Anna Hansen interview: The chef on oven disasters, music to make pastry by - and the horrors of boiling a pig's head

Hansen is a New Zealand-born chef who worked with the Michelin-starred Fergus Henderson and fusion expert Peter Gordon before opening her own fusion restaurant, The Modern Pantry

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I never had any intention of coming to England As a child I met a lot of English kids at my school, whose families had moved to New Zealand from the UK. They painted it as a grey, miserable place where it rained a lot and where they had bad food. But I visited when I was 22 – and I'm still here 23 years later.

Fergus Henderson taught me how to do simple food well I worked at his French House Dining Room when I first arrived in England, and saw how he used just a few ingredients. One of my favourites was rabbit and mustard braised with almonds, shallots and garlic: delicious with boiled potatoes.

Boiling a pig's head isn't much fun I had to do it to make brawn [jellied pig's head]. The lips curl back, and it looks kind of sinister – like the pig is sneering at you.

There's lots of limitations when you cook just one type of cuisine So I got into creating dishes with unlikely pairings – and with fusion food you can do whatever you like. Liquorice is one of my favourite ingredients, so I'm always throwing it into dishes: I tried cured beef fillet and liquorice, which is delicious, as you get this rich saltiness and an aftermath of sweetness.

You eventually get a feel for making fusion food At the beginning of my fusion career I spent a lot of time using savoury ingredients with sweet dishes. I once tried making a smoked-paprika ice cream, which sounds like it would be good, but it was revolting; the sweetness made it cloying. And when I once tried to make tamarind ice cream, I accidentally used a vat of tamarind veal stock – though it turns out that ice cream made from meat stock is really delicious.

Some food gets over-complicated by its preparation These days everything has to be sous-vide and brined and have had this and that done to it. Sometimes I go out and see a carrot that looks like a potato, and I wonder how many people touched it before it got on to my plate.

The joy of a simple dish is that you can identify everything And it tastes of itself. I love a simply marinated piece of meat, with mash and a few greens.

It's mortifying when you have to serve food you know isn't perfect I once did a catering job, cooking lunch for 12 people in an apartment, and they had a kind of oven I'd never used before. It was a disaster: I gave myself a third-degree burn on my arm and I overcooked all the lamb rumps. I was standing in the middle of all the guests cooking the food, so it wasn't like I could hide.

I like to sing when I'm making pastry There's more brain space with that sort of work compared to cooking – so I'll put on a Kiwi band such as Fat Freddy's Drop, or even play Pink Floyd's The Wall and sing the whole album.

I'd like to have met Nina Simone She used to go to New Zealand for a festival in Wellington, and I'd listen to her live. She was such an interesting person on so many levels: she lived until 2003, so she bridged a generation, and she was active around a fascinating time of change culturally; seeing her deal with racial and feminist issues was inspiring.

Anna Hansen, 45, is a New Zealand-born chef who worked with the Michelin-starred Fergus Henderson and fusion expert Peter Gordon before opening her own fusion restaurant, The Modern Pantry. Hansen has collaborated with gourmet yoghurt brand The Collective (the collectivedairy.com) to launch a limited-edition rhubarb, vanilla & lemongrass yoghurt to raise money for Action Against Hunger, for which she is an ambassador

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