TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - For chef Laura Calder the road to food television stardom took some disappointing twists and dramatic turns.
The host of the television cooking show French Food at Home always had a passion for cooking, but it wasn’t until she had degrees in linguistics and psychology, a career in journalism and public relations, and had broken up with her fiance, that she went to chef school and then to Paris to become a food writer and eventual TV personality.
A rural New Brunswick native, Calder, 38, now divides her time between France and Canada, where she is filming the show’s third season and working on her second book “French Taste: Elegant, Everyday Eating,” due out in the spring.
Calder spoke to Reuters from Halifax, Nova Scotia, about her life, French food and the art of eating.
Q: What made you decide to move to France?
A: “I had a job, I had an apartment, I was engaged to be married to a guy who I should not have married and didn‘t. But I dumped him, I dumped the job, I left my apartment .. and didn’t come back for seven years. I think sometimes in life, when some aspects are going really well and some aren‘t, you don’t change because maybe you’ve got a great boyfriend but your job stinks, or maybe you’re making a lot of money but your social life is awful. There’s always a balance. But all of mine were on the low end, all at once.”
Q: How did you make the transition from food writer to TV chef?
A: ”I wrote a book, America invaded Iraq, the French didn’t want to participate and they were dumping French wines into the river and calling things freedom fries and no one wanted to touch anything French. So that happened the week that my book came out and they canceled my publicity tour and said ‘don’t come to the states, they’ll throw tomatoes at you.’
“I couldn’t write another book, and basically, I said, you know what, I‘m giving up ... I went to my parents for a couple of weeks in the summertime and I’d been in Canada for three weeks regrouping and a friend of mine said you should do television and we had a wrap party in a year.”
Q: How did your rural upbringing inspire you to cook classic French fare?
A: “I was in the countryside for many years in France, so all that stuff I would have loved as a young person -- really fresh eggs or talking to farmers, vegetables that had dirt on them -- it’s so much more sensuous, and growing up, especially when you’re surrounded by nature all the time, it’s very tactile, you smell, you taste and that’s what food in France is like, even now.”
Q: What is simple French food?
A: “I‘m doing a fiddlehead soup on the show. Fiddleheads are absolutely not French but they’re a fresh local ingredient and then you can apply a French technique to them, so if you know the basic French skills, then wherever you are, with whatever food you have you can make all kinds of great stuff.”
Q: Do you think there are misconceptions about French food?
A: ”I don’t really care what people think about French cooking. I care about what people eat. And I think the French eat better than anyone in the Western world, basically. They hold food in such high regard, it’s so important and they sit down and eat meals and all that stuff that I wish we would do again, that’s what I wish people would take away from it, more than a recipe for Crepes Suzette.
“I’d rather people make a bowl of clam chowder but eat it with that kind of flair, make the table look good, care about the ingredients, sit down and eat it, share it with other people, make it social. All that stuff is more important to me.”
Q: What’s next for your career?
A: “I would like to write a book on East Coast cooking because I think my favorite parts of the world, the places where my heart is, are France and the East Coast, and I think it’s because of the ruralness, the smallness, the slower pace, all of that. I would love to.”
Beef au Bleu (Serves 4)
1 2-pound (900 grams) sirloin steak, about 2 inches (5 mm) thick
Salt and pepper
A little olive oil
1/2 pound (250 grams) blue cheese
1/2 cup (25 ml) cream
Move the oven rack to the top rungs, and heat the oven to broil for a good 10 minutes. Season the steaks on both sides with salt and pepper and rub all over with a little olive oil. Set the meat in a cast iron pan and broil 4 to 6 minutes per side, or until done to your liking. Remove to a carving board, cover with foil and let rest 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, crumble the cheese into a saucepan, pour over the cream, and gently heat to melt. Carve the meat and arrange on a serving platter. Pour over the juices (if you feel there is too much, you can reduce them first.) Spoon over a little of the sauce and pour the rest into a sauce jug for passing around the table. Serve with endives and oranges or on a bed of watercress.
Editing by Patricia Reaney