Alumni Profile - Laura Calder (BA '95)

Laura Calder is a trusted expert in food, entertaining and lifestyle. She hosted the James Beard Award-winning show French Food at Home on Food Network and appeared on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Canada. She is the author of four cookbooks and of The Inviting Life: An Inspirational Guide to Homemaking, Hosting and Opening the Door to Happiness. She has studied and worked in food and wine in Canada, the USA and France, including at the esteemed Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne. In 2011, she received the Order of the Mérite Agricole from the government of France. In February 2019, she met with York University’s Julie Lafford.

Tell me why you chose Glendon for your linguistics degree and how that led to a career in food.

After I completed a degree in liberal arts at Concordia University in Montreal, I caught the travel bug (which has never truly left me) and I spent some time travelling. I decided to return to academia for an honours degree in linguistics at York’s Glendon campus. I must have been so annoying to talk to during that period-- every time someone spoke I would be trying to identify what country or part of Canada they were from.

Glendon appealed to me because of its small campus; everything was right at my fingertips and I didn’t need to travel far to get from one class to another. After I graduated, I went to the London School of Economics in the UK to study social and organizational psychology.

"I believe eating together both requires and
engenders open-mindedness; saying you have no time
for food is like saying you have no time for humanity."

That’s interesting academic path- what was your career goal?

I originally wanted to be in the Canadian Foreign Service because of my interest in language, culture and travel, but it didn’t work out that way. I was a natural communicator and public speaker, so after my return to Canada I got a job in journalism and later a job in public relations. But the nine-to-five life didn’t suit me. I’m not a team player. I work well with others, but we work as individuals, we don’t go out for lunch together and “team build.”

However, I had been cooking since childhood and decided to return to school, again, to turn that hobby into a career. I ended up at the École de Cuisine La Varenne in Burgundy, France working under French culinary legend Anne Willan who was very strict about both food and manners. I spent 10 years in France, partly as a writer and researcher of cookbooks under Willan.

My career has been marked by a number of incidents of poor timing. I wrote a cookbook of my own on French cuisine that was released in the US in 2003- the same time as the US invasion of Iraq. Americans were not a fan of anything French at that time and the book didn’t do well. Luckily there was no such sentiment in Canada, where I was able to find success, not just on bookshelves, but also on television. Someone I knew suggested I bring my book to a TV producer and by the same time the following year we were having a wrap party for French Food at Home.

That sounds like rather good timing if you ask me. Tell me about your most recent work, The Inviting Life

It’s interesting, because it is only now that I see how my academic pursuits in linguistics and social behaviour contributed to my career, now that I’m thinking about the social impacts of food. The Inviting Life is not a recipe book at all, but instead the whys of entertaining and hospitality.

In entertaining, the food is the bait, but the goal is to interact with others. I know people who are much better cooks than me and are absolutely obsessed by what’s on the plate, but I am more interested in bringing people together and the social impact and outcome of the dining experience. Food has a civilizing effect governed by etiquette and manners. I believe eating together both requires and engenders open-mindedness; saying you have no time for food is like saying you have no time for humanity.

So what’s next for you, Laura?

I am a perpetual student. I believe you write a book to find out where your head is on the subject, not because you are an expert in the field. Once it’s written and all out on the page, you’re empty and you’re back in the realm of ideas where it’s time to refill. I’m at the refill stage now so you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what’s ahead for me.