Look out Italy, 'cause France is coming back, says foodie hottie Laura Calder. And doubting Tuscan dreamers need look no further than Mireille Guiliano's popular book French Women Don't Get Fat and Russell Crowe's film A Good Year (based on Peter Mayle's bestseller) for confirmation that Provence is indeed all the rage. But if you're cool to the idea of the French having yet another thing to brag about--think French chic and French kiss, as if French fries weren't enough--Canada's answer to Nigella is here to discredit that perfection. And for those looking to bring a little French twist to their kitchen, Calder is promising to bring it home.
"People have this idea of French cooking as haute cuisine, but I want to show French food that real people eat," says the host of the new Food Network Canada show French Food at Home. "I'm not interested in revisiting the canon of French cuisine. I want to show people French food is easy and accessible, not chefy. You don't need fancy or unfamiliar ingredients or tools." As such, Calder's recipes are simple to prepare, using ingredients you can get at your local grocery store.
It's a casual approach that speaks to Calder's laid-back Canadian upbringing on the East Coast, where her parents cooked with a wood stove and even made their own bread. Her homegrown penchant for food took a turn from playful hobby to serious career prospect in 1999 when she took a leave from her PR job to attend cooking school in Vancouver. At the time she thought, "The worst thing that can happen is I'll have better dinner parties." But it only confirmed her passion, and was followed by more studies in California and France, a cookbook, and now her show.
It's not only the French menu Calder wants to share, but also their attitudes. "The French take food seriously. It's considered a great pleasure, and they think pleasure is important," she says, pointing to their habit of making food the centre of social gatherings. "Cooking is enslaving unless you make it social," she says. "You have to make it a shared activity." Besides, she adds, "Imagine all the time together you lose by not sharing!"
Calder also recommends starting a cookbook that will chronicle your kitchen life together. "If you make something that becomes your specialty, something that's unique to you both, add it," she says. "It may seem like nothing at the beginning, but as time goes by, you can go back and relive the memories."
To get you going, Calder recommends a spring menu of vegetable ragout--the French love their sauces--and tuna tail, which she jokingly refers to as "the one-minute recipe." "The ragout sounds so banal, but in fact is absolutely decadent, and a cheerful sight with that colourful tumble of spring vegetables in the tangy crème fraîche sauce." As for the tuna tail, Calder first tried it in a bistro near her Paris apartment and loved how chic it looked. "It's very black-tie with the red tuna in its jet-black coat. Very simple, but a real treat." Bon appétit!
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