June 9, 2013

Krazy for Kale in Paris!

Frustrated because you’ve searched high and low in the markets but still can’t find kale anywhere in Paris?

Kristen and kale in a Parisian market
Who would have guessed that after moving to Paris, this lesser-known green vegetable would become one of the things that you miss so much from home?
Fortunately for us, Kristen Beddard, the founder of The Kale Project, has taken on the task of making kale available to all of us living in Paris. In the following interview, Kristen discusses The Kale Project’s efforts to bring kale to a Parisian table near you.  

* What is the mission of The Kale Project?
The goals are simple:
1.     When in season, kale will be available to buy in outdoor markets, health food stores and supermarkets. 
2.     Integrate kale into Paris restaurants.
3.     Educate the French community about kale: why it is good for you and what you can do with it.
4.     Expand The Kale Project beyond Paris and into France.

* Why are you such a fan of kale?
It's honestly so funny how kale has become such a daily part of my life - aside from just eating it. But there are a few reasons why...

My childhood: 
My mother became really interested in yoga, vegetarian cooking and macrobiotics in the late 70s before yoga and eating vegetables was considered trendy. When I born in 1984, she lived a macrobiotic lifestyle and I was raised mostly vegetarian (we ate eggs and fish) until I went to Penn State. So kale was always a part of my diet from the time I started eating solid food. I grew up taking weekend trips to the East End Co-op coming home with bags of leafy greens. 

For those that live a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, kale is very important because it cleanses the blood and acts like a detox. One of the biggest reason is because it is an alkaline vegetable. The majority of Americans eat diets that are much too acidic (let's be honest, the things that taste the best are acidic foods!) so kale is important piece that helps balance out the PH in your body. 

I grew up with my mother telling me that kale was like a medicine and while I might not have loved kale as a young child, I knew that it was something which would keep me healthy.

Kristen and The Kale Project in the French Media
In third grade, we played the game where you have to introduce yourself and add a food that matches your name. I remember saying, "Hi, I'm Kristen and I like kale." No one knew what I was talking about. In the early 1990's, during elementary school, I was the kid that took brown rice, vegetable nori rolls to school for lunch with a side of steamed green beans and this was the time when Kiku in Station Square was the only sushi restaurant in Pittsburgh. So clearly I was always the kid with the weird lunch...

On a side note, my uncle (my mother's brother) is the founder of Lady Moon Farms, which is now the largest organic, vegetable farm on the east coast. So from two kids born in the 1950's in Brentwood, I would say that organics and vegetables are just a big part of our family. 

About two or so years before we left NYC, kale started to become a "thing." By the time we left NYC in August 2011, it was hard to go to a restaurant and not find kale on a menu. The juicing/detox culture was everywhere and it was no longer considered to be "weird," "hippie," or "granola," but cool. Kale was everywhere and I could buy it anywhere whenever I wanted so when we arrived in Paris and kale was nowhere to be found I just was confused. 

While I never did and still don't have an obsession with kale, it just was so bizarre that I could find spinach, swiss chard (although not the gorgeous rainbow kind), and other boring cabbages in the Paris markets but not kale. It's one of the most ancient cabbage greens and was nowhere to be found! 

What else I found very interesting is that kale is grown and sold in neighboring countries which just piqued my curiosity even more. 

* What gave you the idea to promote kale in Paris? 
I first had the idea in November 2011 soon after we'd moved to Paris. I'd talked to a few farmers, shown them photos of kale, etc and got blank stares. Restaurants either had no clue and the restaurants owned by Anglos told me... you will never be able to find it. Through more online research I saw that I was not the only expat that missed and wanted kale - so I knew there would be a niche market if I could find someone to grow it. 

Kristen checks out the kale crops
So my husband and I were talking about it all and I figured instead of joining the people who were complaining about the lack of kale that I would try to do something about it and then that April launched the Project. He is a huge supporter of the Project and frequently helps with marketing and advertising expertise.

Plus I knew that at the end of the day, kale is just a cabbage and not some exotic vegetable that can only be grown in a warm climate, etc. It's easy to grow and prefers colder weather - which is northern France weather. French weather is perfect for this vegetable!

I actually launched the Project before I even had my first farmer on-board but that was a strategic decision. I knew that I could not create supply by growing kale with a farmer without creating awareness and demand at the same time - so I used social media and blogger influence to create a movement and "kale-lover community" in France - of course at first targeting expats. Through these platforms, I made "kale in France" an issue. It was no longer just something that expat mom #1 mentioned to expat mom #2 - the conversation became more than just "I miss kale." I provided a place for people to talk about their love for the vegetable, how they ate it at a restaurant in the states, how they tried to get a farmer to grow it once back in 2008, etc. And through word-of-mouth, the Project grew. 

* Since you've started The Kale Project, have you noticed an increase in the availability of kale in Paris?  What about other areas in France, outside of Paris?

Absolutely, I've created a central place for people to talk about and learn about the vegetable and where to buy it. While a random farmer may have grown kale one time, some years ago, the difference is that very few expats knew that the farmer was growing it so could not go buy it and the French just didn't know what it was, so would rarely buy it. The farmer would not sell it and then he would not grow it again. 
Kale for sale at a Parisian Market

People were excited if they randomly spotted kale at a market and would immediately tell me. Then I go to the market or shop, take photos, talk to the farmers or shop keepers in my pigeon French (they think I'm crazy!) and then add it to the Project's google map of "where to find kale," and write about it. People know what days, when and where to find it and the farmers were selling out. One farmer told an American woman that if she didn't get to the market by 9:30am (they are normally open from 8-1pm), that the kale would be sold out. 

Now the next step is the French and slowly they are becoming more aware. There has been some great French press in early 2013 and efforts are continuing! 

I am definitely expanding outside of Paris. I'm working a few farmers in cities/towns like Nice, Lyon, Caen and Montpellier. I also have people that are like "kale-ambassadors" who reached out to me asking how they could help in their respective towns. It's been so incredible how interested and engaged people are to further the movement. 

* What are you doing to promote kale? 
Since I do not have any actual marketing dollars, social media and digital tactics are the primary way I promote the vegetable. It's been incredible to see how powerful the internet is with something as simple as re-introducing a vegetable to a country where their food culture is already so important. 

The Project also participated in Yelp's France Winter Food Festival this past December. We sampled kale chips, kale pesto and green smoothies to an audience of over-500 French people and I would say that 99.9% of them had never even heard of kale or seen it. So it was a great way to create awareness - and the French loved all of the kale we offered. It was a big success and the reviews of the event even called The Kale Project, "the discovery of the night!" 
Kale Chips from The Kale Project

Note: Loustic, the recently opened espresso bar in the Marais, now serves Kristen’s kale dishes 2-3x per week along with The Kale Project’s products, such as kale chips.

* What's the most rewarding experience that you've had because of The Kale Project?
When Madame Mustard, a year later, looked at the website and truly realized what I had been doing for the past year. I could see it in her eyes her excitement of being part of something and her gratitude for me helping her sell the vegetable.

* How often do you eat kale?  Do you have any recipes that you'd like to share?
Before leaving the states, I think I ate kale about 2x per week. Then I moved to France and of course didn't eat kale in Paris from August 2011 - September 2012 - minus being back in America a few times and going on massive kale binges of salads and juices! Now I eat it a lot more because I'm always experimenting with it. But as with everything, moderation is key. I still love eating swiss chard, spinach and beet greens as well. 

My favorite way to eat kale is a raw kale salad.  This recipe is best for the summer but you can vary the toppings depending on the season. I was actually just at Casbah over the holidays and I can't tell you how great it felt to actually say to the waiter, "I'll have the kale salad please."

Kristen's Raw Kale Salad

Ingredients: 1 bunch of kale, 1 lemon, Olive Oil, Sea Salt & Pepper

1. Wash and remove kale leaves from the stems. Chop into smaller bite-size pieces.

2. Add juice from 1/2-1 lemon.

3. Add drizzle of olive oil. Then salt and pepper to taste.

4. KALE MASSAGE TIME! For about 2-4 minutes, massage the kale with your fingertips. Massaging makes the kale more tender.

An array of toppings can be added: radishes, cherry tomatoes, almonds, carrots, dried cranberries, raisins, avocado, pecorino cheese - the choices are endless!

* What can people do if they'd like to get involved and help?
Contact me! I'm always interested if someone might have a favorite local producer that we can work with together. I have a few "Kale Ambassadors" in the south of France who are working with farmers which has been great. 

For more information about kale and where to find it in Paris, visit www.thekaleproject.com

***Have your own kale experiences in Paris that you'd like to share?  Tell us in the comments section.

Posted by Veronica Kugler