perfecting a soufflé to supervising a chicken stock, Laura Calder is world-famous for being the face of
modern French food. But what many of her fans may not realize is she was only six years old when she entered
her first and final bake-off while growing up in rural New Brunswick.
“I would never do that now,” Calder laughs about her childhood contest entry. “I cook to feed the people I love, not to compete.”
Calder’s chocolate cake with peanut butter icing won her first prize in the competition from her elementary school years.
Three years after this ambitious move for a kid came what would become another favourite food memory: her first dinner party, which she served up to her family when she was nine.
“I got my little brother to serve it, wearing a tea cozy on his head and my grandmother’s high-heeled shoes,” Calder remembers. “And every dish on the menu had cheese.”
But despite her lifelong passion for food and elegance, Calder says the thought of pursuing cooking as a career always skipped her mind. It wasn’t until her late twenties when she left the corporate world behind to follow her true calling.
“A creative life can look like a bit of an amusement park from the outside,” says Calder about her rise to culinary stardom. “People from the outside only see the fun, but when you make your creative passion your work, you can also lose some of that fun.”
Before publishing cookbooks and becoming the host of the Food Network’s French Food at Home, Calder’s career began instead in journalism, followed by a brief period in public relations. After her public relations stint, she went off to cooking school in Vancouver during a six-month leave of absence. With her new culinary degree, Calder worked for a wine expert in Napa, California. While attending a food writer’s conference, she met Anne Willan, cookbook author and founder of La Verenne Cooking School, which was located in Burgundy, France.
Willan hired Calder to work with her on cookbooks and to help run the school. This opportunity led Calder to France, where she lived and worked for the next 10 years.
And so began her love affair with the French culture and cuisine. Calder is also a lover of languages and started in a French school program when she was 12, later attending university in Montreal. In her university years, she immersed herself in linguistics as well as Western culture and civilization, and earned a master’s degree from the London School of Economics. She initially went to work with Willan for seven months, but ended up working with her on and off for seven years.
For most of her thirties, Calder alternated between Burgundy and Paris. “Opportunities come that are sometimes unusual,” she says about choosing to live abroad. “I got into the business pretty late. Most people are in their, what, early twenties or whatever when they start their careers and it takes 15 years to build yourself up.”
Having considered this notion, Calder says her decision to move to France then felt more like a calling. “Work isn’t just work; it’s my life. You should always try to follow what makes you happy. It’s okay to fail and make mistakes,” she says.
She wrote her own cookbook, French Food at Home, in 2003, but it failed to take off. With France’s refusal to join the invasion of Iraq at the time, promotion of the book in the United States dwindled along with sales.
While she was figuring out what to do next, a friend suggested she try cooking on television. By 2005, she was flying back and forth between France and Halifax to tape French Food at Home. Eventually, tired of travelling and realizing her media contacts were here in Canada, she moved to Toronto.
As 2010 comes to an end, Calder reflects on a busy year. She went on an Asia tour this past May, and currently she is finishing up a cookbook about dinner at home, which has a launch date of September 2011.
Calder tells Lifestyle that her number one hostess tip is be yourself. “I don’t entertain differently during the holidays than I usually do,” she says. “Everything will be more relaxed that way.”
If she had to describe her cooking style in one word, Calder says she would have to choose “homey.”
“Home cooking is rare as we eat out more,” she says.
In fact, Calder notes that one of her most memorable dinner parties happened at home, when she returned home for New Year’s from a short trip to France in 2000.
“It was only the five of us, so I remember how good the quiet felt when everywhere else it was exploding,” says Calder, who opted instead for dinner — complete with truffles she’d brought home from France — with family.
Though her holiday menu changes up from time to time, she adds that one food will always remain on her table at Christmastime. “You can’t have Christmas without cookies,” she smiles. •
Throughout the years, French cuisine has earned a reputation for being fussy and intimidating. Not true, says chef and author Laura Calder. In June 2009, HarperCollins published French Taste, a guide and helpful tool from Calder in order to ease the nerves of anxious new cooks (as well as the plain curious).
Now, the seasoned Food Network personality and Parisian culinary connoisseur shows you how French food is even more simple, lighter and spectacular than imagined. And her fellow star colleagues agree.
“Laura Calder’s French approach to food is refreshing and smart… She shares her delight and enjoyment of the pleasures of the table with us, making this a book for everybody who loves to eat.” — Jennifer McLagan, author of Fat and Bones
“The French are masters at tossing just a few simple flavours together, creating memorable meals, and making it all look easy. Laura Calder has perfectly captured that elegant essence of la belle cuisine in this beautiful book.” — Chef Michael Smith, host of Food Network Canada’s Chef at Home and Chef at Large
A New Brunswick native, published author and Food Network’s star of French Food at Home, Laura Calder holds a special place in her heart for French cuisine. The former journalist and public relations representative has a master’s degree in economics, and master skill in the kitchen. Calder shares her method for creating a decadent Chocolate Tart and a succulent Bacon and Olive Apéritif Cake.
To read more about the other chefs in the recipe feature, visit lifestylemagazine.ca.
courtesy Shaw Media