Who cooks and eats here: Sandrine Follère, painter and sculptor
Where: Toulouse, France
Last week I had the great pleasure to visit with Sandrine Follère, an artist who lives and works in Toulouse, France. She welcomed me into her home; gave me a tour of the studio where she teaches, sculpts, and paints; and cooked lunch for both of us to share. Sandrine is a gifted improvisational cook and I learned quite a lot from watching her. Zucchini soup, strawberry-tomato salad, foie gras, and more — it was the best lunch I've had in a long time!
Sandrine opened her home to share with you, too — come peek inside her simple and lovely Toulouse kitchen, see more of our lunch, and visit her studio.
Sandrine has lived in this kitchen for nine years — ever since she decided to move from Paris to the south of France. "Nothing has changed since then," she told me. "I had precise ideas for the decoration of my kitchen: natural colors, wood, seeds or seashells I have brought back from my trips — all things I like and feel good in my kitchen."
Her kitchen is simple and open, with the soaring ceilings typical of an old building in Toulouse, and windows that look out on the rose-colored walls across the road.
Her space is large, for a French kitchen, which she appreciates. "I have a small table and two chairs so I can cook and eat there. My friends like very much to come and watch me cook: it’s a family-feeling and sharing moment."
All begins in the kitchen, she says, including her own inclinations towards cooking: "I remember my grandmother when she was cooking in her kitchen and I used to help her. I remember the fresh vegetables from our vegetable garden, fresh eggs from our chickens...these memories feed me to continue this way."
Beautiful Things in the Kitchen
She laughed, though, pointing out all her treasures from her travels around the world — dried pears, tins of tea, Japanese porcelain, handfuls of seashells. "It's not very practical," she said, "I'm crazy about decoration and arts and I am an art collector. Sometimes, it's not very practical but surely essential in my life."
I was taken immediately, though, with the way that she used beautiful things in cooking. Sandrine has a simply amazing collection of bowls she has collected on her travels. "I don't like ugly bowls. I don't have any ugly bowls — you can check!" she told me. "I need beauty that feeds my creativity and inspires me to create, to sculpt, to paint, to cook, to express myself in different ways."
But these beautiful bowls don't stay locked away; she used them to beat eggs, toss salad, and other mundane kitchen tasks.
When I arrived at her apartment, Sandrine welcomed me warmly and a moment later we were in her kitchen, where she began to cook lunch for us. I felt gratitude, welcomed into a French home like this; it's such a gift to feel at home in a foreign city. Sandrine spoke beautiful English, graciously sidestepping my lack of French, and she talked through the lunch she was going to prepare, beginning with dessert — a no-cook confection of eggs, mango jam, mascarpone, and lime that Sandrine calls her "summer tiramisu." She doesn't care for coffee but loves tiramisu so she has her own winter and summer versions (watch for the recipe here later this week!).
As she smoothly moved through the rest of lunch — sautéing zucchini for an improvised soup enriched with a lump of foie gras, peeling asparagus for the salad, tossing candy-sweet strawberries with tomatoes and mint — we talked about her cooking influences.
"My cooking is simple, sensitive, and creative because I don’t follow recipes," she told me. "It's inspired by my trips in foreign countries, mostly Asia, and inspired by my mood of the moment. Dishes have to be beautiful, well presented and tasty!"
She also says that she is influenced by the foods of Toulouse, like the ubiquitous foie gras and other duck products, which are remarkable for their range and depth of flavor. She showed me the baguette from the baker she particularly likes, exclaiming over how you can taste the love he puts into it. "You need love in what you cook. You can taste when people really love what they do."
Three Things I Learned from Watching Sandrine Cook
- Strawberries and tomatoes belong together. That salad was simply perfect, I tell you. Olive oil, mint, and balsamic vinegar rounded it out.
- A lump of foie gras is wonderful in vegetable soup. I love the way that foie gras is used in Toulouse. It's luxurious, but a considered a rightful part of the city's edible heritage, and used freely in many ways.
- Sometimes peeling asparagus is the right thing to do. I often think of peeling asparagus as fussy, but here it really made the asparagus cook evenly and contributed to a nicer texture.
Lunch with Sandrine
Our lunch was so delicious I am still thinking about it — and the whole thing was put together without a note of stress or fuss, and without consulting a cookbook once. Sandrine likes to cook without recipes, since, as she says, "You are different every day, but the recipe is the same." She likes her cooking to change and adapt just as she does.
We started off with a cool zucchini soup, blended until creamy with a bit of foie gras. Then we had a platter of salad, topped with asparagus, and with duck four ways: cured duck breast, duck cracklings, a typical Toulouse sausage called ficelou, and a small slice of foie gras. In Toulouse, foie gras is not a luxury restaurant dish; it's special, yes, but nearly everyone eats it and enjoys it.
It was certainly the best lunch I've had in ages — every bite so bright and delicious.
Sandrine's Studio & Art
Sandrine has worked extensively and professionally in both painting and sculpture, and her interests and influences range widely. We talked about her travels to Bali and Malaysia, and her studies of the art there. Experiences like these, she says, are the threads that binds cooking and art together.
We walked up to her studio after lunch. It's an open, whitewashed attic space with dark beams and sunlight beaming in through skylights. She showed me the piece she has been steadily working on for over a year: a study of middle-aged people from all walks of life, exploring, in concert with a journalist, the questions and implications of the midpoint of life.
I loved her sculptures, too — dreamy and introspective figures and busts. (You can see more of Sandrine's art on her website.) She also teaches young artists and we saw their in-progress art on the floor, set out neatly.
Art and cooking are alike, for Sandrine, in that there is mastery to be worked for, but neither belong to experts. "Art is for the normal person," said Sandrine, "just like cooking is for the normal person."
Later this week I'll share a few more notes from Sandrine's kitchen, like her favorite food resources in Toulouse, and some thoughts on cooking and art — not to mention her tiramisu recipe.
Thank you so much for the welcome, Sandrine!