Christine Goodale works at the garden at Abundance EcoVillage, where she grows organic produce for Crepe Escape Cafe. (Photo: ©2012 Werner Elmker)
Crepe Escape chef and owner Christine Goodale doesn’t just cook meals, she creates sensory experiences. A bite of a garden-fresh salad, crepe hot off the griddle, or homemade dessert from Christine’s kitchen is the culinary equivalent of popping your ears and realizing that you’ve been nearly deaf for days—it’s revelatory.
I meet Christine in her garden by Abundance EcoVillage north of Fairfield, in a plot that’s nearly an acre, complete with two hoop houses and rainwater catchment system. She’s busy weeding and checking on her plants, moving from one spot to the next like a bee flying from flower to flower. She sets me to work harvesting yellow summer squash, beets, and potatoes for our dinner, and while we work, she tells me about her farm-to-table endeavor.
The menu at the Crepe Escape is centered around Christine’s unique crepe creations, which are a mix of French and international flavors. “They were all created at different times and with different inspirations and are very different from crepes you would normally find in France,” she explains. “Crepes tend to be a little dry in France, but I like things really juicy and full. I like to focus on different marriages of ingredients and lots of ingredients inside the crepes, not just a few things.”
In addition to an innovative menu, Christine is committed to using organic ingredients and making everything from scratch. This sets the Crepe Escape apart but also presents challenges above and beyond those faced by a typical restaurant.
“With everything being done from scratch, I not only have high food costs, I have high labor costs,” she says. “It’s a challenge, it really is, because food prices are really going up, and organic especially—I find that organic food prices are just going through the roof sometimes.”
In order to keep things afloat, Christine found herself working six and even seven days a week. “I had to reduce my labor costs by just being in the restaurant, taking on more of the burden—but that’s not sustainable for me.”
Christine knew she would have to find a way to cut costs and keep herself from burning out, so she started the search for a plot of land where she could grow her own vegetables and cut her produce bill.
Within a few weeks, a friend offered her the use of the Abundance EcoVillage mini-farm. There were a lot of pluses: two hoop houses, an irrigation system hooked up to the pond, and a history of use as an organic farm, which meant no pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide residues in the soil. On the down side, the place was overrun with weeds and there was a huge amount of labor to be done before planting could begin. With all of the work on her plate already, how could she take this on and succeed?
Christine manages to grow everything from vegetables to flowers and herbs for the restaurant. (Photo: ©2012 Werner Elmker)
“A lot of people can be set off by gardening because they think it’s just a lot of work, and it is,” she says, “but I just love every minute of it . . . it just completely renews me.”
The garden offers her a place to relax while contributing to her larger goal of providing delicious organic dishes at an affordable price. “Cooking or weeding the garden or milking the goats, I often find myself in this contemplative state that is very rich,” she says. “Maybe that’s why I enjoy being in the garden so much.”
Flourishing under her care, the garden offers a steady stream of vegetables, flowers, and herbs to the restaurant, and Christine looks forward to even more success next growing season. She feels she’s just starting to tap the potential of the gardens, and she’s learning exactly how to maximize her yields and match the produce she grows to the needs of the restaurant.
“I want to really focus more on greens,” Christine says. “I wish I had a lot more spinach to use in my spanakopita.”
Tending to a large garden, managing the Crepe Escape, and caring for five children are all labors of love for Christine, but even with a positive attitude and boundless energy—how does she do it? “It’s just a constant dance, that’s all I can call it,” she says. “I can’t really think about it or try to organize or have any kind of permanent structure about it—you just kind of know when an area needs attention more right now versus another.”
Christine has also realized that there is simply not time in her life for the kind of leisure activities many others enjoy. “There’s no time to watch TV—weeks go by and I haven’t even watched a movie. I’ll rent a movie and, you know what, I just don’t have time to watch it after all!”
Christine’s enthusiasm for life is contagious, and talking to her is energizing and uplifting. When I ask her to share the secret to her confidence and success, she just laughs and looks a bit surprised. After a moment’s pause, though, she says, “I just—I want to do it so bad that there’s nothing that’s going to stop me!
With optimism, realism, enjoyment for good, hard work, and a hefty dose of energy, Christine is ready to move forward with her farm-to-table operation and plans for continued success and growth. Once the Abundance Eco-Village mini-farm is in full production and supplying the restaurant with as much organic produce as possible, Christine plans to renovate the place a bit, then begin collaborating with other local chefs. She hopes to emphasize local produce almost exclusively.
“I really want to start promoting a lot more of this farm to table. It just makes so much sense and it’s really taking off in other parts of the country. We just haven’t seen it much here.”
Not yet, Christine, but with your help? Really soon!