Kristen Beddard @KristenBeddard is the queen of kale in France—she reintroduced kale to French farmers! One thing led to another, and The Kale Project is now a bi-lingual blog that teaches about kale, helps locate it in France, and provides recipe inspiration too.
Tell us about launching The Kale Project.
When we first moved to Paris, I could not find a job because my French skills were not that great. I moved only knowing “Bonjour!” I also could not find kale, and with a background in advertising, came up with the idea to grow kale in Paris. The initial goal was to find one farmer to grow it and one restaurant to use it, and then a handful of people to buy it, with the hope that the farmer would want to grow it again. I didn’t have a business plan but knew that using digital media would be important to help spread the word. I wasn’t trying to change French food culture and didn’t approach the project as if I was “teaching” the French anything about food—it was only adding another cabbage to the mix of cabbages already available.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between the eating habits of Americans and the eating habits of the French?
Le snacking! The French really do not snack except for one time a day in the afternoon. People aren’t always eating on the street—meaning there is a time and a place for meals, which ultimately makes them more enjoyable. Food is not only approached with regard to calories or with the idea of “what can it do for me?” It’s approached as something that gives pleasure. Wine, cheese, butter and bread are alright because it’s all about moderation.
Your family has an organic farm in the US—Lady Moon Farms. They grow kale. How has your family responded to your ambitious quest for kale abroad?
They have been supportive. My uncle is the founder of Lady Moon and gave me a lot of advice and tips for kale cultivation.
You launched in 2012. Tell us about what your project has become, and how it has morphed over time.
The project has changed so much over time and I’m happy to say that at this point, I don’t do as much anymore because the original mission of reintroducing kale has worked! Kale, when in season, is now available at outdoor markets and grocery stores and is grown by both small and large producers. Over time, the project led to a few writing projects which is where I have focused a lot of my time over the past year and a half.
You recently wrote a book, Bonjour Kale. Did you have any idea that your quest for kale would turn into a memoir?
Never! There was a New York Times article that ran in 2013 about the project, and from there I was approached by a few literary agents. The idea of doing an American in Paris memoir appealed to me, so I decided to try it out. It has been a really challenging process, but I’ve learned so much.
How do you define good food?
Fresh ingredients that are home-cooked and eaten around a table with friends and family. And of course wine.
What was your most challenging moment as a new resident of Paris, trying to introduce a forgotten vegetable to the population?
There are a lot to choose from because there were always a lot of ups and downs. I was not always great at this but remembering that I was reintroducing kale to a different culture made sure I thought about how the French would perceive things versus how I would assume an American audience would. It seems like a no-brainer and it was a really good way to further immerse myself in their culture.
What has been the most rewarding aspect?
The people I’ve met have been amazing. I did a lot of networking for the project and it really helped create my own community in the city. I talk a lot about this in the book, but by reaching out and meeting new people, Paris quickly felt like home.
Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If you could ask the future President to consider a food issue that needs to be addressed, what would it be?
I am really passionate about how we can make America’s youth healthier, and it is an area I would like to work in when we move back to the US. I would like to know what the plan is to continue the First Lady’s work with school lunch, and how we can get cooking back into the schools. I still had home economics in middle school, but we made things like beef jerky and Jell-o molds, which are not dishes that you actually cook for lunch or dinner. I think kids need to learn how to cook simple things with ingredients that can be bought on a limited income.
What is your favorite way to eat kale?
I grew up eating lightly steamed kale but now love kale salads.
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What’s one of your first (and most memorable) interactions with food?
I didn’t grow up drinking milk, so when I was three and four, I can remember my mom letting me put watered-down grape juice in a bowl of whole-wheat Oatios while watching Mr. Rogers. I can still picture myself trying to walk from the kitchen to the living room with the bowl, trying not to spill it.
What was your biggest #foodfail?
Years ago, I tried to make turkey meatballs from a cousin’s recipe. I’m not sure what I did wrong but there was too much liquid in the mixture and it would not stick together in individual balls. Since then, I’ve successfully made patties of all kinds, but if my husband comes home and sees something like this on the stove, he reaches for the phone to order takeout.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
Oatmeal, quinoa, millet mix with almond milk and a touch of ghee.
What’s always in your fridge? How do you use it?
Hard cheese like aged comté, gruyère and parmesan. Flat-leaf parsley. Dijon mustard. We take advantage of the amazing cheeses in France and sometimes have a bite or two over a glass of wine while making dinner. I like to add a few shavings of parmesan to salads. I add chopped parsley to soups, pastas and grains. Dijon is great for salad dressings.
Top three herbs, in order of importance?
Flat leaf parsley, rosemary, cilantro.
Who is one famous person, dead or alive, that you want to share a meal with? And where?
I would love to have dinner with Cecile Richards. Her resilience is extraordinary. I would let her choose the place to be able to experience and talk about what kind of food she likes best.
What’s your favorite indulgent treat?
Chocolate covered pretzels.
Your good food wish?
That every child has a healthy meal every day, filled with fresh vegetables and fruits—and that they enjoy it! Encouraging our youth to eat better is not going to happen overnight, but will take a generation, so we need to keep trying!