Meeting Anna Olson
In my second year of university I was exclusively watching the Food Network on TV. In my “why” section, I talked about Michael Smith being a player in shaping the way I think about food. Another chef I really enjoyed watching was Anna Olson. The reason why I liked watching Anna Olson is because like Michael Smith, she would explain why things are done a certain way. That meant that I would actually take something away from watching her programs instead of just the realization that food can be made way better than I was making it.
I could tell from watching Anna Olson on TV was that her approach to food was similar to mine. She was constantly looking for why recipes were done a certain way, and why certain ingredients reacted with each other in the ways they did. I think this is a smart way to go about things because it allows for a deeper understanding of cooking. Only when this kind of knowledge is achieved can one be confident in being successful in letting their creative side run wild. Knowing the fundamentals allows one to understand what is likely to work and what is not likely to work.
What I did not know until two weeks ago, however, was that Anna was actually a Queen’s Alumna and that she was coming back to give a lecture. I decided to do some research. To my surprise, Anna studied politics and sociology and ended up with a job at a bank downtown Toronto after her undergrad. It was only after three years downtown that she realized that she needed to follow her passion. Her passion was baking. Similarly, I had worked at a bank for a summer. It did not take long before I realized that it wasn’t for me. I started to wonder what else I may have had in common with Anna Olson.
Luckily for me, a friend of mine brought to my attention that the Queen’s Student Alumni Association was holding a contest in which the prize was to have breakfast with Anna Olson and her husband Michael Olson. Even luckier for me, I was selected to be one of the contest winners!
On top of hearing her lecture on her culinary journey, I also got to speak with her in person about some of her experiences which might be similar to mine in the future. What I found most refreshing was her advice on keeping doors open. Growing up, I was encouraged to my options open but, at some point there were pressures on me to find out what I wanted to do in life. I remember in high school talking to my guidance counselor about course selection and what university program I should enroll in. I was convinced that what I took from grade 11 onwards would determine the outcome of my life indefinitely. I was confused and pretty stressed out at the time. I was, however, unable to really say with any certainty that I wanted to do one particular thing.
During Anna Olson’s lecture she spoke of Queen’s as a place where, for the first time, you could learn whatever you wanted, as much as you wanted. You were freer than you’ve ever been. I must say, I did not go into Queen’s expecting this, but it was definitely and particularly true in my case. I did not go into university with the objective of self discovery in mind, however, that is exactly what happened. I learned things about myself and the world that are not taught in classrooms. To me, Queen’s greatest contribution to my life will be the unique educational experience it offered outside of academia.
Speaking with Anna Olson was fantastic because she went to Queen’s, worked for a bank and then left it all to pursue her passion. She has had incredible success in the food industry and at first I thought I would be more interested in that. However, in the end, what interested me more was how she was able to make a living doing what she loves.