When it comes to Canadian celebrity chefs, we challenge you to find one more charismatic and likable than Anna Olson.
As host of Food Network’s highly successful Bake with Anna Olson, author to six best-selling cook books and endorsement deals with the likes of Starbucks, KitchenAid and Home Hardware, Olson has managed to climb her way to the top of a male dominated industry, and has garnered a loyal following along the way.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Anna about her rise to the top of the television food chain before she arrives in Abbotsford this weekend for the West Coast Christmas Show.
What inspired you to become a pastry chef? Did you always see yourself baking professionally, let alone on television?
My original inspiration was my grandmother – she was an avid cook and loved baking. It was her passion and sense of sharing that inspired me, and it was from her that I can to appreciate the recipes of our heritage (Slovak) and the value of honouring these traditions during the holiday season. My career path was certainly a winding one, and as a youth I had no sense that I could/would be a professional chef, let alone on TV. I studied Political Science in university and worked in baking for a few years before I had an epiphany and dropped everything to enrol in cooking school. The rest is history.
What are some of your personal favorite things to bake during the holidays?
I always have to make my Grandma’s Potato “Perogy” Bread – it’s a soft focaccia-like dough that is rolled out, filled with a cheddar mashed potato filling and folded in half to look like a giant perogy, then baked – hello carbs! For Michael, I make a Vinetarta, a prune & cardamom layered shortbread torte (7 layers!) that was a holiday tradition for him growing up in the Prairies in a Canadian-Icelandic household.
What are some of your favorite bakeries you like in your city?
I live in a smaller city (and I tend to do my own baking, as you might expect), but I’d like to give a shout to Above & Beyond Cupcakes. It’s a great little spot run by two young and enthusiastic young women and they make everything from scratch and are really doing well.
If you could offer any advice to aspiring pastry chefs currently in school, what would it be?
My advice for a chef just coming out of school is to spend a year working at a large, high end hotel property such as a Fairmont, Four Seasons or other such hotel. Even if you don’t aspire to become a hotel chef, you will be able to experience ALL aspects of a kitchen within one setting: fine dining, banquets, casual dining, plus these hotels often have their own bakeries, butcheries and even confectioneries. Such employment provides solid training and establishes good work habits that future employers will recognize, plus these hotel chains also allow means to work at different properties, so global travel becomes an option.
Were there any challenges or hurdles you had to overcome in your journey as a chef?
There were no major hurdles, other than the usual trials of long hours and giving up a normal Monday-Friday 9-5 work schedule, and also challenging myself to understand that opportunity does not wait for convenience. Sometimes we have are heads down working and are so focused that we may miss an opportunity simply because it may be easier to say “no, I’m busy” than yes.
Don’t miss Anna at the Westcoast Christmas Show this Fri-Sat, November 22-23, 2013. Anna will be live on the Home For The Holidays Stage as she dishes out tips and baking ideas for your Holiday entertaining.