For Catherine May Saillard, owner of the long-standing Fort Greene restaurant, ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb) “seasonal” and “local” are not marketing tools, but just part of her French upbringing. In 2004, she opened the brownstone doors of the dining room and airy back patio, which today remain one of the prettiest eating options in Brooklyn. Brunch and menu options change monthly, depending on the availability of seasonal produce, but you can expect simple favorites like smoked pork chops with an apple and turnip salad or housemade ricotta cavatelli sprinkled with chanterelles and kale. At home with her two boys, Theo, 14, and Lucas, 12, Catherine practices what she preaches, planning efficient and delicious meals that come together quickly, but without sacrificing taste–or reaching for unhealthy, pre-packaged choices.
It taps into the sense of being a parent. We have the intuition that feeding a child is important. We do this three times a day. Food is crucial, and when you put the wrong food in the body, it feels like crap. We know that a runny nose or swinging moods can be related to food [which makes mealtimes stressful].
BB: What’s a typical breakfast like for you and the kids?
Breakfast is the only meal [in our household] that is different for everybody. Theo is a creature of habit, so he’ll have oatmeal soaked overnight in almond or soy milk, with dried fruit or a mashed banana, and a little maple syrup. Lucas could have a cow’s milk smoothie or sunny side eggs and toast. It’s so quick, since the oatmeal is prepared the night before and the eggs take 30 seconds. Lucas can do any sort of eggs himself. It’s important to involve your kids in the process of cooking. And start early! I have childhood memories of helping my grandmother with the beans. [When they are young], it’s like arts and crafts for them. Don’t be too ambitious at first, and then train them to do more things.
BB: A typical lunch for the kids?
I integrate leftovers from the night before. This could mean leftover chicken turns into a chicken salad sandwich. I’ll cook a big batch of quinoa, rice or pasta for the week and dress it up with greens, cheese or bacon. I’ll make a dressing out of tomato or a great salsa, and just add leftover protein.
BB: What are your go-to dinners for the family?
Quick and easy grilled meats and roasted vegetables take 15 minutes. I like beautiful greens when they are in season. Every two weeks I make a roasted chicken with vegetables underneath. It takes about one and a half hours to be ready, but zero labor. And then I can make a chicken broth from the bones to use for lunches.
BB: What do you keep on hand (in the freezer or pantry) for last-minute meals?
Pasta is good for last minute. I always have frozen peas in the freezer [to throw in], to cook with butter, cream and maybe bacon.
BB: How often do you all eat at Maison May Dekalb?
Not that often. When the boys were younger we used to go quite often. Now that they are older, they are busy bees. Between homework and sports, we maybe go once a month.
BB: What’s your policy on sweets and junk food?
Nothing. Zero. We may have greek yogurt and jam. They can have sliced apples with honey as a dessert, but cookies or soda, they don’t do at all. They may eat that at school with their friends, but at home there is nothing. I am not spending a dime on making my children sick.
BB: What’s your policy on introducing new food or encouraging your children to eat things they’re not interested in?
The rule is just to try it. I don’t care if you don’t like it, but you will put it in your mouth and swallow it. If you just listen to your kids, you can end up putting them in a bubble where they won’t be exposed to things. You grow your palette; it’s a muscle you develop.
BB: What’s your philosophy on food?
If we care about the food we consume, it can go a very long way toward caring about the planet. We really have a chance to make a conscious choice [with our meals]. If you are an overwhelmed parent, start by picking one lunch box a week to consciously pick sustainable choices. That will make a difference, and within a few months, you’ll find it easy to expand.
BB: Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share?
Lemon Zest Turkey Meatballs & Spicy Mayonnaise.
For the meatballs:
2lbs of ground turkey
2 egg yolks
1 cup of panko
zest of one-half of a lemon (preferably organic, non-treated), chopped very thin
chopped herbs such as parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Mix everything and then shape little balls about 1.5 inches in diameter. Add the panko: the exact amount will depend on the quality of your turkey: you want to be able to shape your meatballs so they are firm enough. Remember to rinse your hands often under cold water so they do not get too sticky. Heat the olive oil in a sautée pan and brown the meatballs. Reduce the heat & cover so they can cook through, about 15 minutes. It is important not to make the balls too big, otherwise it is impossible to cook them through.
For the mayo:
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
juice of 1 lemon
extra virgin olive oil
In a bowl, mix all but the oil, beating everything so it is really smooth and homogenous. Then add olive oil really slowly, beating continuously until it becomes a thick mayonnaise. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes before serving.