Kale has become so popular in recent years, some call it the new beef. And yet in Europe, particularly in Paris, kale is still relatively unknown. Why is that? And more importantly, how can we change it? These are just some of the questions Kristen Beddard asked herself when she moved to Paris... so she started the Kale Project.
When Kristen and her husband were still living in New York, he visited Paris frequently for business. The opportunity came up for them to move to Paris... and Kristen noticed something. A distinct absence of kale.
"It was around last November that I had the idea to bring kale to France instead of just always complaining about it," she says, "But I didn't actually start the Project until April." Her background in marketing and advertising only added to her interest in the project. "I'm basiclaly creating a story and brand around kale."
In France, it's a bit of a mystery... mainly because many haven't heard of it, and no one knows why! "Most French people don't know because they don't know what it is," she says. "I found a painting once of a French market from 1822 where kale is at the market... so that leads me to believe that at one point people were eating it."
So how did it fall out of fashion? it's hard to say. Kristen has a theory that "like most "boring" foods (and by boring I mean, vegetables that grow in tough conditions) like cabbages and potatoes, they are associated with being poor, famines, hard times, war, etc. So perhaps at one point, it was all anyone could eat... who knows?"
Another possibility is the association of kale with other cabbages. While kale isn't just any cabbage, "the French are more likely to group vegetables than not," Kristen explains. "The French in general have a more negative association with the vegetable."
Whatever the reason, kale is virtually unfindable in France. While this may not pose problem for Parisians, who have never seen it, Americans living in Paris noticed the absence... and Kristen saw an opportunity.
The project's main goal was to bring kale to Paris, but even Kristen couldn't have guessed where the project would take her. From meeting farmers to getting kale onto restaurant menus to hosting kale-themed parties, Kristen has been kale's biggest cheerleader in Paris... and it's working!
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France is notably proud of their cuisine, and one would think that there was no way for an American to have any sway, much less an American praising a cabbage-like veggie, but strangely enough, the project has had an effect on both Americans and the French. While Americans are the best word-of-mouth publicists of kale in Paris, Kristen has found that there are some French people who know what kale is, from traveling or from reading American health food blogs, and they're getting excited about its début in Paris. And that's important.
"For kale to be consistently sold here, I need the French to want it as well. Not everyone, but for sure the younger more "progressive" French. I'm not expecting the brasserie down the street to ever use kale or for Madame whoever that is 60 years old to ever cook with it or eat it, but Paris is going to a (slower) culinary evolution, and it's the right time to introduce a new vegetable."
"I have no desire to change French cuisine," Kristen says. "I never expect kale to be on the menu at Les Deux Magots. But does it have a place at places like Frenchie and Septime and Spring? Yes, absolutely, and those are the places that are opening up and trying new things. I want the iconic French cafés to flourish and stay put and serve their steak frites and frisée salads, and then I want the other restaurants to maybe experiment with kale. There is a place for everything in Paris!"
"Phase 1" of the project -- increasing awareness and availability of kale in Paris -- is complete. But Phase 2 is only just beginning! As Kristen says, everything is still very open-ended. But she does have a few ideas, including activating more farmers to make kale more available, increasing awareness in the French community and planning more kale events in Paris to keep it on the tip of everyone's tongue!
"I'd really like to work with people in other parts of France," Kristen says. "Just because it's now being sold in Paris does not mean that people in Bordeaux don't miss it! I know this for a fact, because I have a lot of people that write to me hoping that I can expand the project into the rest of the country."
One thing is for sure: the more Kristen builds up kale's image in Paris, the more interesting people she will meet who agree! "I've made huge efforts to network and meet people to help grow awareness around the project, and I have met so many wonderful wonderful people who have all taught me so many interesting things about food and France. Every day, I am so lucky to meet another new wonderful person," Kristen says.
"This entire project has opened up a huge desire to learn more about the French and their relationship with vegetables," she says. Sounds like a great goal to have!
For those of you lucky enough to have kale on-hand, here are some of our favorite ways to cook it. As for me, I'm waiting for Kristen's project to bring kale to my local market!
- 5 quick and easy kale recipes
- Hale kale salad
- Winter pasta
- Braised kale with black beans and tomatoes
- Kale, apple and pancetta salad
- Kale, cornbread and cranberry stuffing
Image: various brennemans