She's not just a pretty face who can bake a mean pie. Anna Olson is a TV personality, a cookbook author, an acclaimed Pastry Chef, a champion of local food and an entrepreneur. She currently hosts Fresh with Anna Olson on Food Network Canada, a show that allows her to come up with unique recipes inspired by local, seasonal food. Based in the Niagara area, Anna also shares ownership of Olson Foods & Bakery with her husband, Chef Michael Olson. Amid recipe testing, guesting on CityLine and running with the Olympic torch, Anna made time to answer 5 Questions for After the Harvest:
After the Harvest (ATH): What ingredients are currently inspiring you for new recipes?
Anna Olson (AO): I am such a seasonally motivated cook, so I am looking at hearty, wintry ingredients – I’m making borscht for dinner (but I’ll document it, as I don’t have a borscht recipe in print yet) and I’ll probably make a fresh bread to serve with it (a hearty Scandinavian rye). The challenge with actual recipe development is that sometimes you have to work out of season – I am now being asked to write recipes for summer and fall, but it’s hard to find a tasty (or affordable) peach or a ripe tomato!
I’m also deep into some new baking recipes, and playing with different grains and flours – spelt, coconut flour, chickpea flour etc.
ATH: What is your earliest food memory?
AO: I think my first food memory might be of birthday cupcakes, each topped with a plastic ballerina (but this might be triggered more from childhood photos than an actual memory). I do remember, though, watching Jiffy Pop popcorn being made on the stove, and being fascinated by the giant foil dome rising (I have always had a weakness for popcorn, extra butter please!)
ATH: I noticed that you have an upcoming trip planned for France -- can you tell us more about that?
AO: Believe it or not, I have never been to the south of France. This culinary exploration will find us (a nice intimate group) perusing the farmers’ market, doing cooking classes and eating, Eating, EATING up all that Provence and Paris has to offer. It’s a ladies’ trip (sorry, boys – we’ll catch you on the next one), and it’s a great opportunity to travel with friends or family - I hope to bring my Mom with me. I think a ladies’ trip will make us less inhibited to be ourselves – laugh like crazy, shop whenever we want and just feel untethered.
ATH: What is one of your favourite food and drink pairings?
AO: I am a nut for Rieslings and Pinot Gris – wines typical of Alsace and are also exceptionally made here in the Niagara region. I find these crisp, un-oaked styles make for some fantastic pairings in unexpected ways – they match with light dishes like grilled fish served with citrus, but one of my favourites is a simple onion, bacon and sour cream tart – YUM!
ATH: It must be fun for you to be married to someone as passionate about food as you are. What do you and your husband usually cook for each other at home? Do you collaborate on dishes?
AO: It’s rare to find a moment when Michael & I aren't talking about food – it is truly a consuming passion for us. We are definitely cooperative cooks, not competitive and we get creative in the kitchen all the time – we help spur each other on with thoughts and ideas, but we also know how to laugh and not take things so seriously – some of the best recipes happen by accident.
ATH: In the Niagara area there must be so much opportunity for locally grown ingredients -- can you tell us about a memorable experience you had while visiting a farm or interacting with local farmers or producers?
AO: I've been very fortunate that taping Fresh has allowed me to share my connections and relationships with growers and producers with the world. I do remember one occasion (not part of the TV series) stopping by our local butchers, Hommer’s, to pick something up for dinner on our way back from a luncheon. I was quite dressed up, but Hommer was so excited to show us some new prime sides of beef he just got in, that he had to tour us through his meat locker. I was happy to get a first-hand look at what sets a prime grade from a AAA, but there I was in a pretty yellow coat dodging sides of beef in the fridge as we were getting our lesson!
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the life of Anna Olson, Canada's culinary girl next door who has a clear passion for fresh, seasonal ingredients! Check Food Network Canada for the next episode of Fresh, or join Anna on her website for more information about when and where you can catch her next. Many thanks, Anna for your time and for sharing your knowledge and passion with us!
*All photos provided by Anna Olson, courtesy of "Fresh with Anna Olson" Cookbook, Whitecap Publishing 2009.
*5 Questions became 6 this time! So much to chat about...