Borderstan Welcomes new contributor Melanie Hudson. Email her at melanie[AT]borderstan.com
Who has a Dutch tulip broker and a mushroom hunter on speed dial? One of our neighbors, that’s who. Sidra Forman, a lawyer by training, gave up her legal pad for gardening gloves and a chef’s knife and started a successful flower, garden, food, restaurant consulting and writing business all from her impeccable Borderstan home, and all based around a singular philosophy: simple and straightforward, with the best available ingredients from sources you trust.
“My food is very clean, ingredient driven and healthy by nature. The best food for you happens to be the best tasting. You don’t need to sacrifice one or the other.”
For Sidra, food was what she had always done, though informally and at home with her family. She briefly practiced law before falling into her first foodie venture: a restaurant she started with her classically trained chef husband and front-of-house-manager brother, called Ruppert’s. Located on 7th Street in a time – the mid-90s – before new businesses began opening on 7th Street, their forward-thinking food philosophy matched their status as urban pioneers.
Sidra and her husband focused on ingredients, imparting to their guests the idea that the most delicious meals are very ingredient-driven, and that meat could be merely a foil for vegetables.
“So that means best available ingredients – often means local, but doesn’t always mean local. If I can get a beautiful white truffle from Italy I’m not going to not serve it because it’s not local. I know that sometimes I can find or purchase local chanterelles, but the season out in Oregon is long, and I have a great connection with a mushroom hunter out there, and I’m not going to not use them.”
After eight years at Ruppert’s, Sidra and her husband closed the restaurant and she turned her attention to flowers, which, she says, is the current centerpiece of her business.
Following the same “ingredient-driven” and “know your source” style, Sidra provides centerpieces and arrangements for weddings, corporate events, and parties, mostly through word of mouth and her website. Sidra sources her flowers from a variety of places: she grows some, including peonies, daisies, roses, and herbs and greens used as filler for arrangements; she buys some from local farms and wholesalers; and she purchases others from as far away as co-op farms in South America and the Dutch Auction, where she has a broker on call and can have flowers at her doorstep in two days. Working directly with her sources eliminates not only days from the process, but also increases the variety she can choose from – and virtually ensures she is going to get the best available.
Similarly, Sidra knows where her food comes from – meaning, in many cases, she knows the farmers who grew it. For example, when asked where she grocery shops, the answer is complex: her own garden, local farmers markets, Hana Japanese Market (17th and U Streets NW), wholesale dry goods purveyor International Gourmet, Whole Foods, and home delivery from an Amish farmers’ cooperative in Pennsylvania.
Forman’s career is full of diverse and multi-dimensional projects that lead tangentially to more projects, keeping her moving quickly from one thing to another. She has consulted on restaurants including old favorites like Perry’s and now-shuttered Viridian and Vegetate, and also found a successful career in food writing. With a longtime nutritionist friend, she has worked on books for lifestyle guru (and Oprah favorite) Bob Greene, including developing the recipes for several of his books.
But her favorite project and the one of which she is most proud, is helping to start the farm at Walker Jones Education Campus. She describes it as a real community effort, with neighbors, teachers, a librarian, and a principal taking over a huge piece of land, putting in some “crazy manual labor”, pulling some strings, and ending up with a functioning vegetable garden for the school. Today the food is used in the cafeteria, sold at farmers markets, and taken home for dinner by the students.
“For those of us who can afford to buy food we have lots of options, unfortunately that’s not available for everyone,” Forman said.
Sidra is particularly tied to the neighborhood and has lived on 6th Street NW, on the edge of Borderstan for 14 years. She has seen not only the arrival of Whole Foods in Logan Circle but the changes, both good and bad, that come with new neighbors and condo developments. Surprisingly, on her block the majority of neighbors have been there even longer than her family has – meaning not only do they all know each other, they do the neighborly things most of us only wish for: warning each other about parking tickets, looking out for crime and apologizing in the one instance she says there was a break in – apologizing for not seeing anything. “It feels like people have your back,” she says.
Not one to rest on her success, Sidra has a book proposal in the works with an agent in New York on a “new food trend” (she is vegan herself), including research on the science behind it and new recipes. She is busy pulling together flowers for multiple weddings each weekend, and hosts monthly “home restaurant” dinner parties serving food such as wood grilled quail with parsley; lamb sausage with fig, arugula, chestnut, balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic; and white peach with tomato and basil.
Plus, she has a 13-year-old ballerina daughter to worry about. It seems like a full plate for most people, but Sidra says it works due to the flexibility she has with her job. She works a lot, all night sometimes, but can stop and take time to eat dinner with her family. “I feel very lucky that I have been able to figure out a life that merges these two things.”
Visit Sidra at Sidraforman.com
Yep, they’re all mine… and my partner photographed them. And the bromeliads in the top row? They’re in pots and must come inside this winter. I fell in love with bromeliads when I visited Venezuela in July 2007 with Luis. While the orchid is the country’s national flower, the bromeliad is a close second. You see them everywhere.