An Interview with French Food at Home’s Laura Calder: Part I

Laura Calder

Photo from the Dallas Observer

A year and a half ago, I had the chance to interview Laura Calder, host of French Food at Home on the Cooking Channel.  She had lost her voice, because the night before, she had won her James Beard award.  Over the hour-or-so that I talked with this Canadian cook, I found out that Laura became serious about cooking only once she arrived in France (some things are inevitable).  That she hates tripe and horse meat (who can blame her?). That she has stick-to-your-ribs tastes (like her even more…).  And that Laura truly believes French food is unpretentious (after my own heart).  Here, the first of two parts of the interview.

This interview has been edited for brevity.


Kerry Saretsky: Why French?

Laura Calder: Well French was easy for me because… I grew up going to French school so I spoke French already, it wasn’t an intimidating place to go, and I love food.  So to me there’s no better place.

KS: How would you describe French cuisine to someone who had never encountered it before?  What makes it different?

LC: I think what’s nice about it in the modern world right now is it’s a very coherent cuisine and it’s not all over the place.  In North America right now, we’re trying out so many new things, sometimes we really need some grounding in something that’s not all fusion or confusion—as some of might say, confusion food.  It’s really solid back-to-basics cooking.

KS: What surprised you most about French cooking as you encountered in France?

LC: Well I think I saw it probably like a lot of people think—that somehow it was fattening or heavy or old-fashioned. What I discovered is that it isn’t any of those things; it’s incredibly healthy.  It’s very suited to the modern world.  It’s not like we think of French food as being what people made fifty years ago or a hundred years ago.  They’ve modernised just like us.  Women are working hard at home every day, people work, they’re busy.  So, you know, the cuisine has evolved along just like ours.

KS: So in what way do you interpret or impact traditional French cooking and what is your style or signature that you bring to it?

LC: Well my style is home cooking for one thing.  You know, what makes French food so exciting is it has so many layers, right?  You have the regional layer, the regional side of the cuisine.  You have home cooking.  You have haute cuisine.  My focus is home cooking, and I think that’s a side of French food that hasn’t often been focused on.

KS: What defines French home cooking?

LC: It’s not as foreign as people think.  It’s got a real style, but at the same time they use ingredients that I grew up with: apples, carrots, potatoes, milk, cream, eggs.  I don’t have to run around with a dictionary trying to find these ingredients and it’s really easy to get them anywhere in Europe or North America.  So I think that makes it really appealing; you can do something that’s different from, you know, English or American cuisine, but it’s very accessible.

KS: How will your show translate to an American audience?  I believe it’s the same show that was filmed for the Canadian audience to begin with?

LC: Yes, the Canadians really liked it.  I think everyone was just shocked to see that French food was actually not difficult… That they actually wanted to eat everything they saw.  It’s incredibly healthy, it’s all natural ingredients, nothing’s fake.  It’s [also] not only what the French eat, but how they eat. Meals three times a day.  And you sit down.  I think that kind of lifestyle around food is also part of what makes us healthy.

KS: What is the difference between the way the French and the Americans approach food?

LC: Oh, I think the French approach it with love and lust sometimes.  But I think in America it’s approached very much with fear.  People are very afraid to eat, they’re afraid they might get fat, they’re afraid there’s going to be something in it that’s not good for them, they’re afraid to cook because they don’t know how.  People are afraid of making fools of themselves because they’re not going to be able to cook like a chef.  But in France, when you go in to someone’s house, it’s very much home cooking and they’re not trying to impress you.  What’s important is bringing people together and making something delicious and hearty and homey.

KS: How can we all be more French in the kitchen?

LC: Do a lot less.  You know, just take the aperitifs for example.  In France the aperitif will be someone opens a bottle of Champagne, and you would have a glass of it, and there’s a bowl of olives and a bowl of pistachios or something…or just slice some sausage, and that’s the aperitif.  Completely unpretentious.

KS: Do you think [the fact that French food can be simpler than American food] is a result of the fact that the produce and the meats are superior, at least in flavor, in France?

LC: Yes.  That’s a big part of it.  It’s really easy to cook well in France because the food’s so good to start with.  I always look like a bloody genius when I’m cooking in France, but I have to work a lot harder when I come back.  And people don’t like to hear that, they don’t want to hear that the food isn’t as good here, but it just frankly is not.

KS: You went to a French school, but are you from a French background in Canada?

LC: My name Calder so I have a very English background, but I did grow up in a bilingual province.  I went to a French school from age twelve.

KS: Do you remember what you were eating when you decided to make this transition in your life to cooking?

LC: I grew up on the east coast of Canada.  The food I grew up with was, you know, chowder, milky fish chowder, brown bread with baked beans, that kind of sort of thing.  That’s another thing about French food that people forget, is that you don’t have to have it in isolation.  I have a new book called French Taste where I talk about this, where I say, you don’t have to – this is nothing against Julia Child because I love Julia Child…

KS: Right.

LC: But mastering the art of French cooking, holy Moses, that’s a commitment.  It’s a vast cuisine, I wouldn’t cook anything either if I thought I had to master all the bloody cuisine to make a chocolate mousse.

KS: Right.

LC: Whereas I say make a chocolate mousse and have it after your pasta or make a coq au vin and have tiramisu.  I mean these cuisines in the Western World really work very well together.  So I think we could mix it up a bit more.  Duck à l’orange doesn’t mean that you have to have strawberry soufflé for dessert.

KS: What do you see as the relationship between writing and cooking?

LC: I really love studying languages even just to keep my brain going, but I think it’s an obsession with my mouth, I love everything that goes in and I love what comes out and I love listening to different ways people speak.  I love poetry, I love literature, I love accents, but writing was my first love and I wanted to write about food.

Check back for the second half of the interview tomorrow!

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25 Responses to An Interview with French Food at Home’s Laura Calder: Part I

  1. I love Laura Calder. I made her powder puffs this weekend, and they were divine.

    And I love the music in her show – I hum it to myself sometimes when I’m cooking :)

  2. Frances Crnich says:

    I love watching Laura cook so many delightful menus. She is a delight and so pleasant. A sweetheart that makes me smile

  3. Ed Paul says:

    Love watching you and your show at work very delicious! :)

  4. Thomas says:

    Great show!

  5. R. Ray Galvez says:

    I wondered what happened to Laura Calder, French Food At Home, on Saturday’s at 12:00, I missed the show a few weeks, only to find out to my surprise, and very happily so, that her show had switched to the weekday formant Monday- Friday at 12:30 weekdays, I was so delighted and happy for her as well, she does a great job, very different and has her own distinctive slant on the show. It’s easy to become an instant fan of the show. I have an excellent Resume, as a Banquet Waiter and some bartending as well, in the Hotel Field/ Catering business. I have worked on and with some of the best waitstaffs, in The Washington, DC area, for the last 45 years. I have been a part of many prestigious events, and even have worked with waitstaffs from The Four Seasons Hotel, and assisted The White House Butlers in 2000, on The South Lawn of The White House! At the end of The Clinton Administration, proudly shaking hands with the Clinton’s’ on different nights ! I have also worked with some of the best chefs here in the Washington , DC area over the years. From 1990 —– 2008 . I worked on Capitol Hill, in the Banquet Dept. For The Federal Government serving The US Senators , and other celebrites, interacting with the Secret Service, News Media, etc. I’m so happy to see Laura Calder, French Food At Home, in her new formant ! Congradulation’s to her! A big Fan, Sincerely, R. Ray Galvez. 202 – 359 – 0715. Washington, DC

  6. R. Ray Galvez says:

    Hi Laura, I just wanted to let you know, how hard I’ve worked in the business in my career, at Embassies, Hotels, Private Clubs and even private homes. such as Potomac, Md.for an Ambassador and his wife and associates !, when I wasn’t on Capitol Hill in government serving The US Senators for 20 years ! So I know and have worked with some impressive chefs in my career. I appreciate and respect your hard work on your show, I know it’s not easy, you have to love it and have a passion for it, it has to be in the blood! All The Best, continued success. R. Ray Galvez 202 359 0715

    • Cilean Stirling says:

      Mr Gakvez,
      You do realize this is not Laura’s blog or post???!!!! That she was interviewed a while ago and well you sound pretty pervy pushing how special you in an open post that all can see, but probably NOT Ms. Calder.

    • Cilean Stirling says:

      You all do realize this is a Blog that is not Ms. Calder, but the author interviewed her???! The post is in response to the interview!

      Which was lovely and I learned about how Ms. Calder would head to France since she went to a French school in Canada. It was an informative interview.

  7. Barbara Simo says:

    I absolutely love your choice of recipes. I have tried many of them on my company. My husband, a musician looks forward to your show because he loves the music. By the way, he can’t boil water, but he appreciates the music.

  8. Sabrina Toglia says:

    I love your show! I used to watch it when I lived in Canada, and I am so happy that I can watch it here in the US, on the Cooking Channel. Your recipes are easy to follow and very approachable. You are also very charming, witty and overall pleasant to watch. Thank you for your show. A big fan!

  9. R. Ray Galvez says:

    I love your French Music, in the background of your show, it adds a great deal to the uniqueness of your show, as well as your smile and your sense of humor, being in the business myself, I can appreciate your hard work and dedication to your field, the hours required and physcial labor, you have to have a passion for it, and ” It’s got to be in the blood” Continued Success, Laura, R. Ray Galvez

  10. I had an unfortunate fall in September and fractured my ankle even required surgery. Being truly homebound, casted with leg elevated much of the day my new favorite television show was French Food at Home. I really enjoy the show, the style, the recipes, the music your lovely dresses. I have even purchased your cookbooks. Thank you for making my confinement have a bright spot each day.

  11. Jean berry says:

    Laura
    You are my new favorite chef/ show. Wonderful meals,delightful music and real. Keep up the great work.
    Jean

  12. phyllis j spencer says:

    Hi Laura, I recently found your cooking show on t v, and I absolutly Love it, You do such a wonderful job of explaning your receipts. Thank You, Phyllis J Spencer

  13. i like your cooking show a lot!

  14. rae says:

    you make me happy and hungry. this is great because my husband died 2 years ago and I haven’t been hungry and eating and definitely not happy. tonight it’s onion tart! love the music and everything!!!!!!

  15. Alison W. says:

    Laura – love your show! I’ve tried and enjoyed several of your recipes. The program is such a delight to watch… and the music is genius. (I wish there was more of the same available, but I understand that it was composed specifically and in small segments.) I noticed that these shows are a few years old. I hope you are continuing to produce shows these days and that we in the states will eventually get to see them.

  16. YCD says:

    Bonjour Laura,

    Je regarde votre programe tous les jours ( I tape the entire week ).
    Vos recettes make my mouth watering. Why are you NOT on the Food network ?
    Quelle est le titre de votre chanson……in the back ground ?
    Je suis Francaise, nee et elevee a Paris. J’habite en NC, USA…..Paris me manqué.

    Merci pour vos delicieuses recettes.
    YCD

  17. ibodnano says:

    what kind or brand of flour laura calder uses in her recipe?i find the her recipes in cookingchanneltv not detailed enough for peopke who are new to cooking

  18. Pingback: Vive la France! 7 Simple French Recipes Anyone Can Make

  19. ann farrell says:

    Hi Laura: Lunched with your Dad yesterday — have to confess I haven’t read or coked with your books — not a great cook myself and definitely not a confident one. BUT promise o get hold of one of yours and head for the kitchen — always glad to see a Calder and NB, bon chance and when you visit Toronto DO call 416-364-6907.
    Hugs ANN

  20. J.John says:

    Great food!!!—–Great music!!!!——An absolutely gorgeous chef!!!!!!

  21. william rice says:

    Hello Laura, love your show, I watch it all the time.I have a programming idea maybe you and your producers might consider. Why not travel throughout America or Canada, pick a local French restaurant in various cities and feature favorite dishes.Each show could cover a particular restaurant and an assortment of dishes at that location. I think it would be very interesting ,entertaining and become another great success. Just a thought.
    Continued Success…………….

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