When slow food enthusiast and avid cyclist Anna Brones arrived for our meeting at hip Parisian natural wine bar le Garde-Robe, she apologized for her 5-minute delay. “I took the Vélib,” she said. She had stumbled upon an amazing jewelry store and couldn’t not go in. As she smiled and placed an order for white wine and a cheese plate, I noticed her earrings. “I made them,” she said, laughing as she handled them. “They’re made from bike tubes.”
European Influences and a Cycling Lifestyle
Even if I didn’t know we were here to talk about her new cookbook, “The Culinary Cyclist,” I’d know that Anna was into biking. “It’s very Portland,” she says, though her experience with biking dates back much further. She remembers getting her first bike one Christmas, though she doesn’t know how young she was. She shared a tandem bike with her father for years starting from the age of eight, and ever since, biking has been a part of her life, much as it is in some parts of Europe. “Cycling’s just what you do,” she says of both Portland and these European cities. “Biking is ‘hip’ in the US; here, it’s just part of your everyday.”
It’s appropriate, perhaps, that these European influences seep into her discourse, given her Swedish roots. She grew up speaking Swedish with her mother, and elements of this European-influenced culture are evident in her book, though she’s quick to put a stop to those who would put the French diet on a pedestal. “The average French person shops at supermarkets, like we do,” she says. Though she has quickly gravitated towards an expat culture of foodies keen on buying the fresh, local produce that remains so easily available in Paris.
‘The Culinary Cyclist’: Cookbook or Philosophy Text?
The book itself isn’t a biking book nor is it really a cookbook. “It’s a love song to the dual pleasures of cooking and biking,” she says, a guide for those who love food and love biking.
In one chapter, she tells the story of the time she made a Dutch apple pie to bring to a friend’s house, only to realize upon its completion that she had no feasible way of transporting it. What follows is an in-depth, funny-yet-useful guide to transporting food on your bike, culminating in the aforementioned apple pie recipe.
The book integrates such far-reaching themes as grocery shopping for cyclists to elements of Swedish coffee culture — a love she shares with the book’s illustrator, Johanna Kindvall. Anna’s food philosophy involves eating for enjoyment, loving the food that you eat and appreciating it at a table, surrounded by friends. In the end, it’s this part of her philosophy that flows into the book. Biking, for her, is much more than a simple way to get around. It’s a lifestyle that creates a community, a community that will find itself further united by this book.
(Accidentally) Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free
But while her European roots and current living situation in Paris certainly inform the book, there is a vegan thread throughout the recipes, an idea that is still unfamiliar to many in this part of the world. As we discuss this element of the book, I find myself looking pointedly at the cheese plate we’re sharing as Anna helps herself to one particularly delicious wedge, age-bathed in nut liqueur. She’s quick to clarify that she’s not vegan or even vegetarian.
That so many of the recipes are vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free is strictly “personal laziness on my part,” she says. “That’s just how I cook.”
And her book reflects who she is. Honest, enthusiastic, genuine… both Anna and her book approach food in a timeless way. “It has nothing to do with the food trends right now,” Anna says.
Recipes in the book that are gluten-free are so, not because it’s trendy, but because the recipe is delicious that way. “You’re not going to make a croissant gluten-free,” she says. “There is good baking that’s gluten-free, but you have to switch what you’re looking for.”
“I’m Voting with My Fork”
“In a culture where we have so much food that we have the luxury to make a choice… if I’m in a position where I can make choices with my food, I have an obligation to do so,” she says. “I’m voting with my fork.” And her vote is for healthy foods that make her feel good — which just so happen to often be vegan and gluten-free. And even so, she’ll be eating fries with mayo in Belgium, “because that’s what you do.”
But if she loves le Garde Robe and kale, it’s not because they’re trendy, but because she truly loves them. And if she’s writing “The Culinary Cyclist” – a book whose popularity before it has even been published can be gleaned from the enthusiastic Kickstarter response it received, with more than 200 percent funding — it’s not because cycling is trendy, but because she loves it.
Those who share her views will fall head-over-heels for the matter-of-fact book, which is tongue-in-cheek in its humor, quotidian in its approach to cycling, and “high-nutrition, low-bullshit” in its approach to food. “If you’re going to follow a recipe religiously, you’ve kind of missed the point,” she says.