Cooking as theatre: Cake Bake and Sweets Show comes to Melbourne

Jane Willson
01 October, 2014

Sydney pastry chef Anna Polyviou is set to introduce her famed “twisted” dessert to a new audience.

Anna Polyviou has a creation she calls twisted (pictured) that she plans to conjure on stage in Melbourne this weekend. Its foundation is a passionfruit posset, to which she adds a little seasonal fruit, vanilla biscuit, an upside down Italian meringue, and some baby coriander.

It’s no stretch to say Anna’s sessions at the Cake Bake and Sweets Show should appeal to the sweet tooth with a fondness for cooking as theatre. Expect a DJ, screens, comics as recipe cards, nitrogen, beachballs going into the audience and prizes (a KitchenAid for best dancer).

“It’s sex in a glass,” Anna says of twisted, which has received rave reviews since she started serving it during dessert degustations at Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel 18 months ago.

Anna, executive pastry chef at the hotel at The Rocks, says her show is about “entertainment, having some fun and from there creating a dish that you can do at home”. “The hardest thing is the meringue – if you don’t take the sugar to 121 degrees – but otherwise people can do it. I love seeing their reactions.”

Anna has been in the restaurant game for almost 15 years, starting out at The Sofitel in Melbourne with the likes of George Calombaris and Shane Delia. “Back then, it was the best hotel,” she says, “but I was a trouble maker, out partying and not taking it seriously.”

Anna Polyviou

Her path changed when she was thrown into a pastry competition. “I learnt heaps and from there switched from kitchen chef.” Les Toques Blanches named her best apprentice in Victoria in 2003 and she followed up with a scholarship in the UK, spending time at Claridges Hotel in London and, later, Pierre Herme in Paris. Recent gigs include five years as head pastry chef at Sydney’s Bathers’ Pavilion.

What’s the No.1 thing she has learnt? “Stay humble, continue learning and continue challenging yourself. Some people get a bit arrogant.”

The humble thing hasn’t been especially hard for the Greek girl who grew up in Melbourne’s South Oakleigh cooking with her mum “even if I didn’t want to”. The first thing she remembers baking was galaktoboureko – a dessert of semolina custard in filo pastry. “Mum always said, ‘I don’t mind what my daughter does, as long as it’s an honest job’.”

Anna says she met some amazing bakers in the audience at the Sydney equivalent of this weekend’s show in March. “Some really good bakers that probably would kick my arse; they’re amazing.”

What are her tips for the novice – or those who want to take her advice and continue learning?

In no particular order: always use the best ingredients (“you don’t have to spend a lot of money, but be sensible”); read your recipe properly first; follow it!; get your equipment right (test run the oven if its new to you); learn to plate (“no point doing a beautiful dessert and not plating it nice”); and be organised (“cleanliness and workflow is crucial”).

What about butter – salted or unsalted? “Always unsalted – if I want to add it, I’ll add it myself, even when I’m spreading it on bread.”

Favourite ingredients? “Heilala vanilla, Callebaut chocolate”.

Best way to line a cake pan? “Too hard; it’s different for every recipe, from butter and flour, baking spray, oil with your fingers. Or if I’m doing a baked cheesecake, I don’t line it at all.”

Anna's Berry Pop

Hot tip? Never throw out vanilla pods. “For baking, you need to use a vanilla paste, not the pod – that’s for infusing. I dry my pod on top of my oven, and then I blitz it up to a fine powder and toss it through the sugar. Or sometimes I blitz it up and put it through sea salt.”

Anna will appear in the All Star Theatre at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre as part of the Cake Bake and Sweets show on Friday October 3, 3-4pm; and Sunday October 5, 1-2pm.

Joining her at the show are American celebrity chef Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro, Adriano Zumbo, chocolate queen Kirsten Tibballs and Dean Brettschneider.

Other highlights include baking equipment, ingredients and supplies for sale, as well as a sweets marketplace. Tickets $23-$29 (less $5 when purchased online).

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