10 Questions with... Jacques Pépin
Jacques Pépin loves fast food - his way
By Susan Dyer Reynolds
Renowned chef Jacques Pépin looks relaxed sitting at a large wooden table in San Francisco’s Prescott Hotel. He is just a few hours away from an appearance on ABC’s daytime talk show View from the Bay, part of his promotional tour for his 26-part PBS TV series based on his new book, Jacques Pépin More Fast Food My Way. The prequel, Fast Food My Way, was Pépin’s way of inspiring people to cook simple, good food. It was a runaway hit. “More people cook from that book than any of the other 20 or so books I’ve written in the last 30 years,” Pépin says in his trademark French accent.
Prior to immigrating to the United States, Pépin was the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle, and won France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor. He is also one of the world’s most famous faces, having spent years on the roster of PBS’s Saturday morning line-up of cooking shows that arguably launched the entire food television craze. The Emmy award-winning 1999 series, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home was one of Julia Child’s last cooking shows. The two were close, and it was apparent on the series as they bantered back and forth about technique while cooking up a storm and extolling the virtues of wine.
Pepin is every bit as charming in person as he is on television; he is laid back, down to earth, and still very passionate about cooking.
He and his wife, Gloria, live in Connecticut. Their daughter, Claudine, has appeared in several of her father’s series.
Fun Facts: Pepin likes hunting for mushrooms in the woods and scooping up “little white fish from the sea,” which he tosses in flour and fries as a snack. He also plays boules, which is the French version of bocce ball.
Last thing you cooked for yourself?
I left for this tour on the 3rd of October, so it would be spaghetti with clams and some butternut squash.
Favorite food from your childhood?
A crunchy baguette and a piece of dark chocolate, and chicken with cream sauce that my mother used to do. Also, her pike dumplings with tomato-olive sauce.
How would you describe working in your kitchen?
I’m a very nice guy. If you drink a little wine, it’s fine (laughs). I’ve been married to my wife, Gloria, for 43 years. In the kitchen at home, when she cooks, if I go in there she says, “Don’t touch!”
Something in your ‘fridge or freezer that would surprise people?
Beer and frozen raspberries.
A meal or a dish that, as a young chef, was an inspiration or a revelation?
Roasted pheasant served in the middle of the tail feathers, wings and head (smiles). The health department wouldn’t let you do that now.
Last restaurant you ate at?
The Left Bank in San Mateo.
Your signature dish?
I don’t think I have one. It depends on what is available at the market; I think I am best known for dishes made with meat and fish.
That would have to be sweetbreads.
If you had to eat one meal for a week, what would it be?
Roast chicken with potatoes and salad.
What would your last meal on earth be and where would you have it?
Without question it would be at home with my friends and family and my dog. We would go from ham and eggs to caviar, squab, and fresh apricots, with lots of music, laughter and wine.
Jacques Pépin More Fast Food My Way. Houghton Mifflin, 256 pages with 100 full-color photographs, $32, available in bookstores and online. For more information, visit www.jacquespepin.net.
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