Heart & Soul In The Kitchen
By Jacques Pepin
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Jacques Pepin: Hi. Hi, I'm Jacques Pepin and my new cookbook is Heart & Soul in the Kitchen. Suzy Chase: In addition to your new cookbook, Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, you have a PBS series, called Heart & Soul. What can we expect with this new series?
Jacques Pepin: Maybe a bit more personal than I have done. This is the thirteenth series of 26 shows that I do with KQED in San Francisco. But in several of them I did two series, like fast food my way, where actually I use the supermarket as a prep cook ... like in a professional restaurant you have prep cook boning out the chicken, boning the fish, you know, slicing the shallot and so forth. There, in those, I went to the supermarket and buy things like a prep cook, you know; skinless boneless breast of chicken, pre-sliced mushrooms, pre-washed spinach, and I could cook with a minimal amount of effort, you know? See what I did in the other series, I insisted more on the technique of cooking. Well in that series here, it's more a reflection of the way we eat at home, and I cook with my granddaughter and with my daughter, and it is those recipes, which are really mixed up. You may have a chirashi sushi ... my wife loves sushi, next to something which may have some Mexican influence, because we used to have an apartment in Mexico. Others, which go back to my mother, others, which goes back to Julia Child, so its more of a memory trip throughout my life of what we eat at home. Even the foraging and things like that, or playing boule with friends and eating together, so it is ... and then I have a fair amount of my planning and menu in there, so to illustrate the book
Suzy Chase: You are a major influence on chefs, home cooks, and foodies around the world. Jacques Pepin: I don't know about that but ...
Suzy Chase: I would say so. Now would you say your mother was your biggest influence? Jacques Pepin: Probably yes. I mean, since I was five or six years old, I was in a kitchen because in my family there are actually ... I can count like seven restaurants in France, but the seven of them owned by women. I was the first male to go into that business. So that probably, yes, was what influenced me the most.
Suzy Chase: This cookbook is stunning and your watercolors throughout the book are really gorgeous. Jacques Pepin: Thank you.
Suzy Chase: I noticed that the last chapter was entitled My Mistake. What is your best advice for the home cook to avoid errors in the kitchen? Jacques Pepin: Well, you know mistake is ... there is nothing wrong with mistake, you know, you learn from mistake and it's some valid good. And frankly, if you have a glass of wine after, who cares? But yes, I mean you should ... you know, when you do a recipe ... for me, if I do a recipe, I would hope that if you use my book, or any book for that matter, that you will follow the recipe exactly the way it is, at least one time, you know, the first time you do it. If it comes out good, then you're likely to do it again and the second time you take a faster look at it. By the third time or fourth time you cook, improve it; you know, you like it with more tomato or less tomato, or more of this, less of that. And it's likely that within a year, if you have done it five or six times, than you not even remember where it comes from and you have massaged it enough so that it fits your own style and your own personality and it becomes your recipe. And I think that's a normal progression, and for me it's gratifying if people do that this way. But not at the beginning. I have a friend I talked to last week, or someone called me, and they say, "Well maybe it better be Beef Burgundy, so I look at your recipe and I look at Julia and I look at Richard [inaudible 00:04:26] or whatever, and I mix some of it together and I build my own. No, this is not what I'm talking about, because you can make a real mess. You should really, I think, follow it at least once to know whether it works on that and then after, you make it your own.
Suzy Chase: When I was a cookbook publicist, I had the pleasure of working on Pierre Franey's last cookbook. What is your fondest memory of him? Jacques Pepin: Well, Pierre ... you know, I worked 12 years with Pierre Franey. So he was like my older brother and he was very ... he influenced me a lot. I came to this country at the end of 1959 and I start working for Le Pavillon in New York. Then after that, we both left to work for Howard Johnson. And I stay there for ten years with him, from 1960 to 1970. So I was very close to Pierre. He was a great man because he was really unpretentious and simple and very honest and straightforward, so yeah, it was great to be with him and his whole family. I mean, when I first came to this country, I spend almost all my weekends in East Hampton, you know, in his family. And then eventually, I would go there with Craig Claiborne, because Craig lived next to Pierre, and we became very good friends. And in fact, in 1966, Craig did my wedding in his house and Pierre was cooking and I was cooking. Everyone was cooking!
Suzy Chase: So let's talk about food memories. Is there one particular recipe that immediately takes you back to your childhood in France?
Jacques Pepin: Oh many, many of those. This is what Proust in Remembrance of Things Past, you know, called the affective memory, that is the memory of the senses; you know the taste, the smell, the look, the hearing, and all that, which are different from the memory of the brain. If you asked me where I was in 1958, well I was with the President. I can think about it and kind of recall and my memory would take me there. But if I walk in the wood with my dog, without thinking about anything in particular, and then all of a sudden I smell mushrooms, then all of a sudden I'm 12 years old doing mushrooming with my father or my brother. So those are the affective memory of the smell. As a professional chef, you rely on that much more than the written recipe. I mean you could put me on the table and with my eye closed and you give me a piece of fish and I will tell you, "This is a striped bass we used to at Le Pavillon in New York." Or "This is the lobster souffle we used to do at the Plaza Athenee in Paris." Those tastes are embedded in my brain, you know. So when you duplicate the recipe, that's what you look for, you look for that taste, not necessarily following a typewritten page. You look and you add until you reach that taste, and that's what making a recipe is all about, duplicating a taste.
Suzy Chase: I know that there is one food that you cannot live without ... the egg.
Jacques Pepin: Yes.
Suzy Chase: In your new cookbook, Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, you talk about the perfectly cooked eggs that you and James Beard had in 1976 at Chez Panisse.
Jacques Pepin: Oh yes, right.
Suzy Chase: What is the key to perfectly cooked eggs?
Jacques Pepin: Well this is what is hard-cooked eggs. And notice that I said hard cooked rather than hard boiled eggs, because theoretically it shouldn't boil too much. Just a very, very light boil otherwise the boiling will toughen the egg whites, [inaudible 00:08:19] the albumin, and make it tough. But basically, there was a different way of doing it. But certainly, make a little hole on the longer side of the hole with a pushpin, you know, a thumbtack, and I made a hole and there will be air chamber. When I put that eggs in boiling water, all the pressure escaped, you can see like a little volcano coming out of there, and that prevent the eggs from cracking in the water. And then you leave it ten minutes this way. But what happens is that when you put it in boiling water, the heat goes into the eggs and the sulfur and the egg whites get away from the heat, goes around the yolk and it creates that green tinge, with the reaction with the iron, all around the yolk. So as soon as the eggs is cooked, you pour off the hot water, you shake the pan to crack the shell a little bit, and you put cold water and ice on top, and then you have an egg with no green around the yolk, with an egg white that is kind of tender, just cooked, and that's a perfectly cooked eggs, and that's the one I had at Chez Panisse. I'm sure you didn't want as much explanation as this but ... yes.
Suzy Chase: So tell us about your neighbor who raises the laying hens.
Jacques Pepin: Oh yes. I have a terrific lady here from Jamaica, who has about 50 chickens. So I go there, she has some duck as well. And I go there to get my eggs and they are fantastic. Certainly, because if a chicken is free and he's walking around he gives you good eggs and that's quality. Frankly it used to be difficult to get, like, organic eggs, but now you have that in all the markets. And frankly if you pay four dollars a dozen of eggs rather than $2.50, it's a difference of about 15 cents or whatever for eggs, so it's really nothing at all. And so there is no excuse not to buy good quality eggs now.
Suzy Chase: Last night for dinner I made your recipe for eggs in pepper boats, on page 100.
Jacques Pepin: Oh, how did it turn out?
Suzy Chase: The peppers were so nice and soft and the yolk was perfectly runny.
Jacques Pepin: Yeah and then ... see, that's what I mean where you can ... so you can start fooling around with that recipe after you've done it a couple of times. You put another type of cheese, or you put some chopped ham in the bottom-
Suzy Chase: Right.
Jacques Pepin: -or you put some other thing that you may have in your refrigerator, and you get the principle and you do it. Or you do it into a bell pepper, which is much larger, so you put two eggs in it. So yes, there is a lot of variation you can do with that.
Suzy Chase: After more than 60 years of cooking, you have taught us that you cannot cook great food without mixing love into it. Thank you so much for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Jacques Pepin: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me too.