My Canada, 130/150: A culinary couple

Learning to properly slice onions and make cake with olive oil may not be everyone’s idea of the ultimate holiday, but it is mine.

A few years ago, I joined Canadian chefs Anna and Michael Olson on a tour to Barcelona that included cooking classes and other culinary adventures.

My first Olson encounter was many years earlier, when Michael was the head chef at Inn on the Twenty restaurant attached to the Cave Spring Winery in Jordan, Ontario. He was there from 1993 to 2001 and, back then, he was the celebrity of the pair, a pioneer of cooking with local ingredients and working with farmers; his sometimes-cornball sense of humour made him a great interview. In 1995, Anna Tomcik joined that restaurant staff. While born in the U.S., Anna was raised in Toronto and came back to Canada after culinary studies in Denver, Colorado. The two fell in love and married in 1999; they joke they first knew they were right for each other because he likes the crusty tops of muffins and she likes the soft, cakey bottoms.

In 2000, the pair published a cookbook of recipes from Inn on the Twenty; Since 2001, Michael has been a culinary professor at Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute and has worked on several projects with Anna, including another cookbook and a food shop (since closed) attached to one of the Niagara vineyards. Plus, of course, teaching and touring.

Anna has become the coast-to-coast-to-coast famous one: look for rankings of “most recognized chefs” in Canada and she’s always in the top three thanks to many years on the Food Network hosting shows such as Sugar, Fresh with Anna Olson, and Bake With Anna Olson. Her bio positions her brand as “Canada’s baking sweetheart” and states “she has earned a loyal following in over 190 countries and can now be watched on the Oh Yum YouTube Channel as well as on her latest series, Inspired with Anna Olson.”

130 Olsons
Chefs Anna Olson, left and Michael Olson, right with student Kelley in the middle. Photo: Mary Ogaki

She has written several cookbooks (usually themed to the TV shows) and has become a celebrity chef endorser for many companies, including Kitchen Aid and Home Hardware.

If you ever have a chance to travel on one of their infrequent celebrity chef tours, take it. The pair are very knowledgeable about wine as well as food, and have an unerring way of sussing out local restaurants with the best kitchens, away from tourism hub-bub. Plus, they seem to be genuinely nice people.

Because of that course, I stepped up my kitchen knife techniques a notch and now tackle onions and garlic with greater ease. We also learned to prepare a pile of Barcelona or Spanish-inspired dishes: paella, of course, but many tapas and, for dessert, one of the maybe 1,000 cakes in Anna’s sweet repertoire.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake with Steeped Citrus

Ingredients for cake

large egg
1 large egg white
1 ¼ cup sugar
⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons lemon zest (or orange zest)
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
Dash of salt

Ingredients for steeped citrus

2 navel oranges
2 tangerines
2 blood oranges, or grapefruit
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Method for cake

Preheat oven to 350 °F and grease and flour an eight-inch cake pan. Whisk egg, egg white, sugar, olive oil, milk and lemon or orange zest. In another bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to olive oil mixture and stir slowly just until blended. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan and serve at room temperature dusted with icing sugar and steeped citrus.

Method for steeped citrus

Remove peel, pith and membranes from oranges by lopping off the top and bottom of the orange with a serrated knife, and slicing down the sides of the orange on a cutting board. Using a paring knife, slice in between the membranes to loosen and pull out skin-free orange segments. Toss in a bowl with olive oil and serve spooned next to olive oil cake.

Main photo of Anna Olson and Kelley Teahen: Mary Ogaki

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