Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery Oral History Project

Interview with Elisabeth Luard



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Technological University Dublin


Elisabeth Luard was born in London during the war, her father was a pilot and died in the Second World War in 1943, leaving her and her older brother as war orphans. When Elisabeth was six or seven, her mother remarried a diplomat and had two other children. They were posted in Montevideo in Uruguay, and Elisabeth went to school there and learnt Spanish, as well as French which was the language of diplomacy at that time. She also learnt a lot from the maids and cooks and often spent weekends in the homes of the domestic staff. At the age of eleven, she returned to England to attend a boarding school in Worcestershire along with many other diplomat daughters, and then at the age of fifteen, she was sent to the Eastbourne School of Domestic Economy where she received quite a professional training. On leaving, she was sent to Paris for training to a Mademoiselle Anita to become a debutante, but as she was already fluent in French, she spent six months attending the Sorbonne with a friend of her brother, listening to Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, when she was meant to be attending a Lycée. By the time she got back to London, Elisabeth was not heading in the general direction of being a debutante. In her own words, ‘I wanted to be Juliet Greco, black panda eyes, long stockings, short skirts and sassy!’ It was 1959, she was 17 and although she went through the season as a debutante, and some of her contemporaries did marry, her mother and family moved to Mexico at the end of the season, and Elisabeth enrolled in Kennington City and Guilds Art School and I took a job at Private Eye (Magazine). She met her husband Nicholas Luard who was running a satirical nightclub with Peter Cooke called ‘The Establishment’ and they married when she was twenty-one and they had four children. Elisabeth moved the family to Spain and was basically self sufficient while the children attended the local school. They then moved to Castlenaudary in the Languedoc around 1978 and Elisabeth began writing a food page for The Field along with a botanical drawing. Around 1980 or 1982 she discovered Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) and rang on Alan Davidson’s doorbell and he encouraged her to write her book on European Peasant Cookery and allowed her access to his library and introduced her to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery and to a whole network of like-minded individuals. Her book was published in 1984/5 by Transworld under the Corgi imprint, and the American version of the book brought her on a seven-city tour of the States where she met the Culinary Historians of Boston, including Julia Child, and on the other side of the country, M.F.K. Fisher and a visit to Chez Panisse. In the past forty years, she has never looked back! Elisabeth has served as Chair of the Oxford Symposium from 2017.

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culinary history, oral history, interviews, gastronomy


Arts and Humanities



Interview with Elisabeth Luard