Update: After someone telling me in typical Parisian fashion that “there were errors but the post was nice,” I want to share a few updates after chatting with Joël at today’s market.
*Today was the last day of the stand with the entire team
*Joël will return on January 16th and be at the market – himself – to sell the remaining produce until it is gone, then he will no longer be at the market
*He is retiring from the hard manual side of farming but based on his coy reaction and response for what’s next, I think he will still be around (and most likely the VIP chef crowd will be the first to know!)
*Due to a quota for the market, the stand does eventually have to be reallocated to another independent producer instead of a middle-man seller – this is great news.
When I woke up this morning it was like any other day. The sun didn’t rise until nearly 9 o’clock, Grady and I ate a hot cereal mixture of steelcut oats, quinoa and barley and then we were off for our weekly walk to the Marché President Wilson. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Paris and even now after four years, I still feel the same energy and excitement as if I am walking through the market for the very first time.
Perhaps it is that there are always news things to see – or at least new for the season or that now I am trying to talk about everything to Grady. And that was this morning. We bundled up and set off, enjoying the beams of sunlight as we crossed each avenue in the Ètoile roundabout.
I visited C’Bio, chatted with my maraîcher friends there, bought nearly a kilo of kale and then proceeded to move through the market again until I reached Joël’s stand, always located in the middle.
The man who normally makes fun of me and my obsession with buying so much kale (half the time I am buying much more than I need for various book projects) was friendlier than usual. As we worked our way down the tables and I picked out some lettuce, winter radish, beets and a beautiful squash with dark green, nearly black skin, he told me, “Le mercredi prochain, c’est le dernier jour.” Next Wednesday is the last day. I nodded, assuming that Joël and his team would be taking time off for the holidays. They surely deserve it. When I inquired when they would reopen for the new year, he shook his head no. What he meant was next Wednesday is the last day as in the last day for Thiebault vegetables. I paused, staring at him in disbelief, more tongue-tied than usual.
Joël is retiring and there will not be anyone to take over his farm – “it is too big,” I was told. After growing vegetables for the people in and around Paris since 1873 (on land that has been in his family since the 14th century), the Thiebault legacy is coming to an end. Another Ile-de-France producer will be gone. When he passed in front of me, I looked at him in disbelief, “Joel, what is this I hear?” He laughed, smiled at me and walked away, busy as ever as if the news was not a big deal or better yet, not real. He acted as if it’s every day that the most popular vegetable grower for Paris’ top chefs decides to retire. He was so nonchalant, I feel slightly uncomfortable even writing about it.
And of course farmers retire. But when I anticipate buying my produce from his stand every Wednesday morning and think about how beautiful and flavorful it is throughout the week – the realization that this part of my France experience is coming to end was jolting.
I had noticed that there was less offering this season but assumed it was the weather or that perhaps I was not remembering what he had for the winter correctly. Most of the kale had been eaten by pigeons but he hadn’t replanted. There were only a few green and red cabbages and much less rainbow chard and baskets of Brussels sprouts were tiny, clearly picked too early before they were a mature size. Once I was told the news, I realized the tables were being filled with whatever was left.
Aside from the variety, quality and yes his kale (it truly is the best kale available!), Joël has been a big part of my life in France. I can go months without actually talking to him but as I was working on my upcoming book, I realized what an important character he has been for The Kale Project. He was one of the first farmers I spoke with soon after launching the project, welcomed me to his farm while doing research for my cabbage book and his kale was always there, fresh and not too expensive. I never realized how attached I was to the idea of knowing Joël’s produce was always available. How lucky have I been to have had such a reliable producer not far from home with some of the best things the land has to offer?
Paris is losing one of its stars who has spent the last thirty years nourishing its people. I left the market sad, a heavy heart and with most likely the last bunch of Joël’s kale in my bag.
Wednesday, December 16 is the last day for Joël Thiebault’s stand (with full staff)
Joël will be there again starting January 16th to sell the remaining produce until it is gone.
Marché President Wilson