Family Food Fight judge Anna Polyviou's creations are straight out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory — who can forget that firecracker dessert?
As the Executive Chef at Sydney's exclusive Shangri-La Hotel, she continually dreams up colourful creations that make us drool (tip: don't look at her Instagram when you're hungry) and bakes cakes for A-listers like Kelly Rowland on the regular.
We caught up with Anna to talk learning to cook with her grandma, the ingredient she can't live without, why she decided to swap rapping for cooking and kitchen nightmares — which still happen when you're at the top of your game.
Did you always think you would be a chef?
No, I hoped to be a rapper and break dancer. Then I realised I just wanted to entertain. I knew I wanted to be a chef in year 12, and thankfully cooking has allowed me to entertain and make people happy.
Where did you learn to cook?
I started cooking from a young age with mum and my grandma at home and then I did my apprenticeship at Hotel Sofitel Melbourne, but it's a constant process. Even when I was working at KFC I learned about rotating food and coating chicken.
Do you ever make mistakes in the kitchen?
All the time, that's the only way you can learn. You need to learn to continue to grow and develop; some of the best ideas have come from mistakes.
What do you do if you make a mistake with a dish?
I see if I can bring it back and try to use it for something else. If I do make a mistake, I bring my team together so they don't do the same thing. I like to be open about it.
Do you have a favourite person to cook for?
I love cooking for my partner Casey, it seriously makes me happy. Not only to cook for her, but to sit down and eat together. It's one of life's true pleasures.
How does it feel when someone really loves something you've made?
That makes me sooooo happy. I love it. Whenever you receive a compliment in general it is a good thing. It motivates me to cook more and keep creating. It fires me up, every time I create something that people love.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere and anywhere! For example, I like taking classic dishes and twisting them into a modern version. My staff, social media, magazines and generally my environment also inspire me.
Have you always been creative?
Definitely! My mum is quite creative, she was good at sewing, and I was very good at drawing cartoons as a kid, but have lost the skill now. I am not great academically, but my creative side compensated for that.
What's your advice to wannabe chefs?
This campaign [Anna joined forces with Barbie on the Junior Executive Chef campaign in a bid to inspire girls to follow their passion for cooking and baking] is all about encouraging kids to believe in themselves and in their dreams, and to get more young women to aspire to become a chef.
When I was younger it was always a way that I expressed my creativity, but also gave me some of the best childhood moments with my mum and grandma, cooking up delicious creations!
Anna's top cooking tips? Have fun, start with the basics, experiment — not sure about a particular flavour combination? Try it out and see how it goes; it could be the next big thing! — mix it up and always lick the spoon!
Vanilla pods, because they have a beautiful aromas. You can use it for savoury and sweet, it gives food another essence.
Who do you look up to?
I look up to people who are around me, I don't tend to get excited about people I don't know. My Mum is a very important influence in my life. And Julie Sharp who I worked with in London, she inspired me, and couldn't eat dairy, and it was inspiring to see her create desserts without it. She won best Pastry Chef in the UK, so it proves that even with limitations in your life you can work around them to achieve whatever you want.
What's your favourite thing to cook for yourself?
Simple, fresh food with loads of veggies. I prefer seafood, so usually shellfish, like prawns. At work, I like to experiment and come up with talking point desserts.
Is there any food you really don't like?
I don't like baked beans. My mum used to make me eat them when I was younger, and I hate them. And I have to be in the mood for eggs. I had way too many when I was younger around Greek Easter!
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