Celebrity chef Anna Olson travels across the globe to find new culinary inspirations, writes Tahir Alhamzah
LISTENING to Anna Olson explain how her trips to Southeast Asia remind her there are still so many things to discover and learn, reminds me of the Malay proverb: Ikut resmi padi, makin berisi makin tunduk (Imitate the rice stalk, it bends lower when laden with ripening grains).
“Despite being a chef and a baker for 20 years, it is humbling to find out from my travels that I don’t know everything,” says the American-born chef who now lives in Welland, in the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada.
Olson, 48, is recognised internationally for TV culinary programmes such as Bake With Anna Olson, Sugar, and Fresh With Anna Olson, all previously aired on the Asian Food Channel (Astro channel 703).
She has also written a slew of cookbooks and opened several shops selling food. She has a new cooking show, Inspired With Anna Olson, which airs Fridays at 9pm.
The 10 episodes feature her unforgettable culinary journeys, from street food stalls to high-end restaurants. She finds out the secrets behind Asia’s best-loved signature dishes and then adapts the techniques, ingredients and flavours to create dishes inspired by her travels.
VARIED AND INTENSE
The first of Olson’s two-part visit here showcases the best of local dishes with the help of Food Hero 2015 winner, Ili Sulaiman.
These include Nasi Lemak Bungkus, Pulut Hitam and Sambal Belacan.
“I cannot be teaching you how to make all these. How can I replicate these in my kitchen and show you? You’re the expert on how to make them. Copying is copying, there are no two ways about it,” she says.
She places emphasis on respecting techniques, ingredients, and the people she learns from.
After spending her time with Ili, she came up with Shrimp And Coconut Risotto, using coconut milk, that most important ingredient in a lot of Asian cuisine, especially Malay dishes.
“The quality of coconut here is excellent, something I can never find back home,” says Olson, who says coconut is her favourite ingredient from here.
She has also come up with her own take on our favourite condiment, sambal, with Pickled Jalapeno Salsa (Episode 9).
In the final episode, she further explores our diverse cuisine with Chef Wan as he goes back to his roots with his grandmother’s Nyonya Laksa recipe. The episode starts with a trip to the local market to buy the freshest produce for the dish.
Olson then prepares a Chilli Grilled Shrimp & Noodle Salad with a Malaysian-style spiced dressing using a mortar and pestle.
She also samples delicious street food such as Onde Onde and Epok Epok. Inspired by these one-bite wonders, she prepares Coconut Mini Doughnuts and a Curried Herbed Lentil and Sweet Potato Pastry Pocket.
“Of course, I made the mistake every foreigner makes when eating Onde Onde for the first time,” says Anna, laughing as she recalls taking a dainty bite of the green dumpling instead of popping it whole into her mouth.
“I’m so grateful to AFC viewers for their support over the years. The making of this show has been a phenomenal experience which has deepened my respect for Asia’s diverse and deeply-rooted cultures.
“This is my opportunity to connect by sharing my sense of appreciation and wonder at the new dishes I’ve been able to explore in so many countries. The flavours are so varied and intense, yet at the same time, so heartwarming. I hope viewers enjoy the show as much as I have had, making it,” she says.
Inspired With Anna Olson airs every Friday at 9pm on AFC (Astro channel 703)