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Ricardo Relaxes

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By Malcolm Jolley

Ricardo Larrivee is a household name in Quebec where his shows air to big ratings and his magazine sits on every shelf. And he's becoming one in English Canada, where his laid-back Food Network TV show 'Ricardo and Friends' is about to air its third season. I caught up with Ricardo on the occasion of his latest book Meals for Every Occasion.

Gremolata: You seem like you're having more fun than ever.

Ricardo: Lots of fun. Especially this Canadian tour, if I can say. Because I have laready shot my next season, so I can relax and just enjoy - I had five days in Vancouver, wher eit was sunny and I could really enjoy the city. I went for walks, went to restuarants. It was not 'work, work, work'.

Gremolata: Meals for Occasion is like your TV show: it seems to show how you really live. And it's definitely Quebecois with pictures of snow and ice fishing.

Ricardo: Yes, it's Quebec but, you know, as soon as you get outside of Canada - if I go to England or France and they see the book, they say "Oh, it's so Canadian". And if I ask why, they say that even if you're are doing a formal dinner, you can feel an informal, easy-access, relaxed way they think of Canadians. And there's all the seasons, and lots of friendships. I'm quite happy, because I think it's true. We can be formal, but we can also have a direct relation with each other.

Gremolata: And the "occassions" that make each chapter of Meals for Every Occasion are definitely about friendships, like the friend who ends up staying for an unplanned dinner. Your descriptions of these sorts of things are pretty funny. They're often for times when you might not really want to cook.

Ricardo: Did you like that? Great. You know, you have friends who won't leave and you realise that they're going to stay for dinner. Even though it's my passion, there are some times when I don't really feel like cooking. But, once the shock is gone, you say ok let's make the best of it and have fun. I always find a way to have fun.

Gremolata: So you rise above it.

Ricardo: Well, I try to stay in reality. I have three children and there are some nights when my wife and I ask ourselves if we have the energy to cook the meals we worked on for the show during the day. A lot of recipes are really for weekends, but they can also be there to give inspiration for week days.

Gremolata: You say that guys don't read recipes at all.

Ricardo: It's true! I get all these emails from guys who say, I tried your recipe for chicken and did this or that. And I think this is not my recipe any more! They started to read the recipe but half way through it they experimented and created their own. This is is perfect! Make it yours. Buy the book to get ideas to help you.

Even though I'm generalising, I think women will try the exact recipe first. After that they move some things around. Everybody makes the recipes their own. I read it all the time. It makes me laugh.

I didn't want to make a book to tell people what to do. Instead I'll take the same lines that hear, like "I've invited the boss for dinner," times where there are people who are stressing us a bit more than usual, like when you have friends who are always late, and see what we can do.

And you know what? Food is not the most imprtant thing. Food is there to bring people together. So we shouldn't be mad or stressed. So there's lots of no fuss recipes for the guests who are late, so the food can wait. Or if you have guests who stay over, it's the perfect excuse for recipes about breakfast. Of course people don't stay over every weekend at your house, but when it happens you will have a few recipes and ideas about what to have in the morning.

Gremolata: That's probabaly about the only time you'd make guests breakfast.

Ricardo: Exactly. But brunch is nice too. People come over, but they're not going to stay until 12 or one in the morning. You can eat relax and still have the evening - especially on Sundays.

Gremolata: It's not all about feeding guests, though.

Ricardo: I love entertaining. But for me, entertaining is most of the time dealing with my own family. We eat as a couple, a family and with friends every day of the week. But how many times do we have formal guests? Maybe once or twice a month. So there also lots in this book about what you're going to eat on Monday night.

Gremolata: Last time we talked you made such a great point, which was that people expected to cook these big complicated meals ever once and a while for guests, but cooking is like anything else: you need to practice.

Ricardo: It's true. I still repeat this and where does it written that you have to be perfect? At work we are pushed too be perfect, to be as good as we can be all the time. So give ourself a break when you are at your own house with your own friends and family. Don't put this pressure on you.

First of all, it's not brain surgery, it's just some people coming over for dinner or lunch. Second, they are not food critics! They just want a nice meal. People forget that. And guests have a responsibility to be nice!

Gremolata: What about the practising part?

Ricardo: I often do the same dish for more than one meal, if I'm entertaining a lot. My children get sick of it. We might have the same dessert three, four or five times. But there's no more stress. My wife and I will be like a well oiled machine on a meal: we'll know how it works.

If we have a new recipe, then we'll try it out with just us or with friends who we are very comfortable with, who might even help in the kitchen. We'll keep the recipe for the stressful event last. If you know you have a really important dinner, then try the recipe on your own family first. And when you do it a second time there will be no more surprises. At Christmas, we make the same meal all the time for all the guests and family occasions.

Gremolata: What other messages do you get from the people who write in to you?

Ricardo: But I get always the same message. People are stressed and a feel like the have to be perfect. They want to cook, but they are scared of not being good enough.

And they want daily ideas. The basics. So, I don't try to reinvent the world. People want food to secure them, not things nobody knows. A good chicken a la king with a wine sauce is awlays fun.

It's such a stressful world, especially for children. They like foods that get repeated. Parents: if you kids like your chicken soup, make it once a month or once a week. Just redo what you love. If you get sick of it, then look for another recipe. But just relax and enjoy it.

Gremolata: A lot of your book is about eating around the table with your kids.

Ricardo: This is so important. The harder life gets, the more important it is for parents to force, I mean force, their kids to stay at the table for a meal. My kids are always trying to get up to do TV or someting. But they have to stay at the table for the meal. Sometimes they hate me for that. But after 20 minutes, you start to talk and then you get to know what going on in their lives - the important stuff. At least once a day you need to sit down.

I am worried. The Sunday night dinner is disapearing. To me it is the heart of society, it's where you learn about your family.

Gremolata: And how to eat properly too.

Ricardo: Yes. I think every book, magazine, TV show - whatever it is - has a social responsibility for good food. And local food. When I buy things from my region, I know them and the story of how they were made. And when I'm in Vancouver or Calgary I want to try products made locally there.

And consumers have a responsibility to ask for it. If we ask for it, the stores will get it. Look at fresh herbs. 20 years ago you could only buy dried herbs, now even in small towns, you can find fresh herbs because people asked.

Remember the 'distinct society' for Quebec? I think every province should have it! I want our food to be different in each place. We have such a vast country, we could be different and trade with each other. But, I'm very positive. People are interested. We just have to keep asking.


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