bal harbour blog

Kitchen Confidential

Q&A

By Victoria Pesce Elliott

A household name in her native Canada, Laura Calder—a charming, quirky and nomadic chef, author and television host—can be found on shows around the world, spreading the gospel of good French food from Malaysia to Portugal, Hong Kong and Finland. She is often compared to the iconic Julia Child because of her passionate love of unfussy French fare. She also says she shares her clumsiness. Calder’s first cookbook, French Food at Home (HarperCollins) led to a full-fledged career in writing highly personal food essays that appeared in such publications as Vogue Entertaining and Travel, Gourmet, salon.com, The Los Angeles Times and Flare magazine. The single and high-cheek-boned personality is the host of Food Network Canada’s and the Cooking Channel’s James Beard Award–winning series French Food at Home. The French government made her a prestigious Chevalier de l’Ordre du MÈrite Agricole for her work promoting French cuisine.

Look for her most recent book Dinner Chez Moi (HarperCollins) as well as another series and a new line of dinnerware.

How would you describe your personal style?
I suppose my style could be described as feminine, without the frills—just like my cooking. I have a 1950s body type, which always looks and feels better in dresses. I wanted to look like I cook: to flow through the kitchen and feel light and breezy.

What is something about you that would surprise your viewers?
I played viola and violin seriously for many, many years, until I realized I’d never be great at it. I dropped music in university and studied languages and literature instead, which to this day remain my abiding passions (along with food...and, increasingly, houses).


Do you have a go-to music playlist, and any other mood-setters?
I love ‘30s and ‘40s wartime tunes; nothing makes me feel more cheerful. And candlelight always makes magic and takes 10 years off everyone!

What do people need to know when choosing wine?
Really the only wine advice I have is to remind people that, at the table, wine is there to be enjoyed, not turned into an academic subject.


What is your go-to dinner to make on a weeknight?
Soufflé is a top choice, with a salad afterward. Also, I have a spicy red lentil dish with spinach that is a staple.

What about the table settings?
I love a beautiful table. I don’t care if you’ve ordered pizza. DON’T EAT IT OUT OF THE BOX! Our self-esteem—and how consequently we treat the people around us—is so closely linked to how we eat, it’s not a bar we can afford to lower. Take, for instance, Irish stew: if I’m served it off an antique china plate, I feel like a queen; if someone slops a ladle of it into a plastic bowl for me, I instantly lose my appetite—not just for dinner, but for life.

 

Laura Calder's Spiced Red Lentil Stew with Spinach and Lemon

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 peperoncino, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) curry powder
  • Pinch turmeric
  • 1 cup (200 g) red lentils
  • 1 tin (14 ounces/398 mL) diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups (1 L) vegetable or chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces (225 g) large spinach, stems trimmed
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, peperoncino, and spices, stirring until the garlic is light brown, about a minute. Add the lentils, tomatoes, and stock. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils turn to purée, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Wash the spinach and put it in a large pot with the water still clinging to the leaves. Cover and steam over medium-high heat, turning once or twice with tongs to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Serve the thick lentil stew in warmed shallow bowls with spinach on top. Pass lemon wedges for squeezing over.

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