KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 26 — Here are some things you probably don’t know about TV celebrity chef Anna Olson: known for “Bake with Anna Olson”, “Sugar” and “Fresh with Anna Olson” on the Asian Food Channel, she prefers savoury to sweet even though she is so often associated with desserts AND her absolute favourite thing to eat is beef. In all forms.
She prefers serving beef for Christmas rather than turkey. Also, during Thanksgiving, she would serve seafood instead of turkey.
Olson also makes kaya from scratch back home in Canada!
Yes, she was talking to a bunch of us media people in Kuala Lumpur recently at a cooking demonstration at the Berjaya University College of Hospitality called “Fresh Flavours with Anna Olson”.
And she was charming us with all sorts of snippets about cooking, baking, what does on behind the scenes of her show and so on.
Having just landed in Malaysia an hour before the demonstration, she showed no signs of jet lag but was engaging and bubbly throughout the entire time.
“This is my third visit to Malaysia and there are so many things I want to see, eat and buy for everyone back home,” she said enthusiastically as she greeted us. “I’m looking forward to the spicy flavours in Malaysia such as nasi lemak and local desserts such as kuih lapis.”
Her schedule is packed to the brim this time around: back-to-back cooking demonstrations, sampling dinners as well as classes for the Berjaya University College of Hospitality students. She then leaves for Singapore where it is the same thing again, more cooking demonstrations, sampling dinners. Yes, it’s a bit of a rinse and repeat.
So what is it like cooking for work and cooking for home?
“For work, it is all about testing and tasting. It is all very analytical. But when I cook at home, it is more relaxing. My mind switches off after working hours so there is less thinking involved when I cook for home,” said Olson.
At the cooking demonstration, she taught us how to make Tourtiere, a French Canadian Beef Pie that is similar to the British steak and kidney pie, and Pumpkin Creme Brulee Tarts for dessert.
“The Tourtiere is such a familiar smell during Christmas and holiday season. Like every Nyonya recipe, each family has a secret ingredient for their Tourtiere. So, now you know how my house smells like during the holiday season,” Olson said as she prepared the hearty dish that is best served with a side salad.
Watching Olson cook reminded me of science class at school because she explained the science behind the baking. She said that although she was first trained as a savoury chef, it was only when she evolved as a pastry chef that her cooking improved because “it’s all about science” when it comes to baking.
So you will understand why certain things don’t turn out right even though you followed the recipe down to the T, for example, because of the temperature of your oven or how long you left the dough out on your worktable.
During the cooking demonstration, Olson told us about the funny mishaps that happen behind the scenes during the shooting of her TV shows.
One time she was making a lemon tart for the show and she forgot to put in the lemons while talking. Luckily, her producer noticed and stopped the shoot.
“Imagine a lemon tart dish without lemons! And that’s the most important ingredient,” laughed Olson. “Also, don’t try to talk while cutting at the same time,” she warned.
What you see on TV in a cooking show is also very different from reality. The cooking show may be an hour long but the truth is, filming can take from 12 to 15 hours for one episode of Olson’s show.
Another “secret” about cooking shows is that it may take up to 16 meringue pies to shoot a show about making one meringue pie!
That’s why within seconds after kneading the dough, the chef can take a baked product out of the oven already or the meat pie filling that takes longer to cook over the stove is ready immediately.
“Usually, the extra food will be given to my crew first and the rest of it will be donated to charity,” said Olson.
Do you know how the time lapse video promo for her “Bake with Anna Olson” show was filmed? Olson said that the entire set was dark save for a spotlight in the middle where the pastries are baked. A camera was left there, filming the entire process so you can see the pastries rising up.
What we don’t know is that the initial footage had to be scrapped because there were reflections of people walking around throughout the day on the glass of the oven door!
“Taping is the retirement of a recipe actually because it takes many months to prepare, taste and test the recipe before we film it,” said Olson.
After the cooking demonstration, we had a chance to get to know Olson a little better during a roundtable session. Christmas dinner is a very peaceful and quiet affair for Olson and her family as there would only be six to eight people to cook for. It is a nice break from the hectic schedule that is her normal work day.
“We would have multiple desserts for Christmas and some of my favourites are sticky toffee pudding and Mont Blanc tart with white chocolate cream on top,” said Olson.
She is seasonally motivated when it comes to her favourite food, so she would crave different types of food depending on the season but if she were to choose, beef in all forms is her favourite.
She also loves collecting new and vintage Le Creuset pots and pans and KitchenAid mixers in different colours.
One of her must-haves when she visits Malaysia is coconut. It is the one thing she cannot get fresh back home.
But she is no fan of durian. “Durian is … interesting. I didn’t like it fresh. It was an assault on the senses,” Olson said hesitantly. Then someone recommended that she taste durian in other forms, such as in ice-creams or in cakes with chocolate.
At the end of the roundtable session, Olson asked us for food recommendations in Malaysia and she jotted them down on a piece of paper. This is probably the first time I’ve seen an interviewee asking the interviewer questions. Then again, this is not any other interviewee. This is Anna Olson.
Catch Anna Olson on her brand new programme, “Bake with Anna Olson” on the Asian Food Channel (AFC) Astro Channel 703 on Tuesdays, 9pm.
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