My Friend: Reintroduced Paris to Kale

I’m an Aquarius. 
I read once that Aquarians like to collect people the way others might collect eclectic art and if I take a look at my friends, it’s kind of true. It’s not like I do it on purpose or anything, like, I don’t go around intentionally rounding up interesting people that make perfect dinner party guests, it just sort of happens, And because I have some really intriguing friends, and because I blog, naturally I thought that I should combine the two in a new blog series called, My Friend. 
Each edition of My Friend, will focus on one of these dynamic dynamos as I introduce them to you with an interview, so you can get to know them too. They’re doing some pretty fascinating and inspiring things, like for instance, this, this, and this.
Today, I’m interviewing a blog friend turned in real life friend (or IRL as us bloggers like to call it), Kristen, an American in Paris. Kristen is the founder of The Kale Project, “a movement to bring the healthiest green vegetable to Paris.”   

Let’s start off with an easy one, how are you? 

I’m good! I just got back from a few days in Cannes. It’s always nice to wake up and know there will be consistent sunshine!

First things first, do you prefer the Queen of Kale, Lady Kale, or my favorite (which I think should be your superhero name), The Green Empress?

There have been a lot of names out there and I’ve actually never heard Lady Kale or The Green Empress yet! I like Lady Kale though.  I will admit that when I see an article about someone doing kale chips or opening a juice bar and they are called the “Queen of Kale” I get a little jealous. Perhaps that’s how Gwyneth Paltrow felt when she read that I was the “Kale Crusader” in the New York Times?

I’m sure she was green with envy (green… get it?!). Anyway, Lady Kale, what was the light bulb moment when you knew that you were going to try and bring kale to Paris?

Philip (my husband) and I were drinking martinis at this weird expat event (where we spoke to no one) about 2 months after moving to France and since I could not find a job or kale, I thought that perhaps I would make finding kale my job. Coming from an advertising background, I’ve approached the entire thing as a marketing campaign. But on a side note, I never thought that I would actually talk about kale all the time.

How would you attempt to describe kale to people at the markets in France and when you did, would they just point to the chou frisé? 

I would show a photo on my phone and yes, people would point to chou frisé or just say they had never seen it or would just shrug. I probably could have been a little bit more eloquent about the entire thing but this was so early on and I was so shy trying to speak French. But I also have more of a city perspective. I’m sure if I was asking around in more rural areas where people tend to garden on their own, the response might have been different.

How have the French responded to kale? Any funny horror stories you can share?

Overall the response has been good. There are always a few people that don’t care but that’s alright because hamburgers and cupcakes are a huge trend right now in Paris and while I respect anyone that has their own business or project around them, I don’t care about them. And of course there are the people that have sent me horrible hate-mail because they think I’m trying to teach the French how to eat, which clearly isn’t true.

What has been your biggest obstacle with the Kale Project? And what was your biggest surprise?

The biggest obstacle has been keeping it going and organized. The entire initiative grew much faster than I anticipated so at times I’m not able to keep up with it all. And the French language part was difficult but it forced me to speak which in the long run has been great! The biggest surprise was again how quickly it grew. I never expected Auchan or Le Grand Frais to be carrying kale during the second season.

If not kale, what other vegetable or food would you try to bring to France?

I never really know how to answer this question because the kale thing just happened and made sense. It was like I had this instinct that I had to do it (I know it sounds crazy!) While I would love to have more frequent access to more varieties of kale and other dark, leafy greens (collards, dandelion greens), I can’t say that France is really missing anything. Overall, living here has taught me so much about seasonality of produce to the point where I really try to practice shopping and eating with the seasons much more than I did in NYC. So not having access to certain things has made me more thoughtful about what I buy.

What type of climate does kale grow best in? Do you think it would flourish in Le Petit Village? (I could picture Honey Jr being quite the little kale farmer)

As kale is a cabbage – it is traditionally a winter vegetable – it grows best in mild temps. But it would definitely grow in Le Petit Village too! It’s so easy to grow! In France the season is turning out to be September – March.

Tell me about this cocktail you made at Silencio (an uber trendy bar in Paris)… did they let you loose behind the bar to mix it up?

I was lucky enough to work with their professional bartender who made a mean Kale Bloody Mary. I plan to share the recipe on the site sometime soon.

I thought the Huffington Post piece on you was cool and I was chuffed for you when I saw it, but when I saw the article in the NY Times, I was really blown away, were you surprised by the success and attention?

Of course! I mean I still just sit back and laugh at the entire experience. I am lucky that I was able to devote my time to something this fun and interesting. I’m even luckier that it’s done so well.

Do you have a go-to kale recipe that you’d share with us?

For my favorite dish, I’m all about kale salads. But the great thing about kale is that you can add it to literally almost anything. Soup? Add some kale. Pasta dish? Add some sauteéd kale. Smoothie? Juice? Add some kale. It’s so versatile which makes it so easy to get some green goodness on a daily basis.

If you could travel back in time knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give yourself before launching the Kale Project?

Hah. I’m not sure I would have started it. I think there was this naivety in my life at that time that blinded me to what I really, truly was doing and if I’d waited any longer I probably would have chickened out and been too aware of what the French could have or would have said. But that said, I probably would tell myself to be better at updates on the website. There is so much that happened that I never actually wrote about. Oh well – it’s something I can always add in retrospect!

And finally… what’s next?

I’m trying to figure this out too! I’m still working with various local, French farmers in other parts of the country and will be ramping up for the 2014 season in September with a few collaborations with Big Apple Yoga, Green Hopping App to name a few. One thing the project taught me is that you really never do know what’s going to happen next. Keeping an open-mind has been really important!

8 responses to “My Friend: Reintroduced Paris to Kale”

  1. Wow…what an awesome job! So random too! I love all of Lady Kale's names. My favourite was the kale crusader. I love silly puns like that.


  2. Hallelujah and AMEN! I couldn't believe we could not find kale when we moved over here. This is the first year we've planted some, so we'll see how it holds up to a little Rhone-Alpes weather!


  3. Inspired by the Kale Project, I asked my local Biocoop to stock kale and apparently they've got a local farmer to grow it this season. I'm hoping to see it in the shop come the autumn. 🙂


  4. This is so fascinating, thank you so much for sharing this interview! I am totally excited. Such a fantastic idea! I love kale and now I really want to try a Kale Bloody Mary.


  5. I love kale and mustard mash in the autumn. Yum!


  6. Just catching up on your posts! We bought a new juicer a couple of weeks ago and I keep seeing recipes which include kale in the juices. Maybe I should try one!


  7. So are you loving that kale is so readily available in the States?! It's everywhere! When I go back I tend to go overboard. I heart TKP! (Loved this interview!)


  8. Great article, do you have Trader Joes near you? They do a great new salad with baby kale leaves it's delicious!


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