Simple Spring Wisdom: Gardening and Cooking Advice from the French
Serious inspiration for your garden this spring and summer
I always plant my garden after RunTheBluegrass is over every year. It’s always a crazy weekend of shooting nonstop from Thursday to Saturday and then processing tens of thousands photos for hours and hours on end. Planting my garden is the unwinding after that big adventure in our professional life every spring.
When I think about what to plant this year, I’m inspired by my friend Sylvie Bruner. Sylvie and her husband Raleigh own Wildcat Moving. He moved us way back in the day when their business was just getting off the ground. Raleigh also was a trailblazer in undoing some antiquated laws in Kentucky that favored the “big guys” of the moving world and has since built an incredible family of businesses. When I interviewed him for a story during this legal challenge, he said “you have to meet my wife, you guys would get along well.” He was right! Sylvie also happens to be a master foodie. Truly! She always provides major food inspiration, and she uses fresh herbs in ways I'd never imagine.
Allison Antram talked to Sylvie to learn from her French heritage for all the herb and cooking wisdom we’ll need for spring and summer! When you have basil coming out of your ears this summer, you’ll be glad you read this and planned your garden accordingly! (All photos by Sylvie Bruner!) -Abby
Sylvie’s love of cooking originated with her father and her French upbringing. His recent passing gave her an ideal opportunity to reflect on him and the skills he passed along, and she remembers him as a “true master.”
“He could rival any French or fine dining chef I’ve ever come across,” she reflected. “He really approached the method from a scientific eye. He measured everything and thought it all through. He loved recipes. I think that’s how he learned he was good. He could appreciate the process whereas I had to learn the patience behind the process.”
With his wisdom leading the way, Sylvie’s creative instinct tends to overtake the process for her.
“I loathe measurements,” she admitted. “I’m a taster, an eyer, a trial and error cook. Anytime someone asks me for a recipe I do my best but numbers don’t mix with the creative side of my brain so, no, no recipes. The only time I will seek out a recipe is for the ingredients list or to bake a birthday cake.”
This experimenter’s spirit, however, is what makes her such an innovative cook, and what has given her a passion both for cooking and incorporating different flavors into that process. She considers herself “a sense seeker, namely scent and taste.”
“I can tell you everything I have ever eaten if it’s tied to a memory. It can be anything from a childhood party to a lunch with my husband,” she explained her superpower of sorts, which inevitably led to her love of gardening. “Herbs are so sensory friendly, I just realized I wanted them around all the time, and I had better learn how to make that happen year round.”
To those who immediately find herb gardening unattainable or intimidating, Sylvie insists on the accessibility of this practice, and particularly advises simplicity not only for beginners, but for a basis of good gardening.
“At first I thought I needed everything I liked to grow. Not true,” she laughed at the overabundance of seeds given in the packets, “it’s hard to keep it minimal but it pays off when you have a few quality crops.”
For those looking to get started, Sylvie’s advice is simple:
“Number one, master what you love the most. For me it was basil. Number two, hold off on sprouts and seeds and start by transplanting mature plants. You will find a balance with soil, drainage, sun and watering.”
Perhaps you’re not new to the herb garden game, but don’t know what to do with all your herbs when harvest time comes. To this, Sylvie expressed enthusiasm for her love of salads (some dish ideas at the end of this article!), but reiterates her French sensibilities for cooking: keep it simple.
“French food is my love language and it’s really simple if you do it correctly. Often you’ll find a saucier is the most important job in a French cuisine kitchen,” she explained. “I have seen beautiful steaks and simple chicken or fish go Michelin-level with a few tablespoons of sauce and nothing more. A protein, a vegetable and a sauce are all you need. Master those!”
As someone who was “pairing wine, cognac and port as an eight-year-old” and at 18 told her now husband he had a “sophomoric palate,” one might expect this seasoned cook to offer an equally elevated perspective on cooking for kids. But Sylvie insists, “don’t worry about your children eating what you cook!”
With three of five in their household struggling with gluten allergies, she says “my kids live on chicken nuggets, frozen vegetables and pizza. It’s always gluten free and if I can get a bite into them of whatever I am eating myself, then I feel like a success,” further advising, “I never stress about making everyone eat the same. We are all on different paths with different tastes. Food should always be enjoyed, and access to your favorites is a luxury.”
Armed with the encouragement of simplicity and the wisdom of French sensibilities, we hope you’ll be able to jump into spring cuisine with more confidence and more homegrown experiments. If you want further tips, Sylvie gave us a few of her go-to dishes – sans measured recipe, of course.
SIMPLE STAPLES TO MASTER
Salmon and Steak (Hint: HANDS OFF!)
Sauce to complement either protein:
“I live on different forms of caprese,” Sylvie insisted. A great use of those fresh herbs! An additional tip: “I always seek out the most green, fresh and organic olive oil. Stick with the best ingredients and it’s hard to go wrong.”
Classic: Tomato and mozzarella with basil with olive oil
Variation: Fuji apple with basil and mozzarella with olive oil
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