Report by Anna Hobbs
Anna Olson, Canada’s baking sweetheart, is a professionally trained chef and pastry chef, author of eight bestselling cookbooks, and host of “Bake with Anna Olson” on Food Network Canada. Through her TV shows, she has earned a loyal following in more than 190 countries. Her latest cookbook Set for the Holidays with Anna Olson features the foods from her kitchen that “bring comfort and joy.” She and her husband, Michael Olson, who is also a chef, live in Ontario and are world travellers. Vacay.ca sat down with Anna to hear about some of those travels.
Vacay.ca: Where are you travelling these days?
Anna Olson: Right now, I am on a book tour, travelling, for several weeks, from Montreal to Vancouver to promote Set for the Holidays. This summer I found my way to Spain for work with a Spanish TV network. Then Michael and I went to the southwest of France for holidays. More recently, we hosted a culinary trip to Italy, which was delicious every step of the way. Travel for us is always about food.
Vacay.ca: Is there one destination that is particularly close to your heart?
A.O.: Southwest France and the little town of Sommieres. It’s a historic town between Nimes and Montpellier. And it is the only vacation destination that we have visited a second time. I love the serenity and the ease of enjoying every day as it comes. There’s really a work-to-live outlook here and an inherent passion for food and enjoying food together. We rent a small place so we can live like the locals. We shop at a market every day. Usually we have lunch at a neighbourhood restaurant and come home to cook dinner.
Vacay.ca: How do you decide where to stay?
A.O.: I like to mix “stay in a hotel” with “play the part of a local.” We have had several trips to Argentina recently and after a long flight, I like to stay in a hotel to be looked after and cared for until I’m over jet lag. And then we move on to our own little rental.
Vacay.ca: What’s your favourite foodie destination?
A.O.: The place I’ve most recently visited. We’re still recovering from all the good Italian food we had on our last trip. Without even realizing it, the destination always tends to influence our day-to-day cooking when we return.
Vacay.ca: Who cooks when you are at home?
A.O.: We both do. And because we each worked in a restaurant before we were married, the ground rules were already established. So it just happens.
Vacay.ca: Apart from food, what do you shop for in a foreign country?
A.O.: Unless there’s a really interesting story, we don’t buy souvenirs. But I am always on the lookout for fine linens for my dining-room table. I have come home with beautiful linens in France, Portugal and Vietnam.
Vacay.ca: What’s the best thing about travel for you?
A.O.: The people. Even though we choose the destination for the food, it’s getting to know the people we meet that make it so meaningful. It could be the bartender at the tapas bar, or the local baker, or other travellers.
Vacay.ca: What do you most look forward to when you return home?
A.O.: Recreating the meals we enjoyed and reliving the memories.
Vacay.ca: What’s on your bucket list?
A.O.: I don’t have one because I don’t want to feel restricted by a list. There is so much of the world still to see. I would like to go to Patagonia, for the adventure. And Japan because Michael coached hockey there after high school and worked in a restaurant in his spare time. That’s when he decided he wanted to be a chef. He has never been back and I’m eager to see his reaction 35 years later.