Executive Pastry Chef at Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel, Anna Polyviou is shaking up the Sydney dessert scene.
Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to become a chef?
I’ve always been around food. My family is European so that’s all we do – we just eat. But I remember doing home economics in year 12 and saying to Mum, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’
How did you end up specialising in pastry?
I wanted to be a kitchen chef, but when I started working in the kitchen, I hated the smell and I hated working nights and coming home with cuts all over my hands. But when you work in a pastry kitchen, it smells nice and everything you make is pretty and petite.
What’s your favourite dessert to eat?
Mum used to make this Greek dessert at home called galaktoboureko. It’s this amazing custard with filo pastry, and she’d sprinkle cinnamon on the top. Yum!
What’s the one piece of equipment that you couldn’t live without?
My KitchenAid Stand Mixer. Seriously, I love it. I’ve got one at work and one at home that I call Candy.
What do you use it for?
Everything! I couldn’t do my job without it. I hate it when I see people whisking cream or egg whites with their hands. It’s just such a waste of time.
What do you find most satisfying about your job?
It’s the reactions I get from people. I get a lot of emails and Facebook messages from people saying they’re very inspired by what I’m doing. So, it’s nice to know that I’m making a difference.
What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
Coming up with ideas and making the food is the easy part. It’s all the other stuff that goes along with it, like keeping the kitchen clean and writing menus to a deadline, that’s difficult. And, I’ve got 10 pastry chefs, which means managing 10 people with 10 different personalities.
You worked in Paris with famed French pastry chef Pierre Hermé. What was that like?
Well, I won a competition and the prize was going to work with him so that’s how I ended up there. On my first day he walked in and asked, “So, you have some of my books?” and I said, “No.” He turned around and stormed out the door! But I did learn a lot from him in the end.
What sort of things did you learn from Pierre?
I think it was the style of making clean, sharp desserts.
What’s your favourite thing to make?
Anything with chocolate in it. It’s really fun to work with and you can be really creative with it.
You’re one of Australia’s most talked-about pastry chefs. Why do you think you’ve sparked such interest?
I just try to make things funky and fun. And I use a lot of gimmicks, like using test tubes on a dessert for presentation. For Christmas I used the recipe for gingerbread men but instead of baking them in the traditional shape I turned them into little kicking ginger ninjas. Plus, I’ve got a mohawk. People love the idea of this cutting edge girl working in a five-star establishment.
My KitchenAid Stand Mixer
“I’ve got a KitchenAid Stand Mixer at home that I call Candy. She’s bright red and I love her. Sometimes I think my partner gets jealous of how much I love her.”
“I’ve used KitchenAid from the start of my apprenticeship and still do now. I’ve tried using other equipment but nothing compares.”
Image source: Network Ten supplied
Interview by Amelia Saw
This article first appeared in Flavour: The Peter McInnes Magazine, Autumn 2014