Anna Olson used to bake when she was stressed. You can imagine the state of her emotional disposition that transformed this political science-trained banker into a full-time pastry baker.
"When I was stressed, I would bake, and I was stressed a lot," said the good-natured Canadian pastry chef, who is known for her television shows Bake With Anna Olson, Sugar and Fresh With Anna Olson aired on the Asian Food Channel.
Her love of cooking and baking was inspired by her grandmother's amazing culinary skills. She recalled that her grandmother would make desserts every night, and she had never once seen any leftovers.
After a few years in banking she decided it was not her life-long dream. She rolled up her sleeves and enrolled in a culinary programme. Afterwards, she started working as a pastry chef at a fine-dining restaurant, before one fateful phone call changed her life.
"Food Network Canada, the equivalent of Asian Food Channel, had just started up. I didn't plan on being a show host, but I was headhunted, not to be given the job, but to do an audition. The network was new and it was not popular yet," she said of the beginning of her journey as a baking show host about 10 years ago.
For her screen test, she had to make a dessert, and the experienced chef had a wonderful plan in mind. "I wanted to do a fancy, elaborate dessert _ triple chocolate mousse cake with spun caramel," she said. As luck would have it, she was down with a cold. She had been very busy with work, and the weather was brutally cold. The drained chef ended up making a simple French dessert, tarte tatin.
The delicious creation got her the job, and she was later told that she was chosen because she had done something simple and explained an easy way to do it. "Had I done the triple chocolate mousse cake and the spun caramel, I wouldn't have got the job!"
Anna Olson’s pumpkin creme brulee tart.
And simple is the way to go for Olson. The mood and tone of her shows are always instructional, not just to show off her skills. "What's important to me is sharing my passion, but also building confidence. If you're watching, at the end of the show, I want you to think, 'I can make that'. That's what I'm trying to do _ teach and instill confidence."
The most rewarding feeling she gets from her job as a baking show host is knowing that she has inspired children. "They may never have tried it, but it's exciting for them. That's the beauty of children _ they don't have fear. They'll try anything. I've had a seven-year-old ask me about chocolate ganache. When I was that age, I watched TV and ate cookies!"
Olson loves inspiring children to bake and cook because she realises the great benefits it entails. As a person who grew up hanging out in the kitchen with her family, she knows that it's a great bonding activity.
"Baking is about that satisfaction. You don't bake to feed your family. You bake as a hobby, for that sense of fulfilment because you enjoy it. If you're going to bake, don't bake by yourself. Bring your kids in and bake with them. It's a good hobby, especially if you're trying to get your children to eat healthy.
"If you're cooking together, if they're in the kitchen with you, they are more inclined to eat what you make because they were a part of the process," said the Canadian chef, adding that the process of cooking can help stimulate children's brains. Looking at the recipe gets them doing easy maths questions, while manual work such as cracking eggs is good for hand-eye coordination.
Her inspiration often comes from whatever is right in front of her, and she explained that she likes to "work backwards". This means she will start with ingredients that sound delicious to create components within the recipe body to get a delicious result.
"That's where seasonality is important. When I see pumpkin everywhere, I think, 'How I can look at a pumpkin in a different way?'.
"Today I make pumpkin creme brulee tart, and tomorrow I might make a yeast bread. Constantly using that base ingredient but thinking about the basic techniques, I put the two together in a new way. Instead of saying I want to make something, I look at an ingredient and think how I am going to integrate it." Apart from baking, another passion of Olson's is travelling. And when she travels, she loves to eat. In fact, she said she and her husband pick destinations based on the food they want to try.
"This summer we went to the south of France to the city where they had great cassoulet. We went just to go to that city even though it's the wrong time of year to have a winter dish. I think it's critically important to travel to be a good chef. How else would you know or learn different styles, different preparations, and different aspects of ingredients?" she said. "As a chef, if I think I know everything, I should quit."
About the author
- Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Outlook Writer