GENEVIÈVE PLANTE & VERT COULEUR PERSIL

GENEVIÈVE PLANTE, PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN AND ACCOMPLISHED COOKBOOK WRITER, is the creator of the blog and brand VERT COULEUR PERSIL. We spoke IN MONTREAL IN DECEMBER. NOTE: FOR THE TIME BEING, PLANTE’S COOKBOOKS ARE AVAILABLE EXCLUSIVELY IN FRENCH. -JRS

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Geneviève Plante did not grow up in a musical household, but had an intense passion for music from a young age. At twelve, she decided to learn an instrument and chose the trumpet. “Learning music came naturally to me,” she says, “I found it easy to memorize and play melodies, etc.” She later attended the conservatory in her hometown of Rimouski, completing a Bachelor’s degree, and then moved to Montreal to attend McGill University, earning a Master of Music in Performance.

Organizations Plante has played with as a professional musician include the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Symphonique de l’Estuaire (Rimouski) and Cirque du Soleil. She has performed on a number of albums by other artists (Bob & Bill, Patrick Pleau, Stéphanie Boulay), and taught the trumpet privately as well as at the École De Musique Vincent D’Indy in Montreal. Plante also serves as the Vice President of the Quebec Musicians’ Guild (GMMQ, Guilde des musiciens et des musiciennes du Québec), a position she has held since 2009.

Her passion for music has never waned: “I love playing music, it’s like a form of meditation for me.” As with many creative professions, making a living can be a challenge; I ask her if she has ever wanted to get a regular job, and she responds with a definite “no”. “I worked normal jobs as a teenager, at the cinema, etc., but I knew even then that I wanted to be my own boss”. Plante wasn’t naive, however, knowing what that would entail: “I was aware of how hard it is, you can never slack off, you need a lot of patience, a lot of perseverance.”

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Plante’s passion for food, like her love of music, started early: She became vegetarian at the age of 14, which forced her to cook her own meals. “I fell in love with cooking immediately, I adored it.” In time, Plante developed a style of her own, which she continues to cook and refine. “Healthy, colourful, but gourmet,” she tells me, “and creative—I love to come up with my own ideas, from scratch.”

The blog, Vert Couleur Persil, began in 2014. I asked her why she started it: “Just for fun,” she responds. Plante, a gregarious personality, loves to host and feed her friends; frequently she found them asking for recipes. The blog seemed like a simple way to share her food. Though the site functioned as a hobby, Plante ended up with “plenty of recipes” in a matter of months. Later, she tells me, the blog won an award from a popular website in France—“It was just a small prize, not a big deal, but it was encouraging and brought new people to my site, especially from France.”

I inquire about the name, Vert Couleur Persil. “I chose ‘green’ and ‘colour’ both for the reference to health and freshness—green things are healthy, generally—and the environmental connotation.” The herb she added because, she tells me, parsley is an underestimated plant, with far more health benefits than most people realize. Put together, the three words describe not only Plante’s project, but also her personal values.

In 2016, a major life event gave Plante pause to reevaluate: she and her long-term partner separated after twelve years. She found herself adrift, she says: “I took a trip to Greece with a friend and spent a lot of time thinking, what am I doing with my life, who am I, what do I want. Questioning everything. It was then that I really understood just how much food excites me, how passionate I am about it.” She decided to do her first cookbook.

Unsurprisingly, given her entrepreneurial personality, Plante chose to self-publish. “On the trip, I told my friend I’m going to do a cookbook—this was in August—and I said it would come out in December.” Her friend loved the idea, but felt the timeline was too short. “Watch me, I said,” Plante recounts, laughing and shaking her head. “It was hard, when you start and you don’t know the game. I had no idea where to begin.”

Plante leveraged the audience her blog had acquired to crowdfund the project, selling copies of her book in advance. “It was a stressful month, because if you don’t reach your goal by the end of the campaign, you don’t get anything. Eight hours before the campaign ended, I was about $1000 short.” She put out a notice on social media and, in the end, exceeded her goal of $5500, raising over $6000 from 100 backers.

The cookbook, Histoires de Salades – 25 salades & 25 vinaigrettes (“Salad Stories – 25 Salads & 25 Vinaigrettes”) came out at the end of November. Plante had originally printed 350 copies; within two weeks they sold out. She ordered another 800, which likewise went quickly, and returned to the printer for another 500 copies. “Right now I have about three left,” she tells me. (Note: Plante’s first book has since sold out; she recently released a digital edition, available here.)

Impressive, certainly, although the effort of putting together that first book also left her burnt out. “The first cookbook, it was just me. I didn’t have a PR person, etc.” Plante worked full time, as well, and could only devote evenings and weekends to the project. “I had no life for three months. I was really stressed.” In early December of 2016, Plante told her friends that she would never do another cookbook.

Two months later, she changed her mind, she tells me, again laughing. “This time, I told my friends, it would be easy, I was more prepared, I’ll release it at the end of November, so I have like ten months.” For the new book, Plante wanted to push herself more; by that time, she understood better her style and intentions—i.e. what Vert Couleur Persil as a brand represented—and wanted the next project to reflect that.

Plante created an ambitious marketing plan and contacted potential sponsors, hired a professional videographer, and sought out someone to help her with public relations. These efforts paid off, as she found it far easier to raise funds and, after publication, the book got a great deal of attention in the press and on other blogs. Houmous & Cie: 25 déclinaisons gourmandes (“Hummus & Co.: 25 Gourmet Adaptations”) came out at the end of November 2017.

Plante organized a launch for her second cookbook, which was attended by a marketing director from Renaud-Bray, the largest chain of French-language bookstores in North America. Impressed by the event and the book, she recommended that Plante work with a publishing house. “I told her no, I’m doing good on my own,” Plante recalls, “and she gave me her card and said if I ever changed my mind, contact her.”

In January of 2018, Plante decided to reach out. “The marketing director wrote me back, saying, it’s funny that you contacted me, I was just talking to Les Éditions La Presse about you.” Working with that company—one of the largest and most well-respected publishers in the province—would have been like a dream, Plante tells me.

She had a meeting with the publishing house that same month, which went well. “But,” Plante notes, “that was January, and we were in negotiations up into the month of August.” Normal in the publishing industry, perhaps, but for someone like Plante, it proved a challenge: “I had already done two books. I knew I could do a cookbook in two months, like that,” she says, snapping her fingers. Les Éditions La Presse continued to hesitate, unsure of the overall direction for the book, before finally offering her the publication contract.

The publisher originally recommended a release in the fall of the following year; Plante suggested April instead. “Geneviève, they told me, that means you need to get us your manuscript in November. No problem, I said.” The third cookbook, Vert couleur persil – Mes recettes simples et gourmandes, launched on April 11, 2019.

Whereas her first two projects focus on a single subject (salads, hummus), Plante’s third is a comprehensive cookbook, with more recipes and a wider range. She also collaborated with Benjamin Gendron-Smith and Laurence Lambert-Chan, a couple in Montreal who run a popular blog about zero-waste living, Les Cocos Écolos. They contributed a section to the book and tips and tricks for reducing and eliminating waste for each recipe.

Plante’s work eventually caught the attention of Mitsou Gélinas who, in addition to being a successful entrepreneur, television and radio host, singer and actress, runs the popular lifestyle publication Mitsou Magazine. Plante contributed a number of recipes and did some Facebook Live videos with Gélinas. When the magazine launched its dedicated cooking section Mitsou Cuisine in May of this year, Gélinas brought Plante on as a primary contributor. To date, the cookbook writer has published dozens of recipes as well as articles about food and cooking on that platform.

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Three cookbooks in as many years—one with a major publisher—and collaboration with a lifestyle magazine: Plante has put together an impressive portfolio of achievements in a short period of time. That progress has come at a price, however: “Those three years—2016, 2017, 2018—they were crazy. The day after the launch for that book”, she says, tapping her third cookbook, “I just broke down for the entire day.” The pressure for that project had been particularly intense, given that Plante was working with a big-name publishing house. “I wanted the other books to be perfect, but this time around, I wanted it to be a thousand times more perfect. I tested the recipes, then tested them again, then tested them again. I was never satisfied.”

Plante stops to reflect and then admits that she is a perfectionist, but to an extreme extent. “It can be hard for me,” she says. In her personal life, Plante has learned to put aside that perfectionism, and always makes sure to eat well, exercise and get adequate rest. Work can be another matter: “I don’t have any balance, I don’t have any life, I’m not kidding.” Plante does take time to reflect and learn after each major project, and, given how far she has come, the potential for the future is exciting. “However, there is still this question of how to produce a lot, how to be productive, while maintaining a sense of balance,” she admits.