Known as the ‘punk princess’ of the pastry kitchen for her unique style and quirky food creations, Anna Polyviou sure does stand out from the crowd.
Originally from Melbourne, Anna Polyviou spent years abroad mastering the art of patisserie in London and Paris.
Returning to Australia just three years ago, she joined the pastry team at Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney and quickly put them on the map with her quirky creations, earning them the top gong for Best High Tea in Sydney.
Since then, Anna has exploded onto Australia television screens, making her MasterChef debut last year when she challenged three fearful contestants to recreate her graffiti-inspired classic carrot cake.
We spoke to the quirky pastry chef about her creations, her kitchen antics back at Shangri-La and what she has in store for us in the future!
You’re known as the ‘punk princess’ of the pastry kitchen. How did that all come about?
Well, Matt Preston announced that on MasterChef last year! All my friends were like “that’s an awesome name” and it’s carried on since then. Matt’s an awesome guy, so I think it’s pretty cool!
Do you feel like your unique style and personality shows through in your creations?
Absolutely! I always make sure that it’s playful, it’s fun and has that wow factor and gets everybody talking, just like my appearance. The key thing about what I do is just having fun and being innovative and creative.
You also like to incorporate street art into your desserts?
Well, I’m really into street art and I really love graffiti! When I think of street art, I think it has a lot to do with hip hop as well and rap and I really love that. There’s also the pop art aspect of it as well and it’s comical.
I hear you like to have a lot of fun in the Shangri-La kitchen. You even have your own personal DJ?
Yep, my DJ comes everywhere with me! Next week, we actually have a professional break dancer coming into the hotel to teach us some break dancing moves and skills. That’s going to be awesome!
We do allow people to play any tunes that they want too! Currently when I’m off on Sundays its musical day, where they do musicals and dancing. I can’t imagine what it is, but I have been told about it.
What inspires you to create new dishes?
I think social media is a really big influence these days, you know, you see something and you want to work with a certain product or do something similar, obviously not completely copy it but evolve and work on it.
It could be something like seasonal produce; I’m highly into Australian produce. I don’t like to go overseas for my produce for a couple of reasons, because it tastes better if it’s seasonal and local and also to support our local farmers.
It could also be something like reading a book, learning a new skill or technique or even one of the young chefs coming up and saying let’s try this and we’ll take it from there. It’s a team effort!
How did you start out in pastry?
Originally, I was a kitchen chef and was caught in a bit of trouble back in my apprenticeship days. I was actually going to lose my job.
Back in my apprenticeship years there used to be teams of four for competitions and one team was missing a pastry chef and they told me (teachers) they needed to put me in there and I didn’t really want to do it. I had too though. The choice was they were going to get rid of me completely or I did competition. So I did the competition.
After that I started going in on my days off, I stopped hiding as much and I found that I really loved doing pastry, the idea of it, the technique, the skills and the complete package of it. It all exploded from there!
Did you start out with traditional dishes before you added your own spin on things?
I was running before I could even crawl! I was a third year apprentice writing menus for a five star establishment. I was lucky enough to have worked under a lady called Julie Sharp who taught me a lot about the flavours, techniques and marrying flavours and it went from there.
I’ve always gone ahead and displayed what people know, but just gave a bit of my own twist to it.
You love pushing the boundaries. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever created?
The one thing that got people talking the most was my ants.
Yep. My friend has her own farm for edible bugs and she asked me if I wanted to use ants or cockroaches in a dish and so we started playing around with it. Eventually we put together a base cake, that was a recipe from one of my staff’s grandmas and we turned it into a modern product with ants. I think we called it ‘popping picnic gone wrong’, because you know how you always find ants in your picnic basket?
With native ants, when you bite into them they burst with a citrus flavour, so we did an orange and ant cake, but we did it very quirky like. We had a donut shape and we did a yoghurt and mango mousse with baby coriander and a few other components. People actually ended up eating it because of the way it looked and when they found out it was ants they freaked out. There were legs popping out of the creation which was a little bit scary!
What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to create?
I’ve always wanted to do a piñata of some sort! I’ve always wanted to hang a dessert and get a bat and whack it and all these creations come out of it. I haven’t actually had the time to do it or the idea how I would go about it.
I can just imagine the kids going absolutely crazy, the adults will go even crazier. It would be so much fun!
Where do you think the art of patisserie is heading?
I really hope more young people will come into it and older, it doesn’t matter what age group, and undertake the apprenticeship. A lot of people are actually skipping that and it’s definitely not a good thing. I think it’s really good to take your time learning, developing and learning from your peers, I think that’s very important instead of trying to race to the very top straight away!
I really hope that the future sees a lot more education and mentoring, whatever the age group.
Can’t wait to see what she does next!