Anna Olson is one of Canada’s most esteemed chefs. She has hosted Food Network’s Bake with Anna Olson, Fresh with Anna Olson, and Sugar and written ten successful cookbooks. Her own love of baking began in childhood. Now, more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of Canadians are worried they are missing out on valuable family memories by not cooking and eating together, according to a recent omnibus survey commissioned by LG Electronics Canada. They teamed up with Anna Olson on the LG Kitchen Memory Rescue campaign to inspire Canadians to cook together more and make meaningful memories. We had the chance to speak with Anna about the partnership and her own cooking memories.
Our readers always like to hear someone’s story from the beginning. How did you become a pastry chef? Was it difficult to transition from the corporate world into the kitchen?
I think that a lot of people who love to bake or cook usually have an influencer in their life. I grew up baking and my grandmother was my bake influence. It was her way to communicate and express her love. I was just drawn to the kitchen at that time, more than anyone else in my family was. I spent the time when I was really little baking with her and that became an after school activity as I was getting older. It was my stress reliever when I was in university.
When I made it into the banking world it was very stressful because I knew I wasn’t where I should be and I didn’t understand why I wasn’t clicking with the business. Then, I had what I nicknamed my muffin epiphany. I was up at 2am baking banana muffins because I couldn’t sleep and I knew it was the only thing that was going to relax me. It was in that moment, as I was bleary eyed, staring at these muffins, that I realized that this is what makes me happy. It took a little coordinating but once I had that moment, it was as quick as three months and I was out of the corporate world and enrolled in cooking school and I haven’t looked back.
Baking can take as much discipline as an office job, because it is so precise. What are your thoughts on baking versus cooking?
There is that trust factor that is different than with cooking. When you cook, you can tweak as you go and add a little bit of this or that. When you bake a cake or anything batter or dough based, once you have put it into the oven, you have relinquished control. The oven is the one in charge; you are no longer hands on. That’s why having the right tool is very important and your oven becomes your best friend. When I develop recipes, the baking ones take twice as long or longer than the cooking ones.
According to the survey commissioned by LG Electronics Canada, 72% of Canadians agree that aromas from family recipes bring back memorable family moments. What are the recipes that bring you back to some of your happiest memories?
I think memories and food aromas are very closely tied together. Cinnamon is one of those aromas that brings me back to being a kid. My Mom was a big pie maker and she would make delicious apple pies in the fall and strawberry-rhubarb pies in the spring. It was my grandmother who made the yeast breads, so cinnamon buns totally bring me back to a positive food memory. I have taken this combination of my grandmother’s cinnamon buns with my Mom’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and put them together to modernize and personalize it a bit. Adding fresh fruit to cinnamon buns is what I like to do to adapt to the seasons, put my little twist on it, but give me that memory connection to my family and to being a kid.
How did the partnership with LG Electronics Canada come about?
I’m thrilled to be part of this campaign and we were having this conversation about kitchen memories and kitchen memory rescue. We were aligned in our thinking that the message to get out there was to look back at these moments and memories. I associate food and food aromas with the sense of bonding because it is so much a part of my life. It’s also a struggle because ¾ of Canadians are worried that they are missing out on these opportunities but the intention is there. That is where the alignment happened – we wanted to connect together to inspire and motivate, combining the past, present and future.
You take these old recipes that our grandmothers used to make and maybe they are not precise. Maybe you mix it until it’s right and cook it until it’s done, but let’s use modern technology with all of these advantageous features like the LG Probake Oven that accelerates your cooking time by 20% so that we can get to the memory moment. The food memories for me are not always the big event like weddings or Christmas dinners. It’s in the little moments, like a Saturday morning later in the season when tomatoes are out, bringing them home from the Farmer’s Market. You don’t have to make a three day project out of making chili sauce but you can do it in under an hour while those tomatoes are still warm from having just been picked. It gives us a good connection to the food that we are eating and the people that we are sharing it with. Then, it becomes a memory that you live over and over again when you open up that chili sauce.
In the Kitchen Memory Rescue video with Ingrid, you mention that taste and memories are intertwined. In many families, recipes are hard to recreate. Our mothers and grandmothers just seemed to know what to do by taste and feel versus precise measurements. How can we replicate those recipes, and memories without those details?
Our grandmothers didn’t start out baking that magically all by themselves. It was a process for them too, so we have to give ourselves a break. Even when I’m making a recipe, I know that the first time I make it, it’s the recipe’s audition. I need to feel each step of the process. How the ingredients are combining, what it looks like going into the oven, how it behaves when it comes out. You need to not just blindly try to recreate the recipe, but inject your own heart and spirit into it.
When we go on vacation, food tastes better. It may be because of the ingredients themselves and the combination of flavours, but it is also the mindset that we are in. It’s the same when you are creating or baking the recipe – just being in the moment. It’s reliving the moment and owning it as part of a new moment that we are creating right now. It takes a little tweaking and practice and I know with Ingrid, it was about respecting the recipe ratio, but I was trying to speak to the balance. She liked using a lot of jalapeno peppers and that was very personal to her. I say latch onto those things that you know are just yours but leave yourself wriggle-room because ingredients do change. If you have a Scottish grandmother who made shortbread, remember that the butter is different here, so we are going to have to allow a little bit of space. This is where technology helps us. With the right tools and appliances, we can enjoy the journey as we rescue these recipes.
You are very busy with your career between TV appearances, writing cookbooks and more. How do you make time for baking and home cooked meals?
That is the big question, isn’t it? We all have the will, but how do we get there? Part of partnering with LG Electronics on the Memory Rescue is reaching my goal to inspire people to try and make time. You have to look at your habits. There are quiet moments somewhere and we have to just take a breath and find out when those moments are. Even if it means rolling out of bed just a half an hour earlier on a Saturday morning to go visit a Farmer’s Market or even a nearby grocery store. Pay attention to where the ingredients are from, what’s in season and make an activity out of making breakfast together.
Take the cinnamon buns that I spoke about; you can actually prepare them the night before. You can pop them in the fridge overnight and in the morning, you take the cold pan from the fridge and put it in the oven. The LG Probake Oven has a proofing function so you just hit it for 30 minutes and you don’t even need to be in the kitchen. With the app, you can set the oven to 350 degrees and it adapts to the convection function. You can be somewhere else in the house and you are going to smell those cinnamon buns baking. Without a lot of work, you can wake up to cinnamon buns and not have to be up at 5am to make them.
To me, part of shopping together, motivates us to be together in the kitchen. It also helps us make better food decisions. It can be a challenge with kids to get them to eat their vegetables, but if they are part of the process, in shopping and cutting and assembling something. With my Miso Cod Parchment Parcels, you can change the vegetables to what is in season, but everyone can make their own little parcel, you bake it and in under 20 minutes they are cooked and you are eating this beautiful, fresh, wholesome steamed fish dish. It could easily be all vegetables if you wanted, you can easily switch it up. That leaves you room for the sticky bun the next day. It’s a mindset.
What local ingredients would we find in your refrigerator right now?
I did make a trip to the Farmer’s Market and I was thrilled to see that full (summer) season has kicked off. When you buy from someone who has the brown under their finger tips from picking strawberries to digging up potatoes, it gives you an amazing connection to the ingredients to get into the kitchen and cook and share. I always buy too much which is why I rely on a good refrigerator to keep my ingredients fresh. I have multiple lettuces – red leaf lettuce, red Boston, green Boston. I have a kilo and a half of fresh asparagus. This time of year, I eat asparagus every day because it’s in season and so sweet. By the end of the season, I’m so sick of it that I don’t need to look at it until it comes back the next year. I have radishes. I saw the first garden peas out, I haven’t gotten around to shucking them yet, but I make a snack out of those. Rhubarb, strawberries, chive blossoms and fresh thyme available and eggs so that’s what I have right now.
Being Canadian is so much a part of your identity as a chef and baker. What do you think our nation’s biggest contribution to the culinary world has been?
Local and seasonal ingredients are very Canadian. You can shop locally and cook globally. We love to toss around “what is Canadian cuisine?” Canadian cuisine is all cuisine; it means taking those ingredients that are sourced here and applying them to your cultural heritage. Going back to the Kitchen Memory Rescue, part of the fear noted in the survey is that we may lose some of our cultural heritage by relying on pre-pared foods too much. If we can reach back to that dish, side dish or condiment that we grew up with and recreate that, it does more for us than just the dish itself. It’s about preserving our heritage. My background is Slovac, so I have sour cream in my veins, but baking some of my grandmother’s recipes depending on the time of year, is just so important to me in terms of preserving that memory and then paying it forward and sharing it with future generations.
I feel fortunate that I have been able to travel a lot to speak about food, and I have spent a fair bit of time in South East Asia. People there would ask me what is considered Canadian cooking? In Singapore, I can’t just say that I’m in the mood for Canadian food, like you can with any other culture. We cook with the seasons and our moods more. In summer, it wouldn’t cross our minds to make a pot roast because it’s too hot. Eating carrots and turnips in a thick, heavy sauce is not what we are in the mood for. I want fresh salads, and colourful, bright and crunch produce because that’s summer cooking for us. To cook with the seasons is very Canadian. It is truly unique that we have these four distinct seasons and four different ways of cooking.
Thinking more about you what is your favourite thing to bake?
I move with the seasons. Right now, I’m all about strawberries and rhubarb. This is where I like to take a base recipe and make the pie. I also love that there is a season ahead to look forward to. I’m going to go crazy with summer desserts all season long, but you know that first brisk evening or weekend that you get in September? All of a sudden, I am going to close the windows and I’m going to bake an apple pie. That’s when I crave roasted chicken and in it goes and you want that convection oven browning that skin so that you can smell it if you baste it. I consider roasted chicken fast food because you put it in the oven and then you go do everything else for 90 minutes and then the chicken is done and it’s perfect. To me, that is more convenience than anything else because you are using the tool, but filling the house with the aromas. You can tell I get a little excited about it [laughs].
The value in getting us to the point where we want to make the food is having the right tools so that we can get onto the activity of making the memories. This is where LG has come in with innovations to their appliances that meet our needs. The survey has said it, the Canada Food Guide has said so – we are on the cusp of making a wonderful shift and cooking and creating the next generation’s food memories.
For more information on LG’s Home Appliances visit their website