Author and host of the Food Network Canada program “French Food at Home,” Laura Calder is all about creating rich, simple and elegant food. Her show, which currently airs on Cooking Channel and Food Network Canada, offers viewers the ways and means to sumptuous dinners, desserts and more.
Calder left a day job in Toronto, Ontario with dreams of becoming a chef. After a French cuisine and wine experience in California, she moved to Vancouver for culinary school and ended up in France to work on a food-and-wine book. She was to complete the book in weeks; Calder stayed there for years, soaking up all she could about the cooking there.
Given that Canadians celebrate their own Thanksgiving-albeit a month earlier than Americans-Yahoo! spoke to Calder recently on how hosts might enliven their Thanksgiving meals:
Your version of the holiday is several weeks old already, but can you talk about the differences-however subtle-between Canadian Thanksgiving cuisine and American Thanksgiving cuisine.
Honestly, I think the cuisine is all pretty similar. The difference is we just don’t go all-out like Americans do. In a lot of ways, the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada tends to be a little halfhearted and not a primary one like it is in the States. In terms of cuisine, it’s a nearly apples-to-apples comparison-turkey, cranberry, pumpkin pie, same vegetables from your garden-pretty well what you are used to there.
So different approach, same meal?
Precisely. No one really travels across Canada for Thanksgiving because the real big deal, the big holiday event, is Christmas. And the meal itself really is quite similar, but on a much smaller scale. We have skipped [Thanksgiving] occasionally, because it so specifically mirrors our traditional Christmas dinners- except for the plum pudding for dessert [laughs]. Otherwise, Thanksgiving is identical.
Traditionally, a lot of families will make green bean casserole as a side dish in the Midwest. Is there a specialty side dish you recall from your Thanksgivings in Canada that you would encourage people to try for this week’s holiday?
Huh! That’s different. What’s in that?
It’s a baked hotdish made of french-cut green beans, cream of mushroom soup, with flash-fried onions on top. There are some variations; some people add pearl onions and soy sauce to that mix.
On your show “French Food at Home,” which is seen in the United States on the Cooking Channel, you mention liking to French-ify dishes. With that concept in mind, how might you French-ify some traditional American Thanksgiving dishes?
One of the top of my head, that that urban, Parisian turkey in a sauté pan would be quite a change. Turkey Paupiettes with Chestnuts and Brussel Sprouts . That’s a one-pot Thanksgiving dish that would be something fun, festive and unusual.
Do you have other suggestions for how readers might take a fresh, and perhaps more worldly, approach to the American holiday?
Keeping within the poultry world, Duck a l’Orange could make for a nice run-up-it’s different and rich enough to make Thanksgiving dinner awesome. An Olive and Bacon Aperitif Cake could also make things festive without being too traditional. Just be sure to increase the milk in that recipe by a ¼ cup! [laughs].
A Citrus Squash Tart or Pumpkin Mousse could be a good way to shake up and French-ify dessert.
Non-sequitur: My wife read somewhere that “French Food at Home” was filmed in a “home kitchen.” If so, can you share any details about it? Was there really a swing outside the door?
Yep, it’s a real house. No stage. The kitchen is real, as are the trees you’ve seen through the windows and swing you’ve seen me on. Nothing phony at all, and not a stage-it’s actually a home in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In fact, I’m getting on a flight in a few minutes and will be staying there!
Any plans to continue that show? It seems to be picking up steam in the U.S. on Cooking Channel.
Here’s the thing, I did 78 episodes of that show and there are a lot of those shows you’re not seeing on Food Network or Cooking Channel in the States. You may see more of those at some point, and I may decide to carry on with new “French Food at Home” episodes at some point, but I am also I’m sort of moving on and in development developing some new things.
What else is next for you?
I have a show about dinner parties and one focused on more of France that I’m working on, and I’m just finishing another book-Dinner, Chez Moi– which should be out next September.
It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Now I shall endure wife my teasing me “talking to a TV crush” through my own Thanksgiving dinner.
My pleasure! [laughs]
Interview with Calder arranged by Katherine Wolfgang
Shaftesbury Films in Toronto