Food Ontario Select Guide: Interview with creators of "Anna and Kristina's Grocery Bag"
This time, the Food Ontario Select Guide interviews Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic, well-known to TV viewers as "The Shopping Bags". As Canada’s favorite conscientious consumers they test and rate everyday consumer products giving viewers well rounded, fact based and necessary objective information. Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag - is also about testing, but in a whole new way.
FO (Food Ontario) - For those who may not know, can you very briefly describe The Shopping Bags and how it evolved into Anna and Kristina's Grocery Bag?
AW (Anna Wallner) – Kristina and I were friends and working together as TV reporters for Global TV. We decided it would be a good idea to marry our skills as journalists with our passion for shopping. We have completed 7 seasons and 205 episodes of The Shopping Bags and had always intended to spin off into a niche area and what better area than food!
FO - Tell us about Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag and what viewers can expect to see.
AW - Entertainment and information. In a broader sense we take one cookbook, read it cover to cover, study it, cook as many recipes as we can in our own time, then we have one large cook day where we cook as many new recipes together in one day. On that cook day it is the first time we are tying those recipes. Once we are done, the chef comes in to try what we made, rate us a (little) bit and the cookbook itself. Viewers can expect to learn what makes a good cookbook but we also test products, all things kitchen related - gadgets, appliances, food, how to get the most for your money and the odd cooking tip; not from us (laughs) because we are not professionals we are learning. But the chefs provide a lot of great tips for us as well.
KM (Kristina Matisic) – we are calling it the anti-cooking cooking show. We are learning in spite of ourselves. (Laughs)
FO - Have you two ever completely disagreed on the rating of a product? If so, how do you bridge the gap and bring a unified decision to the viewers, or is it the difference that makes it interesting?
KM - We have definitely disagreed, not that often though. We also have a wide variety of testers and if we can all agree unanimously, then we can stand behind that product. When we disagree it is from our own perspective. Everyone has different needs and I think that is why viewers can relate to us.
AW – Say for example we are testing the speed of an electric hand mixer - we conduct a scientific test to determine which is the fastest but it is not necessarily the one we would buy. We try to answer 2 questions, 1) which is best and 2) which would you buy? When it comes to Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag and testing cookbooks, we came up with a list of characteristics as to what makes a good cookbook. We look at whether the book measures up in terms of our set criteria and whether it follows through on any stated promises it may make. Again, it may be a great book but it doesn’t necessarily mean I would buy it.
FO - How did you decide which cookbooks to use to test the recipes?
AW – There are so many books on the market. We try to get a range that represents what is out there. In each season we will do classics, recipes from celebrity chefs, niche cooking for example, ethnic cooking, and from a healthy cookbook. We will also do things that catch our interest. For example, this season there is a book called - The New Intercourses - which is an aphrodisiac cookbook and we thought, we have to do that! There are a lot of quirky things out there and we want to delve into those as well. In Toronto there is a great store called The Cookbook Shop. In Vancouver of course there is Barbara Jo’s.
FO - Do you both enjoy cooking? Are you experienced in the kitchen? Are you finding the recipes challenging?
AW – I love to cook and do it on my own to relax at the end of a long day. I have always thought of myself as a pretty good cook. I began cooking as a child since my mom was a caterer. What I realize in doing this show is that I was cooking within a very safe comfort zone. So, I am learning the limitations of skills. Neither Kristina nor I have formal training as chefs and I think we are testing the recipes from the perspective of the average person at home. These books are written for the every day chef and we are curious to see how much is really possible. Do these books deliver? Can you really create theses dishes from these books from the perspective of someone who has no professional training?
FO - Will you be experimenting with recipes that would suit people with medical concerns such as Diabetes or Heart Disease?
AW – We covered this in - The New Lighthearted Cookbook. We are definitely going to cover low fat eating as well.
KM – We want to see how these types of cookbooks perform. Can they make up for any so called shortcomings i.e. removing the fat, salt or sugar? Can they make a tasty dish? I think today that is important for everyone. We are all looking for the healthiest recipes we can find, and we want to see if they can live up to their promise.
FO - Do you each have a favorite episode to date?
AW – We tested a cookbook called - Mangoes and Curry Leaves - and we had Vikram Vij and his wife come on the show as judges. It was quite an interesting experience delving into the world of Indian cooking.
KM – We had this huge BBQ Cookbook that we tested. It was so much work I thought for sure we wouldn’t succeed but we did a pretty good job and I was really proud going home that night!
FO – Do you find you get nervous when it is time to be judged.
AW – Absolutely! These are big time chefs – Vikram is known as one of the best chefs in the world.
KM – we literally spend the whole day slaving over a hot stove and we put our all into it. We are very nervous; we want everything to taste good - like any chef would.
Be sure to watch Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag on W Network - Wednesday nights at 8pm
By Dana Mahon
Photos supplied by Corus Entertainment
Edited by: Sheila G. LoGuisto
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