Hello Chef's Executive Chef and Founder: Olivia Manner

Chef Olivia cooks real, wholesome, and truly inspired food. Cooking, eating and entertaining is something that she learnt from her French grandfather and that bonds her family and friends together even today. Cooking with fresh ingredients, creating simple and nourishing recipes packed with flavour and always with a twist is what makes Olivia get up in the morning!

From Chef Olivia:

Growing up in Finland where in the 80's and 90's the culinary scene was still very modest, we became a very popular family among our friends to gather at. The simple reason being, we always had plenty of delicious, international home cooked food on offer. The love for good food and cooking took me to study hospitality management and specialise in kitchen management. I spent a lot of time in kitchens and in restaurants and loved the milieu and the ability to make someone's day great just by serving them a plate of delicious freshly prepared food with a smile.

Today I am lucky to continue doing the same here in the UAE with Hello Chef. I get to work with real food professionals, passionate suppliers and a wonderful team that put quality above all else. I value getting our customer's feedback and believe it's vital to constantly improve our recipes and service. Receiving a message from a happy customer who has managed to get more family time or re-discovered the joy of cooking by using our product is the best feeling and reward for this work.

What are some of the challenges of coming up with dishes in the Hello Chef test kitchen?

To create fast to prepare, delicious, colourful, balanced and varied recipes that can be cooked in roughly 30 minutes is a great challenge. I love it! In addition to the creative dilemma, there are always a few other things to take into consideration too, such as the availability of ingredients and their quality, taste, and cost. Once a recipe is made we challenge our suppliers to provide us with the quality we need and am proud to say we've been lucky to work with very good people that make recipe design and testing easier. The feedback and ideas we gather from customers is also crucial to ensure that we create recipes that live up to our value of providing a wow experience and introduce new and seasonal products on our menu.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Typically, from the market. Seeing colorful vegetables, a beautifully cut piece of meat and fresh fish in particular inspires and excites me. I come home and have my baskets full of beautiful ingredients and sometimes vegetables and fruits that I've rarely if ever used. The cooking process tends to unfold from there. Tasting the food raw, half cooked and fully cooked is important. This way you know what different flavours you can get from your products.

Why do you love cooking so much? What does it make you think of?

My French grandfather was a cook during the second world war. He was sent to a prison camp and given a job in the kitchen. He was always very grateful for that skill and once retired he could always be found cooking in the kitchen. He started early and was always the first customer at his local boulangerie in the morning. After breakfast most of the morning was spent cooking lunch, which was always the main meal of the day. Evening dinners were simpler; soups, broths, charcuterie and salads, light stews…For me eating has always been a connecting moment with the family. Putting the effort into the cooking just like my grandfather and thinking about the combinations, colours, textures and flavours of the food. Once ready, cherishing it all together is what true happiness is for me.

What's the biggest mistake you see most home cooks make?

To not taste the food while cooking it. It takes time to understand spices. How much salt? How to get acidity and how to soften flavours? You only learn with experience and fast forward it if you taste and adjust while cooking.

How do you get your children to try new things to eat?

The easiest way is to sit all together for dinner and have a few different items on the table to serve. Keep the meat, vegetables and rice separate for example. Then add a little of each on the plate. There should be no pressure to eat but one should try and then decide whether they like it or not. This sounds easy…the first obstacle is coming home from work early enough to make it for dinner and the second is to have the patience to sit at the table until all items have at least been tested…but it pays off. Travel is always a great time to learn how to eat new things. When kids have dinner with their foreign friends, it's easy to introduce new ingredients and recipes…and if all else fails - Bribe with dessert - home made of course!

What are the challenges of sourcing good tasty ingredients in the Middle East?

The availability and quality of both local and imported items varies a lot. We love our suppliers and are lucky to get most of the items we need, when we need them. We try to use as much local produce as we can. This ensures the freshness and is usually better for the environment. Some ingredients are much harder to find, and require careful planning.

What's one big thing you hope your customers achieve by using Hello Chef?

I would love for people to look forward to home cooked dinners. To not think of it as a chore or something that is scary and time consuming. If we can excite more people to take the time to prepare dinner at home, we know there will be happier, healthier and more satisfied people around. Home cooked food doesn't only feed the body, but it nourishes the soul and many customers have written us messages about their re-found joy of cooking, creating and serving their families. If in the process someone learns a new skill, learns how to use a different ingredient or to like a new dish, then I am very happy. Then we have achieved in making this place just a little better - with food!