In Isolation with Adélaïde Bon

Location: Provence, France

The decision was made in a snap: a garden, where could we find a garden for our six-year-old boy and our own sake, before getting locked in?

I was born and raised in Paris and, like my mother, I am a disastrous cook. Following recipes is far too boring, there’s always one ingredient missing for the complicated meals I have in mind when friends come by, and I never quite understood the subtle art of spices. A true Parisian—far too busy. Always up to something. Biking at full speed around town and arriving late and flushed red to meetings and rehearsals.

My meals are just like me, overcooked. There are so many things you can do, instead of staring at the pan. Usually, since I love food and endless meals, I rely on others: restaurants, catering, friends, my husband.

A few days before confinement began, we took a stack of books, the trumpet, a few clothes and rain boots, gave Niels the goldfish enough food for a month, watered the orchids, borrowed my parent’s spare car and drove south, to my brother’s house, in Provence.

There we were, four adults, four kids, and meals three times a day, isolating in France’s paradise garden where everything grows. My husband and I took turns preparing lunch. One would work in the morning while the other turned into a schoolteacher and cook.

Since we’re both quite stereotypical bobos (a Parisian term for the bourgeois bohemians who gentrified the north of the city, eat organic, despise plastic, and practice yoga), we went to the village searching for local vegetables, fruits, honey, olive oil and goat’s cheese. We picked wild rosemary and thyme in the fields close by.

I was born and raised in Paris and, like my mother, I am a disastrous cook.

We went to a roadside stall three days a week and had to choose between glorious vegetables and fruits that had just been harvested, and only travelled for a couple minutes after being picked from the land. We were all wearing masks in the line, but you could tell everyone was salivating when the first strawberries arrived. Paradise, I told you.

And so I started cooking. I cut, chopped, peeled, browned and roasted. I kept it simple, the bright, fresh taste of tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, asparagus, melons or figs making up for my lack of knowledge. Slow-cooked ratatouille. Tian de legumes. Scrambled eggs and asparagus. Salade niçoise.

While I was discovering the peace that lies in taking time, my husband revealed himself: lapin à la moutarde, artichauts à la barigoule, pavlova à la meringue maison, tarte aux fraises à la crème patissière, and other wonders. We’ve been together for eleven years and I had absolutely no clue he was such a chef.

We stayed in Provence for three months. I had never been away from my hometown for so long and found I did not miss it. The food was too damn good. Do you know strawberries are crunchy when they’ve just been picked? I certainly didn’t and couldn’t stop eating them.

Of course, it was also a time of anxiety, of uncertainty, of tensions. Sad and bad news. Projects collapsing. Frustration. And I sucked at teaching class to my kid.

But we would walk in the forest every day and see leaves slowly curl out of their buds. We had every meal in the garden, alongside birds and butterflies. I’m pretty sure it’s thanks to the nature around us and on our plates that between four adults and four kids, none of us ever broke into too big a fight.

I am thirty-nine, and this spring was my very first spring.

By Adélaïde Bon