“THE last time I was here in Malaysia, I took home some very valuable tips and tried a few recipes out on my own. I even attempted making my own kaya,” said Asian Food Channel's celebrity chef Anna Olson.
Olson, who is well-known for her TV shows such asSugar, Fresh with Anna Olson and the recently premiered Bake with Anna Olson, was in Kuala Lumpur for an exclusive baking demonstration held for the members of the media as well as students at the Berjaya University College of Hospitality.
After only landing in Malaysia in just under an hour, Olson immediately got into character and began her demonstration as if she'd already been in the kitchen for hours.
Looking well-rested and radiant, she awed the crowd with her upbeat and bubbly personality and exchanged simple pleasantries while cooking up two very scrumptious dishes.
With Christmas just around the corner, Olson presented two wholesome pastry dishes, perfect for the upcoming festivities. They were Tourtiere (Traditional Christmas Beef Pie) and Pumpkin Crème Brulee Tart.
While she worked on her recipes, Anna chatted with the audience saying, “I simply cannot wait to get my hands on some nasi lemak and the kuih lapis for dessert.”
Explaining her love for coconut, she continued, “After trying various food products with coconut in them, I'm now quite accustomed to using coconut in my cooking back home and even 'gula Melaka.'
“I simply love the taste of coconut and the flavours,” she says.
“It's quite unfortunate though, because we don't get coconut fresh back home, so when I'm here I try everything that has coconut in it.”
After the demonstration, members of the media got an exclusive chance to get up close and personal with the charismatic chef.
Olson explains how she got into baking.
“I was originally trained as a savoury chef, but baking was where I truly learned to combine ingredients,” said Olson who finds true science in the art of baking.
“It involves a lot of mixing and matching of flavours and spices to find the right textures.
“And what I've learned is that your best senses when it comes to cooking in general, is the sense of touch. Once you get your fingers and hands into dough or a piece of meat, you can really tell the state it’s in and know when it's ready.”
Explaining her most favourite ingredient used when baking, which is vanilla, she says, “I like using vanilla as a base flavour. Vanilla works in the baking world the way salt works in the savoury world. It stands on its own, but it’s really there to push other flavours forward. It makes chocolate taste richer and it balances caramel,” explains Olson.
We asked what Christmas time was like for the talented chef, whose husband Michael is a huge part of her culinary life.
“Christmas for me is actually pretty quiet and peaceful. I have a small family. Michael, on the other hand, has got a bigger family, but they're all spread out around the world. So it's usually only six or eight of us during Christmas dinner.
“And I usually do specific recipes inspired by my grandmother during Christmas time. We would have multiple desserts, like sticky toffee pudding and Mont Blanc tart with white chocolate cream on top.
“So, my mum and I would get together and dig out all of my grandmother's recipes and make them together. We'll divide them up and freeze them, then take them out later at the right time.
“As for our mains, during Christmas time, we have beef as opposed to turkey. I'm not much of a turkey person. But I simply love beef. If I could have beef in everything, that'd be great!” Olson gigles.
“Beef is something very personal though. If we were to eat out, beef wouldn't be something I'd pick out of a menu. I'd rather do my own steaks at home. And Michael makes great steaks.”
Behind the scenes
“People ask me what happens behind the scene during my TV shows all the time,” she laughs.
“We've always got specific themes for each episode and the recipes are all done way before the camera starts to role.
“Each of the dishes had gone through several stages of trial and error and various experimenting. You've got to get the measurements right and the textures need to be even. It really is a very slow deliberate process before getting them good enough to go in front of the camera.
“So when I'm finally taping it in front of the camera, it's like I'm finally putting these recipes to rest, or retiring them once and for all, because this is the final stages. There's no testing anymore.
“When the cameras are rolling, that's about as real as it gets. There's no interruption. But as I talk and present in front of the camera, I can sometimes forget to add in the main ingredients that go into a recipe. And that's where my food producer comes in. She's got the recipes in her hands and she's there to remind me to actually use the limes when I'm making lime custard!” Olson jokes.
She also talked about what happens to all the leftover food prepared during her TV shows.
“The camera crew gets first dibs of anything of course, since they've got their eyes fixed through a camera lens the whole time starring at the food. And well, I have a lot of happy friends,” Olson says laughing again.
“But everything else, goes to a homeless shelter. Therefore, none of the food you see prepared on the show ever gets wasted.”
“I'm not much of a fast food fan, but if I had to chose, I'd say A&W! I love their onion rings and root beer. I'm also a big fan of theater popcorn with loads of butter. Those are a couple of my guilty pleasures.
“If I have takeout, or dine out, it will have to be sushi. I probably can make sushi at home, but I'd much rather leave it to the experts,” says the chef
“As for a homemade dessert, I rely on good old chocolate cake. I would opt to bake my own chocolate cake, as opposed to store bought ones.”
“As a child, I loved watching Julia Child. She was the queen. And as a kid my fascination was on table side cooking. Not setting fire to your table or meals, but flaming them up like how you would flambe crepe suzette.”
Catch Anna Olson on her brand new programme, “Bake with Anna Olson” on Astro Channel 703 on Tuesdays, 9pm.