Paris Meets Brooklyn: The Global Reach of Contemporary American Dining

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Melt Restaurant 75017

Since the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV almost two hundred years ago, French food is considered a sign of French culture, inspiring tourists, food lovers, and dedicated foodies to travel to France to seek authentic foods and dining experiences. In today’s global society, where diners can enjoy recognizably French cuisine outside of France, food critics and tastemakers have recently acknowledged that nouvelle cuisine—integrating new ingredients and cooking techniques—has changed both French and international dining. I was among a group of food historians invited to contribute essays on how dining practices honed in Brooklyn, NY, became a worldwide phenomenon, for Fabio Parasecoli and Maeusz Halawa’s new book Global Brooklyn: Designing Food Experiences in World Cities (2021).

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Foie Gras, France’s Favorite Holiday Delicacy

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Foie Gras Laguilhon

France takes its gastronomy extremely seriously, and this is especially true when it comes to the end-of-year holidays. Of all the holiday delicacies that might feature on the festive menus in French homes and restaurants, foie gras is a must. Despite the controversies surrounding it, there’s no denying that it is highly cherished by the French. Read more

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Surprising Stories: Les Champs-Elysées, from Allée to Avenue

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Les Champs-Elysées with Christmas lights, Photo: Wendi Halet/Flickr

This year the city of Paris will be ready for the holiday season: the colored lights will illuminate one of the most  beautiful avenues of the world, adding a special allure inviting strollers (albeit safely distanced and masked) along the festive avenue. The Christmas market will be virtual and the crowds will wait to bring encouraged to ring in the New Year with restraint, but the Christmas light are a Parisian traditions, like the Tree in Rockefeller Center, inaugurating a  holiday season unlike any other. Strolling the Champs is a walk through French history that entices Parisians and tourists alike at every season. But did you know it was inspired by garden design? Read more

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Les Potirons, France’s History and Love of Pumpkins

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While pumpkins are generally associated with the Americas, and rightfully so, the French have a particularly strong affection for this New World vegetable. Although you will never find a pumpkin pie served for dessert in a French home, in autumn the country’s markets abound in every shape and size of pumpkin. Here is how this fondness of potirons came to be and a recipe for the preferred way for the French to consume pumpkins, in a velouté, a thick and creamy soup.

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Vaux-le-Vicomte and the Famous Fête which Sparked Versailles

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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Photo: Jebulon / CC

Of the dozens of castles around Paris, the château de Vaux-le-Vicomte holds a very special place in French history, not only because of its innovative design, but also for the legendary palace it inspired: Versailles. Commissioned by Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finance under Louis XIV, for the first time a castle’s architecture, decor and gardens were designed in unison, resulting in an architectural masterpiece of the Baroque era. The splendid castle was unveiled during a sumptuous fête which took place on August 17th, 1661 in the presence of the King. However, the young Sun King was not one to be outshined and Fouquet would not be able to enjoy his exquisite residence. We journey back to that fateful night to discover how reaching for the stars led to Fouquet’s downfall.

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Surprising Stories: Marie-Antoinette at the Hameau de la Reine

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Maison de la Reine and the Tour de Marlborough. Photo: Daderot / Wikipedia

One of the most unexpected visits when touring the gardens of Versailles is the discovery of the Domaine de la Reine where queen Marie-Antoinette commissioned a fake village, called le hameau or the hamlet. Built to resemble vernacular architecture with half-timbered houses, thatched roofs, and stucco walls, the queen entertained friends and family, sometimes impersonating a milkmaid, serving cheeses, milk and creams from her farm. Today’s visitors marvel at the incongruous setting: how did the queen fail to understand that her countrified farm was a parody of most of her subjects’ villages?  This Surprising Story reveals a different interpretation of the queen’s hamlet, suggesting that she built a model village in order to demonstrate her trendsetting good taste and the prosperity of the nation.

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Surprising Stories: Chantilly Cream

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Chantilly cream is a crowd-pleaser: from a dollop on fresh summer berries to a transformative spoonful that makes a cup of coffee into a tantalizing dessert, Chantilly cream is a world renown gastronomic delight. This week’s Surprising Story looks at the history of this Chantilly cream—whipped milk combined with sugar—and how it was concocted for celebrations at the most famous garden parties in seventeenth and eighteenth century France.

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Surprising Stories: Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais: Resistance and Sacrifice

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The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin at the Rodin Museum. Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr

Today, perhaps more than any other time in recent history, we are aware of the fragility of the human body. The ongoing Covid pandemic and the worldwide protests against police brutality, makes it clear that how we view our bodies is changing how we view the world. This week’s Surprising Story looks at Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of the Burghers of Calais from 1895, one of his most inspiring monumental works of public sculpture that epitomizes how artists cast the human form to inspire social change.

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Surprising Stories: Fragile Flowers: Redouté, Prints and Porcelains

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Rosa Gallica Pontiana and Rosa Centifolia Foliacea by Pierre-Joseph Redouté

For most of Spring 2020 many of us have missed being able to see, touch and smell beautiful flowers up close. We can look wistfully beyond closed garden gates to try to catch a glimpse of blooms or instead settle for virtual bouquets. Long before Instagram, many artists attempted to capture the ephemeral beauty of flowers, however, few succeeded as well as Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Often called the “Raphael of flower painters,” the Belgian artist is still admired to this day as an international master of botanical illustration. Working for kings, queens, empresses and princesses, Redouté produced over 5,000 prints during his lifetime, but his recordings of Empress Joséphine’s flowers at the Château de Malmaison stand out as the most enchanting. This week’s Surprising Story looks at a lesser known aspect of Redoute’s work: his prints which inspired a rare and magnificent porcelain service dedicated to the Empress Joséphine. 

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Surprising Stories: The Buttes-Chaumont: A Model for a Green City

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Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Phil Beard / Flickr

As we leave our homes after two months of lockdown in Paris, our Surprising Story this week visits the Buttes-Chaumont, one of the city’s first public parks and urban renewal projects. Part of Baron Haussmann’s mid-19th century designs for modernized Paris, we’ll see how one of the most noxious places in Paris became one of its most picturesque.

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