A Conversation with Catherine Lau

Catherine Lau
Assistant Clinical Professor

Cat Lau

Belated Happy Thanksgiving, Cat. What was the pièce de résistance on your holiday table? Do you prefer entertaining large groups or more intimate gatherings?

I didn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner this year as we went to my parents’ house. However, the day after, my parents and brothers came over for dinner and I made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon. Actually, I made this dish once before for a colleague and his wife when they came for dinner several months ago. I definitely prefer more intimate gatherings, between 4-6 people. Cooking for larger groups can be very stressful, especially since I am a Type A personality and like to be in control of the situation at all times. With larger gatherings, you have to go with the flow, which I’m not very good at when I’m cooking. However, when I go out to eat, I love getting together in larger groups.

Your CV reveals that you spent 2001 at Oxford University. Describe your most endearing recollections of your time in England. Did you ever get used to the traditional English breakfast?

Yes, I spent a quarter studying abroad at Oxford my junior year in college. I lived in the Stanford House on High Street, which is the main street in Oxford. It was this big conglomeration of multiple several hundred-year-old houses all fused together to create a larger house. It had a lot of charm and seemingly a million staircases, and some clearly did not go anywhere. The floor in my room was really slanted to the point that it felt like I could easily fall out of bed in the middle of the night. Some of my best memories were the weekend trips that we took to Wales, Scotland, and Paris. Definitely a ton of fun! And no, sadly, I never did get used to traditional English breakfast (baked beans for breakfast?!? No thanks!) or English food in general. Probably my fondest food memory of England was the “special chips” that they sell out of those night food trucks: French fries, salt, ketchup, malt vinegar, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, bacon, and melted cheese. Yes, it is a heart attack in the making, but trust me — it’s delicious!

You are musically gifted, playing piano, viola, and violin. Do you play publicly, and who are your favorite composers?

I haven’t played in quite a while so I don’t play publicly anymore. Back in high school, I was a member of the county honor orchestra and competed in several concert piano competitions, but again, that was more than a decade ago. My favorite composer is definitely Frederic Chopin. His music is so expressive, emotional, and beautiful. To this day, my favorite piece that I ever played is Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu.

Is there a profession other than medicine that you might have pursued, and what intrigues you about that profession?

I joke that I would have been an interior decorator. What is better than buying nice things and spending other people’s money?

When you read, do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? What was the most memorable or touching book that you recently read?

I used to prefer fiction but lately I’ve been reading a lot more non-fiction. While on vacation last year, I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Everyone should read it; it definitely opens your eyes to the abuses and madness that the industrial food chain has been getting away with for decades.

What characteristics do your loved ones most admire about you? Are there any quirks that might be more challenging?

I think that would be my practicality, level-mindedness, and persistence, although I guess you’d have to ask my loved ones to get the real answer to that question. One quirk my husband definitely finds challenging is that I cannot sleep in an unmade bed. Most mornings I am running out of the house and don’t have time to make the bed so that means there are many nights when I kick my tired husband out of bed to remake it! He’s tolerated it now for many, many years so I guess it’s not a deal-breaker for him.

How are the holidays celebrated in your family? Have you melded Asian and American traditions for the holidays?

We always try to get together as a large group for all holidays. It was weird spending my first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years away from home during my intern year. Being Chinese-American, our family is very focused on food and trust me, there is a LOT of it during the holidays. One thing that my family does during Thanksgiving to blend together Asian and American traditions is to cook the traditional big American turkey but then use my grandma’s sticky rice recipe for the stuffing. It’s delicious! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

What personal indulgence most make you feel like a carefree kid again?

To take a day off away from work, the laptop, and email, and do whatever I feel like doing, whether it’s a quick day trip up to Napa, down to Carmel, or to just spend the day with family and good friends.

Who is your favorite partner-in-crime and what was your most memorable escapade?

That’s got to be my husband. Our most memorable escapade was a long weekend trip to Paris in 2004 … that’s when he proposed!!! And, oh man, did we eat ourselves silly that weekend. So many memorable meals!

How do you envision 2011? What is on your wish list?

I hope 2011 is a year filled with lots of happiness, both personally and professionally. I never make New Year’s resolutions, though, because I’m notorious for breaking them by the second week of January.

I hope your 2011 wishes come true. Thank you, Cat.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Cat's professional bio | See previous faculty interviews