in baking.”
Anna resigned from the bank and enrolled herself in the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in Denver. After her second graduation she traveled across the United States before making Canada’s Niagra region home. Her career as a pastry chef started at Inn on the Twenty, the restaurant of a premier winery located in Niagara’s prime farm and wine country. It was there she met her husband Michael.
In 2004, Anna opened Olson Food & Bakery in the historic lakeside community of Port Dalhousie in St Catherine’s Ontario. The bakery sells freshly made pastries, breads, deli meats, cheese, home made soups, salads and sandwiches. In 2009 she sold the bakery to her long time friend and pastry chef Andrea Poirier and her sister Leesa Leshkewich to give her time to concentrate on being a TV Chef and cookbook writer.
Anna has so far published six successful cookbooks. Her most recent release was “Fresh with Anna Olsen.” She uses food as her creative medium starting with delicious sounding ingredients to create components within the body of the recipe to get a delicious end result. “Cookbooks alone don’t pay the bills” she says, “but they are great marketing tools and an integral part of the TV cooking experience.
“My primary passion is to be in the kitchen,” she says, “running a bakery is about running a business and all that it involves. This move put me back where I belong: in my home kitchen. There I can deconstruct the flavors of someone else’s dish that I have tasted, develop my own recipe ideas and analyze recipes I have already created to look for ways to make them better, there is always room for improvement, it’s just a matter of finding it.”
Anna’s tip for those prone to “overindulgence in sweetness” moments is to just pop an olive in the mouth and instantly those naughty cravings are gone,
She had a fortuitous break into the world of the TV Chef, AFC were looking for a pastry chef, Anna auditioned with the daring choice of her personal favorite French apple tart tartin. It did the trick and the rest is history
“TV production may look glamorous,” Anna reveals, “the part I enjoy least is the tapping day when we painfully go over the recipe again and again to the point where I am happy to retire it forever. I am happiest when I am experimenting on my own in my kitchen. Some of my best lessons have come through failure by understanding what went wrong helps to make things go right. TV has given me the amazing opportunity to communicate with a global audience and build new professional relationships.
Anna’s sense of seasonality is based on what’s in season in Canada, which has the same time line as Europe. The current trend for more affordable cuts of meat is first the reality of economics and the second a solace of going back to comfort food of our childhood.
“The objective behind my Asian tour is to showcase cooking and baking. My message is to eat locally but to cook globally as demonstrated by my second course in tonight’s menu: sweet potato soup with coconut milk & ginger, with its silky smooth texture and subtle notes of fresh ginger. Other dishes served at the special dinner included roasted lamb, rack of lamb with date salsa, three onion couscous and vegetable tagine, and a warm chocolate orange truffle tart with salted caramel sauce and French vanilla ice cream.
Whether its a savory tart, creamy cheesecake, or a summer pavlova, you can guarantee Anna Olsen will have the prefect recipe. Catch her 8 p,m. Tuesday nights at Asian Food Channel on CTH (currently viewed in three millions homes in Thailand) or check their website www.asianfoodchannel.com.