Food for thought

Go inside the mind — and London kitchen — of acclaimed culinary artist, Anna Hansen.

The Modern Pantry lives up to it's name, with an innovative menu shaped by wide-ranging international influences. Owner and chef Anna Hansen was born in Canada, raised in New Zealand, comes from Danish stock, and now calls London home. She humbly started her career washing dishes at one of London’s top eateries and has no formal culinary training, however, her regulars — which include Goldfrapp and Sam Mendes — don’t seem to mind. It’s Hansen’s creative approach to food, reflected in her eclectic mix of ingredients — think mussel, feta and coriander waffle served with seaweed, spring onion salad and roasted pumpkin seeds — that keeps foodies on their toes. She was recently awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s New Year Honor List for being one of the few female chefs to have left an indelible mark on the London restaurant scene. We sat down with her to learn more about the people, places and ingredients that get her creative juices flowing.

fusion cuisine

"For me, this style of cooking creates infinite possibilities. When I approach an ingredient, I do not let its origins dictate how I choose to work with it or what I choose to serve it with. It is very liberating and endlessly inspiring. My menus are eclectic and fresh with unusual twists on everyday classics. For example, the tamarind miso marinated onglet steak served with cassava chips and tomatillo chilli jam is our take on steak and chips."

my mormor, my danish grandmother

"My Mormor was a most excellent cook who took the preparations for every meal seriously, whether it was a family feast at Christmas or the daily meal. She always said that anyone with the right ingredients could cook well, but to be a great cook required the skill of being able to create something delicious out of humble ingredients. She could do this brilliantly. I have a strong Danish influence in terms of ingredients — pork and liquorice are almost always present in some form or other on the menu — as well as the techniques I use, which are quite simple with the focus on flavor combinations rather than tricky technical feats."

dried shrimp

"Filled with umami goodness, dried shrimp inadvertently led to the development of my signature dish at The Modern Panty, the sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette. I love dried shrimp and I was using them a lot, so one day I decided to try drying my own. As you can imagine, strings of prawns dehydrating in an urban kitchen window was perhaps less than appealing, and drying them in the oven seemed like cheating. So I decided to cure them as you would for gravad lax, infusing Asian flavors such as lemongrass, ginger and fish sauce. They were not great eaten just cured as I had hoped, but when tossed into a hot pan they were transformed into the caramelised morsels of goodness that form the base of the dish."

pomegranate molasses

"Pomegranate molasses is one of those ingredients that I am never without — in fact, I get a nervous twitch if the bottle gets to less than half full. It is both tart and sweet, and lends itself to both savory and dessert preparations. It appears on my menu in some form every day — simply drizzled over a fresh fruit salad served with Greek yogurt for breakfast, whisked together with orange zest and olive oil to dress lentil and beetroot salad, or mixed with cumin, garlic and thyme as a marinade for a roast leg of lamb."

my sister, sarah foster

"My sister is a marine biologist in Vancouver and her passion for saving all things that live in the sea has given me the impetus to get involved and do what I can to support the cause. We are members of the SRA (Sustainable Restaurant Association) and have pledged allegiance with the Sustainable Fish City, amongst other things. We only source fish that have been ethically caught and are from sustainable stocks, be they farmed or wild."

sri lanka

"This island is overflowing with an abundance of fresh and vibrant flavors, colors and textures and is full of friendly, happy people. After traveling to Sri Lanka I filled a need to explore its culinary heritage, both during and after my visit. It also inspired me to purchase a few handy pieces of kitchen equipment like my coconut grater and hop pans. I have created many Sri Lankan-inspired dishes with the help of this equipment and I am more liberal with certain ingredients such as curry leaves, mustard seeds and turmeric now."
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