Interview with Laura Calder, Author and Advocate of L’Art de Vivre

How To Make Life Inviting

Laura Calder is the author of four cookbooks and of The Inviting Life: An Inspirational Guide to Homemaking, Hosting And Opening the Door to Happiness. Her long-running Food Network television series, French Food at Home, won a James Beard Award. Laura was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole by the French government in 2011.

The first thing I noticed when I started watching Laura’s show was how captivating her simple and unpretentious approach to cooking and entertaining was. It felt comforting and encouraging to see that neither has to be intimidating or daunting.  

My interview with Laura felt like I was sitting across the table from her having a chat while sipping on a glass of wine and sharing delightful nuggets of simple, practical tips on life, cooking, and entertaining. Her down to earth approach makes you realize how simple things can be.

What are the key ingredients to help us nourish our soul especially during these challenging times?

People who watched my show often commented on how relaxing it was, not loud or aggressive, but calming. I’m constantly tuning into the quality of energy around myself and also emanating from myself. Both have a very strong impact on us, so we want that energy positive. One way to help with that is to take care with simple everyday things. Make them nice.  For example, setting the table for dinner can be a huge morale booster and turn a difficult day around. 

If I’ve placed as much emphasis on the table as I have all these years, it’s because it is the ultimate place to practice what the French call l’art de vivre  – the art of living – and reap the benefits. Every time we set the table, it’s a chance to reset our life.  In fact, dinner as a whole experience is a great way to get a read on how we’re doing. How do we walk into the kitchen, what mood are we bringing to the table, how are we choosing to eat…?  If you look at the table as a place of self-care, it becomes very powerful at the heart of everyday life.  

Five tips for better dining:

1. You put your mood in your food, so be sure to get into a peaceful state of mind before cooking.

2.  Make sure where and how you eat positively impacts your morale and self-esteem. Create an alluring environment to dine in, one that reflects who you want to be and the life you want to live.

3.  Bring your best self to the table. Don’t try to eat when you’re angry or upset.

4.  The table is not a place to multi-task. When you dine, be present.

5.  Dine with people you love and who bring out the best in you. Avoid sitting down with people who make you anxious or insecure.

Life lessons from hosting and home-making?

1. I used to see housework as an unpleasant pain in the neck, but now I find it satisfying and empowering.  When you come upon a mess and have the power to make it right, it feels close to godliness. It’s proof we can make the world a better place, even if it’s just one ironing job or one floor scrub at a time.

2.   Entertaining is certainly about having fun and feeding our minds, but it is also a great way to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. When we know guests are coming, we suddenly see things we might otherwise have glazed — an entranceway that needs clearing, a spice shelf that needs organizing, our own hair that needs combing, whatever it is… Knowing we’re about to come under the microscope of other people is a great way of having our own eyes opened to what’s around us and to how we are ourselves. Entertaining is a natural way to raise our own bar.

3.  Care is palpable, whether it’s in the state of our homes or in our cooking, and what we put into things is definitely what we get out of them. If I’m in a bad mood or flustered, my food will not taste good. I need to switch my state of mind, slow down, and put the kind of energy into it that I want to receive back. The same is true of the house. It doesn’t take much: fluff up a room, spritz around a nice scent, and light some candles. Make the space feel good and it will reward you by making you feel better, too.

When did you discover your passion for writing and cooking?

It has always been there, but there was one moment when I knew it was something I wanted to act upon. When I was twenty years old, I was in The Strand bookstore in New York and I came upon a book called The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher.   I thought to myself, “You mean you can write about food?”  So, that’s when that seed was planted. As for cooking, I’ve always liked it, but I’m not obsessed with food. I’m more interested in life as seen through the lens of food than I am with ingredients and techniques. And I’m interested in people, too. The best way to get to know them is always around a table.

If you were to invite five people for dinner from the present or past, who would you choose?

Madame de Staël, who was a French salonnière, a writer, and Napoleon’s arch enemy

Carolina Herrerra, the fashion designer, who has the most wonderful way of communicating the importance of clothes and elegance in life 

Queen Elizabeth. What can I say, she’s one of the most admirable women on earth.

Lady Colin Campbell, a writer and historian, officially, but also a shrewd social analyst, a great gossip, and a deadly wit

Rose Uniacke, the English interior designer, one of the great masters of restraint and serenity today

My speciality is small dinner parties. With this group, I would set an intimate round table and serve a three-course menu, something light, pretty, seasonal, and – importantly – simple. I wouldn’t want food that would distract from the guests or the conversation.  

Laura’s work is a reflection of the person she is. Instead of just doing things, she comes from a place of being. Her soulful passion inspires you to become more creative as you entertain the thought of opening your home to more meaningful connections. To change your house into a home, add more soul. To change your food into a nutritious and enjoyable meal, add more soul. 

And voila!  You now have the recipe for getting the most out of life. What you put into life is what you get out of it. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to savour your food, cook for the people you love, enjoy good company and celebrate life. I challenge you to start setting the table and making your food look delicious and your life more inviting. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised as you start putting more meaning into your food and your actions.     Cheers!

Antoinette Giacobbe

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