Dishing up some Canadian nostalgia

Whiffs of Canadian cuisine scent the pages of Lunch with Lady Eaton: Inside the Dining Rooms of the Nation, a book co-authored by two members of the York community. York University dance alumna Carol Anderson (BFA Hons. ’73), an award-winning choreographer who currently teaches in York’s Dance Department, and theatre alumna Katharine Mallinson (BFA  Hons. ’74), who is a costume designer for dance, collaborated on this book. Although they have frequently worked together professionally, this book is their first joint foray into publishing.

Influenced by the authors’ enjoyment of dining in style, Lunch with Lady Eaton pays tribute to the moxie and the legacy of Flora McCrae Eaton, daughter-in-law of Timothy Eaton, founder of the Eaton’s department store chain in Canada.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Eaton’s department store chain evolved into a national icon. As the place to shop and dine, the stores revolutionized the retail and restaurant experience for generations of Canadians while shaping the culinary and social landscape of the country.

Many Eaton’s stores boasted a fine restaurant on their premises. The Grill Room opened in Winnipeg in 1905, followed by the Georgian Room (right) in Toronto’s flagship Queen Street Store in 1924 and the Round Room at in Toronto’s College Street store in 1930. Montreal’s Le Neuf debuted in 1931 and the Marine Room, Vancouver, in 1949.

Women flocked to these restaurants in Gosford Park fashions to savour high tea replete with petit fours and Queen Elizabeth cake.

“They were an elegant place to lunch, a Canadian innovation, a haven and a place to celebrate. The restaurants prided themselves on offering a national cuisine,” said Anderson in an interview about the book.

Lady Eaton oversaw the architecture, decor, staffing and menus for more than a dozen Eaton’s restaurants. Having joined the company’s board of directors in 1921, she remained an influential presence in the executive suite until her retirement in 1943. Ever a trailblazer, she defied tradition by hiring women to manage most of the Eaton’s restaurants while championing the emerging field of dietetics, thus opening up a new career path for working women.

Left: Lady Flora McCrae Eaton

As Anderson notes in the book: “Timothy Eaton recognized in his daughter-in-law a keen business sense, drive and a vision that informed every aspect of business.”

All of the famous Eaton’s restaurants have since closed, except for the Round Room in Toronto. It was recently restored and reopened as The Carlu, a special events venue named for the renowned French art deco designer and architect Jacques Carlu, who originally designed the space.

For those who treasure the look and feel of print on bound paper, Lunch with Lady Eaton is a  soft-covered coffee-table book with French flaps; its 206 ivory pages are illustrated with some 100 archival photographs of the Eaton family and their restaurants, culled from the Eaton’s archives and private collections. Each chapter explores the Eaton’s restaurant experience from its humble beginnings to its glory days and eventual demise.

Right: A newspaper advertisement for the Georgian Room

The book also features more than 30 illustrated recipes from the kitchens of Eaton’s restaurants, documenting dishes that bring back fond memories for many Canadians. During the summer of 2002, while Anderson was writing the text and researching the photographs for the book, Mallinson was testing the recipes. Readers can take their pick from chicken pot pie, toasted cheese dreams, Waldorf salad, Canadian honey drop cookies or Eaton’s signature dessert – the exclusive Red Velvet Cake.

“The recipes have been adapted for the home kitchen, in most cases scaled down from commercial quantities to quantities suitable for a family of four to six people,” said Mallinson.

A combination of biography, social history and cookbook, Lunch with Lady Eaton is full of Canadian charm, culture and cuisine from cover to cover. Successfully making the leap from dance floor to dining room, Anderson and Mallinson bring a natural grace and style to its pages.

Left: A 1940s menu from the Round Room

Carol Anderson was a member of the Eaton’s Junior Council in Montreal in 1967, while Katharine Mallinson is a fifth-generation Torontonian who frequently dined at Eaton’s restaurants with family and friends as she was growing up.

Lunch with Lady Eaton (ISBN 1-55022-650-9), which was launched on May 10 at The Carlu, was published by ECW Press.

This story was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena, communications, Faculty of Fine Arts.