Food Vancouver Select Guide: Interview with Anna Olson
In this edition, the Food Vancouver Select Guide features an interview with Anna Olson, host of the Food TV series Fresh with Anna Olson. She is also well known for her earlier TV hit show Sugar. Born in Atlanta, Georgia Anna’s parents immigrated to Toronto where she grew up. She has appeared in television advertisements for Splenda and Kitchen Aid appliances as well as in commercials for Pillsbury Christmas cookies. Anna will be appearing at the West Coast Christmas Show 2009 in Abbotsford, B.C.
FV – What are you most looking forward to at the West Coast Christmas Show?
AO – I’ve never been to Abbotsford before but am very much looking forward to it. I’m most excited about sharing the holiday spirit because it’s a contagious one. I’ll be in Alberta doing Christmas in November which is the same sort of Christmas show - with lots of cooking demonstrations. That really charges me up for the holidays so when I arrive a week and a half later in Abbotsford I’ll be all fired up; I really will be trying to get people comfortable, relaxed and happy – so they can do the things they love; enjoy the people they’re with but also share some of the tradition and cooking is such a big part of being relaxed.
FV – Your idea of a perfect Sunday dinner?
AO – Depends on the time of year – once grilling season ends it’s all about the Sunday roast. Roasted chicken, roast beef – it doesn’t have to be a prime rib roast – it can be a top round or top sirloin pork loin. I just love the idea of a roast – it’s actually ‘fast’ food because it doesn’t take long to get ready – but the fact that you have to be home long enough to roast it is part of appreciating Sunday supper – part of the slow food movement – where you prepare it together with your family members or close friends and then sitting down to eat, taking your time to eat. It’s not just about the food on your plate but knowing where it came from, enjoying the company.
FV - Any tips for the 1st time nervous cook hosting a dinner party?
AO - Don’t go for main courses. Trust a good roast. I recommend roasts for dinner when you are entertaining – a simple roast is the easiest way to go when having friends over because the hard part’s done. You can then just focus on the other little details that make the evening special. If you’re new to the world of roasting read up on it – invest in a good meat thermometer and set your timer to the thermometer. If you’re going to spend money on a prime rib roast get a good quality thermometer. For the hostess, the challenges of entertaining are numerous – you’re the coat check person, the host, the cook, the bartender, even the therapist sometimes! You’re also responsible for cooking a good meal – there’s a lot going on so you need the best tools.
FV - Staying in the holiday season spirit is there any particular food ingredient you favor– something you love to use as often as you can.
AO – In the savory world I’d have to say caramelized onions – it’s sort of my crutch – because it’s such a flavor holder. If I’m going to caramelize 1 onion I might as well do 5 – they keep in the fridge or freezer. If you make gravy that’s too thin or too flat tasting or roast squash that tastes plain with no flavor, just add some caramelized onions – it really wakes up the dish. In the sweet world – my world of baking - I can’t live without pure vanilla extract- if you’re going to use one have a good quality Madagascar vanilla extract. You’re spending a lot of money on butter, sugar and other baking ingredients you need the best vanilla – you don’t want to ruin the flavor with cheap flavoring.
FV - Are you a sweet or savory person?
AO - You know what? I’m a moody person – I mean in a good way – It depends on my mood. My new season is being filmed out of my home – my kitchen is my set – I’m a true 3 pm snacker. I find myself asking at 3 pm Oh what’s it gonna be today sweet or savory? I’m not the kind to sit down with a tub of ice cream. Some days it’s a piece of cheese other days a piece of chocolate.
FV - Where do you draw much of your inspiration from for your show, cookbooks, recipes?
AO – I ‘collect’ inspiration…I collect pots and pans…my husband is a chef so the 2 of us have quite a collection! We also bounce ideas off each other. I couldn’t do as much as I do without having him as my sounding board. I get ideas from everything…from travel, day-to-day life, and farmers markets, even from deadlines!
FV - You took the roundabout path to cooking…how did that happen?
AO – It’s a long story….I grew up loving cooking but didn’t initially choose the cooking path – it wasn’t the option at the time. I took Political Science at University – I was the designated house cook when I was at University! I then went into banking for a couple of years…I was content but not happy. It was at that time that I noticed that all I lived for was cooking. So, I dropped it all and started cooking. I live to cook! You raise the bar each time you cook something. You’re your own worst critic – but at the same time when it comes to cooking it’s a gesture of love and respect – love for the people you are cooking for – respect for the ingredients used in the dish.
FV - Any major cooking faux pas?
AO - Oh – my very first Christmas dinner, I’d cooked turkey with cranberries, stuffing, gravy and all the trimmings and made my very first pumpkin pie. I was so proud of it – the flaky crust, the perfect filling…then, as I was about to bring it to the table I realized I’d forgotten to add sugar to the recipe! So it became just a plain old pumpkin savory! I ended up tying to poke holes in the pie and pour maple syrup in it! Part of my job as a TV host is not just to tell you how to do it but to share the tales …Oh I’ve been there- I’ve over caramelized the brown sugar, I’ve overcooked the prime rib roast. I’m here to give you the tips and guide you through it. So if mistakes happen- they happen. I can laugh about it – so can you! Your family and friends will forgive you.
FV – Are you doing something new at the West Coast Christmas Show or will you stay traditional?
AO - I’ve decided that I’m going to be staying on the sweet side. I’ve been doing savory for a while. I enjoy being able to connect with people I haven’t had a chance to connect in a while so I thought: It’s holiday time lets share some sweet recipes. The holiday spirit has such benefits – where we all get together and share a meal. That’s where the memories are made. From my childhood I don’t remember opening presents so much; I remember the smells of Christmas dinner…that’s where so many memories come from. It’s about the joys of cooking.
To purchase tickets to see Anna Olson at the West Coast Christmas Show please click here: West Coast Christmas Show
by Sheila LoGuisto
Images supplied by Anna Olson
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