Celebrate Bastille Day with Us! July 14th, 4 – 6pm
Share the evening with our featured tastemaker: Kitty Keller
For our first ever store-wide Bastille Day Soirée, we are honored to host Kitty Keller of KL Keller Foodways (pictured above), America's importer of France's finest ingredients. Here, she shares a bit of her story. Stop by Thursday to hear more and say bonjour!
What brought you to France?
In high school French class one day, we learned the phrase “En Provence on peut en avoir assez.” (“In Provence, you can always have enough.” I thought: Gee, I’d sure like to be in a place like that.” Growing up in Danville California in the middle of a huge ranch, I always liked being out in the country, and Provence was farm country, so that clinched the deal: I was Provence-bound!
What about French cuisine and cooking do you love?
What I love about French cuisine is how everybody gets together for a meal using the abundance of local foods, and everyone takes the time. Here, lots of folks have spacious kitchens with state-of-the-art equipment, yet few really cook in them. In France, from the tiniest little kitchens—some as big as closets—families churn out glorious seven-course meals.
Why did you decide to start importing French products?
I lived in France for four wonderful months. A week before I left, I thought “S—t, I have no job to go back to! I was looking for a way to live in France and America. I had bought some extraordinary walnut oil (that we still carry) and I thought “Gee, maybe other folks will like this too.” And thus an import company was born. I learned the whole business bootstraps-up.
How do you go about finding the products and what are your criteria for choosing them?
I go to France and get in the car and drive. I stop at places along the way and see what I’m interested in. I buy it and eat it. If I love something, I always wait a day before deciding to pursue it because I get too excited. I still think the best olives come from Nyons, France, but nobody wants to pay as much for olives as for meat, so I had to drop that idea along the way. In the end, it’s a mixture of passion and practicality.
I’m a good cook. If I can’t find a way to use a product in my own kitchen, America’s probably not going to be able to use it either. If, on the other hand, I find myself using it with zeal and ease, America’s probably going to like it too.
What’s a favorite memory of yours from meeting or working with a French producer?
Before importing Banyuls Vinegar, I had to make six phone calls for an appointment with the producer. They finally agreed.
I started off at about 8 am, driving with my French friend, Isabelle. We left with plenty of time to spare, but with the horrible traffic, it took us a whole hour just to get out of Aix-en-Provence. Along the way, we ran into three detours.
As we were headed up the hill to Banyuls, I told Isabelle “We have to stop and grab a sandwich to go. The bottom is falling out of me, and I have to be on for this appointment.”
Isabelle looked at me steadily and said “We’re stopping and having a proper lunch. No one in France has ever missed lunch for a business appointment.”
So we did. We enjoyed yet another stupendous French lunch, and emerged refreshed. We showed up at Banyuls three hours late, and there stood the export director—a woman of a certain age in a silk brocade suit.
Isabelle marched ahead of me, “Madame, we are sorry we’re late, but we had to stop and have lunch.”
And this terrifying woman said “I’m so glad you did. Welcome. Please come upstairs.” She told us she thought most Americans run about like ants, and now she knew I was one of the smart ones.
Thanks to choosing a good meal over business, I won the Banyuls Vinegar, and we still have an exclusive on it to this day.
Do you have a favorite French go-to product you always return to? What is it and how do you use it?
Banyuls Vinegar. It’s the least-known vinegar in American kitchens, and the most-used vinegar in fine American restaurants—it is, for instance, the vinegar used in the house dressing at Chez Panisse. What happens if you cook some chicken with onions and there’s a lovely crust at the bottom of the pot? Deglaze it with Banyuls Vinegar and you’ve got your exquisite sauce. With its hint of residual sugar and the six years it spends in oak casks, it elevates pretty much anything it touches.
What are your favorite French dishes to cook?
Aah . . . ratatouille; grilled leg of lamb; pissaladière; soupe au pistou; a salad of beets, arugula, parsley and walnut oil; radishes with fresh, salted butter; green beans steamed and tossed in honest extra virgin olive oil . . .
What will you be talking about and tasting during our Bastille Day event?
The classics—the French classics. Fantastic ingredients. The communion of the meal.