On Dec. 11, a tiny electric spark of a woman named Lucie Peyraud — Lulu to all who know her — gathered four generations of family around her in a Provencal farmhouse and celebrated her 100th birthday. I’m going to come back to her in a minute, but it’s worth noting for now that the event was largely lost amid American headlines about an Alabama Senate race and California wildfires. Lulu is not the woman most of us think of when we think about how French food came to America. For that, there is an official story.

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A good cook has secret ingredients. Yes, there is a virtue in simplicity, and much to be said for what might be called the Chez Panisse school of contemporary American cooking that implores us to get our hands on in-season ingredients, grown well, and in a state as nearly alive as possible, and then more or less to get out of their way. A perfect peach needs no translating, says Alice Waters. It is its own language. In such a cuisine, salt, pepper, olive oil, and maybe a little lemon and garlic, can see you, with few regrets, through weeks of elegant, soft-spoken meals. And yet.

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Chef Thomas Boemer’s eyes are watering. He’s standing in front of an improvised outdoor kitchen, made up of a cinder block fire well, with a steel-mesh grate laid across it for a cooktop, and a two-course block wall stacked on top of that for a windbreak. It is so rough-hewn and brawny looking as to be almost a parody of a certain kind of unrepentant male culinary energy. Yet a gusty December wind keeps lashing Boemer’s eyes with little stinging whip cracks of hardwood smoke.

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They are six. They are American. They are at the height of their powers in the middle years of the 20th century. They are all entranced in some way with Paris, and they all write about it. Their cumulative work will change the way Americans think about food, and the way you and I eat, whether we’re aware of it or not. Justin Spring is a biographer and former National Book Award finalist with roots in southern Minnesota, with family in St. Cloud, and who has spent many of his Christmases here in the snow among us. His latest book, “The Gourmands’ Way: The Story of Six Americans in Paris Who Changed Our Relationship With Food” (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 383 pages, $30), has just been published.

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Developing the dishes for a new restaurant menu is a little bit like giving birth. There is the initial joyful conception. There is a long and sometimes painful gestation period, and there is the final delivery into the world of something that is both part of its creator, and that will ultimately have to interact with the world and be judged on its own merits. Tonight, Adam Eaton, head chef at Saint Dinette, is introducing us to a few of his children, and, like most new fathers, he looks just a little bit nervous.

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We have done wrong by cranberries. North America has few enough true native fruits; the Great Lakes north country even fewer. Yet here we have not just a native fruit, but one of the original native fruits. The fruit that fueled and healed Native Americans for centuries. The fruit that was served at the first Thanksgiving. The fruit that Thomas Jefferson requested of James Madison, as one of three items from home he especially missed while in France: apples, pecans and cranberries. The fruit that effectively made the fur trade possible, because its acidity, when pounded into venison pemmican, prevented spoilage and made for one of the first transportable meals on the continent.

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The problem with most game and fish cookbooks, somewhat paradoxically, is that they are written by guys who hunt and fish. That is to say, they are written by guys whose primary interest in hunting and fishing is the hunting and fishing part. Their cookbooks, as a result, tend to be filled with a disheartening collection of half-considered recipes that take more or less successful stabs in one direction — at a kind of down-home, open-fire manliness — and more or less unsuccessful stabs in the other direction, at complicated fine-dining sophistication.

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We live in a world saturated by the pursuit of brand and audience. Social media has turned us all into intimate personal entrepreneurs marketing the product of our curated selves. We present to the world evidence that we lead enviable lives, and that we command a following, more or less loyal, that is supposed to translate into some kind of clout, which is assumed at some future time to be exchangeable, like currency, for something of value.

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Yia Vang has a set of classic stories he loves to tell. He’s just told me the one about the guy who comes up after a Hmong cooking demonstration, cups Vang’s big right hand in both of his, looks up earnestly into Vang’s eyes, and says, “I just love Thai food." “I mean, dude, I just spent an hour telling you how Hmong food isn’t Thai food,” Vang giggles. “You know, I get it that you toured Bangkok last year, but can we listen a little bit?”

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She has just answered a question by, in fact, not answering it, and instead deflecting the question to Alan, who adjusts a pair of black, rectangular wire rims and offers a serious, thoughtful response. Let’s not confuse this for what it might look like—a demure kind of deference on Jamie’s part to a male cohort.  Jamie is perfectly in charge of this moment, and, as the rest of the evening will prove, as perfectly comfortable commanding a busy kitchen as raiding a Pinterest board for the perfect shade of water glass.

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Matti Sprague and I appear to be talking about fermentation. We are standing in Jon Wipfli’s well-lighted kitchen, and we are using all the words that you use when you talk about fermentation. We are talking about salting down vegetables, creating anaerobic environments, and encouraging the right kinds of microbial life while discouraging the wrong kinds. 

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First you pour the arak,” insists Sameh Wadi. “Then you add the water. And only then do you add the ice. Outside the windows of Jon Wipfli’s kitchen, the first big winter snow sits thick on a pair of spruce trees. It is an unexpected setting for a round of arak—

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Young Joni’s Ann Kim and Adam Gorski on new American food traditions. So there’s Young, and there’s Joni. Two moms. One attentive and skillful Korean family cook: Young. One affectionate and bibulous North Dakota family host: Joni. Right? Okay, so there’s this restaurant: Young Joni. Coming soon. Northeast Minneapolis. 

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Earlier that afternoon, just outside Jon Wipfli’s patio door, an entire boneless leg of lamb had twirled slowly on a string suspended above a hardwood fire for six hours or so, dripping occasional runnels of fat into the coals, and wrapping itself gradually in a cloak of char.

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