There's a lot to unpack in Steve Hoffman's new memoir.

On the surface, "A Season for That: Lost and Found in the Other Southern France"chronicles the six months Hoffman and his family — wife and fellow author Mary Jo and their two children — spent immersed in a small winemaking village in southern France more than a decade ago.

But it's also a journey of self-discovery, as Hoffman talks readers through his complicated relationship with France, from a Minnesota high school kid learning the language, to a stint in Paris in his early 20s, to falling in love with the Languedoc region as an adult.

It's a story of a husband and father wanting his family to share his love of France, and how this adventure changed their dynamic — and their futures.

But it's also about friendship, how Hoffman worked to set aside his idyllic vision of Paris to become part of the village of Autignac, where neighbors became family and local winemakers became close friends. About how the experience upended the way Hoffman, a tax preparer and award-winning food writer from Shoreview, views not only French food and wine but what it means to belong.

And, finally, it's a lesson in patience.

"It took me about eight years to write the book," Hoffman said. "It took me that long to give the book time to find itself, to become what it needed to be, to express what that experience meant."

Ahead of the book's July 9 release, we talked to Hoffman about getting out of his comfort zone, the importance of culinary traditions and how this epic trip changed his relationship with food, wine, France and family. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The French way of life has been a constant thread in your life. Why?

I think it started with the fact that I was able, from a young age, to speak French fairly easily, and there was this feeling of inhabiting a new person when I was speaking French that I found intoxicating. But I was still just a French student until that year in Paris. That manifested what I had felt but never experienced, which is that this language allowed me to essentially be a different person, and a far more interesting and romantic figure — to me — than Steve Hoffman, tennis player and student at Ramsey High School in Roseville, Minnesota.

Cooking plays an important role in the book. Did you cook before you went to France?

I loved to strap on an apron on a Sunday afternoon and open a bottle of wine and spend two or three hours making something complicated and ambitious and making a bunch of dishes. I did cook for the kids when they were young, but I was a recipe follower. I was not somebody who could go to the grocery store or get a CSA and make something with most of what he would find in his kitchen. That was very much an evolution that happened during that trip.

Of all the meals that you cooked in France, which one stands out?

Just grilling fresh sardines over a vine-wood fire in our courtyard with sea salt and a bunch of lemon juice, and picking those skeletons clean. It was just such a simple, beautifully Mediterranean way of preparing that very Mediterranean fish.

Did your experience change the way you cook at home?

I started cooking more often, and spent a lot of time trying to find the recipes that I could make fairly easily that were full of flavor that the kids would love. And I feel as if I did. I'm kind of proud of this, because I didn't have this as a child. I didn't have a tradition to draw from, a mother who cooked or a grandmother who cooked. That wasn't part of our family.

If you're looking for a taste of France in Minnesota, what do you cook?

Now that we're here, we're more focused on how do we translate the spirit of what we did there. We're still surrounded with beautiful food in Minnesota. How do we make it flavorful? How do we fashion it into dishes that people we love and that our family will love and crave?

You worked in the vineyards. How did that change your relationship with wine?

I was interested in wine previously as an element of a good life. It was very much a part of my relationship with France, but it had more to do with knowing regions and knowing grapes, being able to pick out the notes that come out of a glass of wine. It was very removed from vines and soil and plots of land. And that was really the shift. And it shifted my entire approach to wine, the reasons that I valued wine. It was such an agricultural experience. It allowed me to see from literally the ground up how you take these base materials and slowly move them through this process to turn them into something transcendent in a glass.

At times you longed for comfort, yet you were constantly out of your comfort zone. How did you reconcile that?

That's a great question. I arrived with a notion in my head that I was just automatically a happier and better person in France. And it just happened without any particular effort on my part because I could speak the language. The lifestyle was conducive to what I love, which is food, wine and a sort of sophisticated European way of moving through your day. I was going there expecting that I would be in my comfort zone, that I would be the French speaker who would help my family fall in love with France. And it would be as simple as that.


Early on Mary Jo was really insistent saying, "Wait a minute, this isn't working. We're not going to be a part of the Steve Hoffman show while you go have nice experiences at cafes. ... You need to make something happen here. Or this whole dream of France doesn't really make sense." So I was faced with this dilemma of, yes, I can stay in my comfort zone and it can be a pretty little trip, but at the risk of maybe losing France in some way. Or I can get out of my comfort zone and start making something happen, that potentially gets us what we wanted in the first place, which is to become part of the fabric of this little village.

Mary Jo seems like the voice of tough love and reality.

Absolutely, and has been for much of our marriage.

I have mad respect for that.

It's not an easy thing to do. She had both the wisdom to recognize that it wasn't going that way, and the courage to risk a little bit of conflict in order to engineer something better, knowing that because she didn't speak the language, she couldn't just step in and do it. She needed me to do it. I could have been super resentful, or I could have gone into a self-defensive mode. You know, she really kind of risked something by stepping up and having that conversation with me.

You talked about feeling like the Steve you wanted to be. How has that translated into Steve now?

There was that slow movement toward realization, and it happened in part through cooking. My initial efforts were to try to cook like a French chef, which led to this breakthrough of the cooking that I want to do is for this family. Yes, I want to have fun with these beautiful ingredients. And I want to cook good food that people love, but I want to cook it for this family. By the end of the book, I feel as if I had discovered that the best me was the me that was devoted to the few things around me that really meant something, primarily Mary Jo, Joe and Eva.

What was coming back to Minnesota like?

There was a kind of sadness to come back, you know? There was this feeling that we had really been through something that we couldn't quite put into words, but that we felt really deeply. And there is an ordinariness to daily life that we had to contend with, and that we're still contending with, even all these years later.

You kept journals during your during this trip. At what point did you say, hey, this should be a book?

Honestly, [former Taste editor] Lee Dean was one of the critical early supporters of my writing. I sent her one of my journal pieces. It was ridiculous. It was like 5,000 words long, but she had made it a point to always read anything submitted by a Minnesota writer, and she took the time to read it. It was obviously unpublishable in that form, but she saw something in my writing and invited me to submit letters from Languedoc to her. That was the turning point.

You're a real estate broker, tax preparer, food writer and now an author. What's your next season?

That is the question. I think ideally, it will bring a slow transition toward taking writing more seriously as an actual career as opposed to a side hustle. But I think the next season is Mary Jo [author of the blog and book "Still"] and me both taking these new creative careers and finding a way to create a body of work that we're proud of, create a legacy that would involve working together on a project that is both of ours, in addition to doing whatever work we would do separately.

A decade ago, could you have imagined you both publishing books in the same year?

Never, never, never. One of our habits throughout our marriage has been to do five-year plans. And it's been surprising how often everything on the list somehow happens. It seems that there's a magic in writing it down and making it intentional. When we got back from this trip, we did a five-year plan, and it involved me maybe writing a book and possibly being on the kind of terms with a national food press where I could email, say, the editor of Food and Wine magazine and they would know who I was. And that was the most pie-in-the-sky, never-going-to-happen dreaming. And I'll be damned if 10 years later, that hasn't entirely come to pass. It's absolutely still mind-boggling to us that we've reached this point.

Meet the author

Steve Hoffman has several upcoming Twin Cities events promoting "A Season for That" (Crown, $30), including:

July 9: The launch party from 5 to 8 p.m. features Mediterranean food, including the wine made in the village (Thierry Rodriguez's Mas Gabinèle). Books available for purchase and signing. Free. 4606 Churchill St., Shoreview,

July 10: Join Hoffman and his wife, Mary Jo Hoffman, author of "Still," at 7 p.m. at Magers & Quinn bookstore. They'll talk about fitting a creative process into real life. Free, registration required. 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.,

July 14: Bastille Day dinner at Riva Terrace at 3:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, with food and wine inspired by Mediterranean France. A copy of the book is included with each reservation. $200 per person. Limited seating. Reservations available on Tock. 245 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.,

July 19: A tasting of the wines of Mas Gabinèle, made in the village where Hoffman's book is set. 7 p.m. at Solo Vino. 517 Selby Av., St. Paul,

July 30-31: A five-course tasting menu inspired by the book at chef Adam Ritter's Minneapolis restaurant Bûcheron. $115 per person, seatings begin at 5 p.m. 4257 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.,

The wines: Find a taste of Thierry Rodriguez's Mas Gabinèle wines at South Lyndale Liquors, Minneapolis; Thomas Wines, St. Paul; 1010 Washington Wines & Spirits, Minneapolis;, Bridgeview Liquors, Moorhead; EaTo Bottle Shop, Minneapolis; Sunfish Cellars, St. Paul; North Loop Wine & Spirits, Minneapolis; and Tessa's Office, Rochester.