Today we are getting to know more about Mardi of Eat. Live. Travel. Write. A full time French teacher to elementary school boys and a part-time PhD student in Toronto. Mardi lets us into her life by sharing her mission for the perfect Macaron, the pursuit of a school cooking club for the students she teaches, as well as recipes she loves and places she loves to visit!
Mik: What made you become so passionate about food? Was there something in particular or just a love of it?
Mardi: Truthfully, I always dreamed of being a chef when I was younger, but when it came to leaving school and choosing a career path, hospitality school was quite expensive (still is) and university (at the time) was free. I opted for journalism, which, ironically, I dropped out of after a year, pursuing my love of the French language in an Arts degree majoring in French language and literature. I have always loved to cook though and grew up watching my mum – an excellent home cook – in her kitchen. The care and love I saw go into her food helped instill a great respect in me for those who are able to cook and do it well and I suppose I have always wanted to be “just like mum” when I grew up too!
MiK: As the name Eat. Live. Travel. Write. suggests, you say you‘ve lived in quite a few places around the world as well as having traveled frequently. Of all the cuisine that you’ve had in their native places, is there one you like more than the others? If so what makes it so appealing?
Mardi: Yes, I was brought up in Australia, living in England briefly when I was 2 and Belgium for a year when I left school. Later, I moved to Paris to pursue my PhD in literature (sadly, that did not eventuate, as I decided that teaching was better for my career prospects and helped make money so I could enjoy la vie Parisienne!), where I lived for nearly 6 years. During that time, I spent a summer in Hong Kong, teaching English and enjoying the craziness that is Hong Kong in the summer. In 1999, I met Neil, whilst on vacation in Morocco and ended up moving to Toronto in 2000 where I have been ever since. In the past 10 years, I have also spent a summer in England teaching English and have traveled extensively during my holidays.
I am obviously a huge fan of French cuisine, in France, where the serving sizes are such that you can enjoy something a little bit richer than normal because it is served in a reasonable portion. This is not always the case in French restaurants in other countries.
I am also a fan of Asian cuisine and thoroughly enjoyed our time in Laos last summer where we had a different version of noodle soup every single day – it’s amazing how something so simple can be so complex and different across one country!
MiK: You’ve been on a mission to make the perfect macarons, do you think you have succeeded? What other foods do you want to perfect in the upcoming year?
Mardi: Yes, the macarons are definitely a work in progress!!! Other foods I am hoping to perfect in 2010 are pasta and bread. Simply because more and more we are trying to eat less processed foods and cook from scratch. I can’t think of two better things to start with than bread and pasta.
Mardi: In the year between my MA and starting my PhD, I wanted to take some time to do some non-academic courses for me. George Brown is a renowned hospitality school here in Toronto and they offer courses at a Continuing Education level also (i.e. at night). I started out perusing the Culinary Arts Certificate (which Neil is over half-way through) and got sidetracked by the Food and the Media certificate which combines many of my passions – writing, cooking, history of food and photography and which also includes Food Styling and Creative Plate Presentations which I am taking next fall – cannot wait!
Mik: You have a cooking club at school – Les Petits Chefs. Can you tell us a little more about this club and what you may have learned from working with kids in the kitchen?
Mardi: I started this club after seeing how well my students (all boys) reacted to a couple of cooking in French workshops we hosted at our school. Boys who might not be terribly academic or who have a hard time concentrating on school work suddenly blossomed in a kitchen environment and it’s great to connect with your students on a different level than just academically. Last term we worked through some recipes from a kids’ cooking book I was given for review, this term we are using Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution cookbook as a) it’s very topical right now and b) the recipes are GREAT – easy and tasty and do-able in the 50 minutes we have for our weekly club.
Working with little boys (9-11 year olds) in the kitchen has made me become a lot more organized and think recipes through a lot more than if I am just cooking at home. I am quite strict about the mise en place being complete before we start the actual cooking or assembling of the dish so that we are completely focused on only one thing at a time (prepping ingredients OR cleaning OR cooking). Too much activity in the kitchen can be chaotic at the best of times, let alone when it’s a science lab turned kitchen and the cooks are 9-10 year old boys.
MiK: Since you’re a teacher and a student, what kind of advice can you give to those learning how to cook and those trying to teach others how to cook?
Mardi: Being a teacher by profession makes me perhaps more critical as a student in any type of class. I strongly believe that if you are teaching others (adults or children) to cook, you need to lead by example and be super organized in the kitchen. In terms of instruction, clear and concise but informative would be my guidelines – it’s always disappointing to attend a class and come away with questions. On the flip side, I find too much information can be distracting, especially in a cooking class where the emphasis needs to be on technique and the food. It’s a fine balance, for sure!
In terms of learning how to cook, I would say try to find a beginner class where you will learn important techniques like knife skills and basic recipes like stocks and sauces. I took Culinary I and II at George Brown last year had to take this academic year off due to PhD class commitments (yes, a second PhD, this time in second language education) but those two courses really set me up for success in terms of the various challenges I take part in through the blogging world – Daring Bakers and Cooks and MacTweets to name a few. There is no substitute for learning basic techniques in a hands-on environment, in my opinion! If you are a traveler, look for demonstrations or hands-on classes in the cities you travel to – it’s a great way to get a grip on the culture of a new place but also it means you will be able to recreate the flavours of your trip when you go home – something we always do for our friends by hosting themed dinner parties.
MiK: If you were a dish what would you be? If you were an ingredient what would you be?
Mardi: I am going to have to say a macaron (bien sûr!) , because I can appear tough on the outside but really, deep down, I am just a big softie!!! An ingredient? Hmmm… some type of cheese because I can be fairly strong willed (I AM a Taurus after all!) but again, just a big old softie!
Thank you so much to Mardi of Eat. Live. Travel. Write. for a great and informative interview! If you want to hear more about the Mardi and her mission for perfect macarons, bread and pasta, how it goes in the lab style cooking club with her students, or just some great recipes and fabulous places to visit check out Eat. Live. Travel. Write!