Bonjour mes amis — my apologies for the delay in posting this today. I’ve had an enfer (hell) of a time getting Blogger to upload my pics but I think all is well in cyberspace. Nothing a mid-afternoon glass of wine can’t resolve :) A little culinary bird told me that Jacques Pepin was going to be in town. One of his stops was an informal sit down with the SFPFS (San Francisco Professional Food Society) moderated by Laura Werlin, artisanal cheese aficionada, at the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill.
Mother Nature must be a Jacques Pepin fan because we were treated to some of the most gorgeous views imaginable set against a screaming blue sky. Jacques was in town promoting his latest book, Chez Jacques, which means “at Jacques’ home”. He did a meet and greet for a good hour then had a sit down interview followed by a reception where the Fairmont culinary team treated us to some of Jacques’ recipes from this book. Here are a few of his words of wisdom, snippets, quotes and delightful humor.
• In this book, Jacques focused on recipes from his home, hence the title, recipes that he cooks for himself and his wife or a big group of friends. He states, the point of eating is sharing food with family and friends, with sharing comes conversation, talking around a table. He quotes anthropologist Levi Strauss who claims that cooking food is nature transformed into culture.
• Jacques claims he is egocentric, egocentric to the food he loves. He goes on to explain that this is natural because you can’t escape yourself because you are unique. If you like a restaurant, it is more a reflection of your tastes, aesthetics, preferences, palette, experiences than on the restaurant itself.
• Laura posed the question: “How far should we go to buy our food?” Jacques replied, the best food is always going to be the closest food, similar to the best table in a restaurant being the one closest to a waiter.
• Another question asked about food trends in restaurants such as molecular gastronomy. His response was that chefs are thinking too much, turning it into fashion vs. trend. For example, Il Bulli is breaking new ground but locally no one would know what the dish is. If he took a dish out into the street of the town, no one would be able to identify it. He compares it to a haute couture Parisian fashion show. When you see thee crazy fashions, you think no one would ever wear it but eventually the techniques, such as the foam phenomenon, will trickle down and morph into mainstream dining.
• When asked about the Food Network and how chefs are now superstars, Jacques humbly refutes that chefs shouldn’t take themselves so seriously, that we are all just soup merchants. Most chefs are basically craftsmen and technicians and some have extraordinary talent such as Thomas Keller. Jacques is also concerned with the lack of actual information on the Food Network – 24 hours a day of food shows but not one minute on actual factual information tackling today’s culinary issues such as childhood obesity, diabetes, etc. There is no nutritionist, no investigating, we don’t know anything about anything and the Food Network needs a show such as 60 Minutes that investigates and reports on food issues that are so prevalent in this country.
• An audience member asked Jacques the qualities of a good chef. He immediately fired off the following: hardworking, prompt, always there, attentive, fast, a good technician, and can work and get along with other people. These, he states emphatically, are more important than anything, even creativity. Once a chef is a master technician and if he has talent, then he can become an artist. Only then can he take everything he’s learned, all his knowledge and experience and his own sense of aesthetics and start creating.
• Jacques tests all his own recipes along with his very discerning wife and assistant Norma. If they don’t like it, the recipe doesn’t go in the book! His collaborator on most of his books and shows, Susie Heller, also tests all his recipes in her home kitchen to ensure consistency.
• Jacques’s next project is called The Artist’s Table where he interviews accomplished artists, musicians, etc. to discover how their specific art translates to food and wine. He recently sat down with Itzhak Perlman who discussed the importance of food, using food synonyms to discuss how his music will sound and his love of cooking. When talking about the marriage of art and science, Jacques claims that you can’t reduce a recipe to a scientific formula because every recipe incorporates that one chef’s techniques, imagination, instinct and talent. If he gives the same recipe to 10 different people, he will get 10 different versions of the same dish because each person will naturally incorporate these traits.
• When asked about his favorite memory of Julia Child, Jacques smiled and laughed. The first show they did together had no recipes so it took them 2 years to write the follow-up book because the editors would have to replay the shows over and over to get exactly what they were putting into the dish. Another memory involves a visit to the set by a local sponsor, Kendall-Jackson. The producer Goeff Drummond, before the taping, confirmed with Jacques that they’d pour a glass of wine at the end of the segment. When the time came, Jacques poured himself a glass of wine and offered one to Julia. She graciously declined, declaring that she preferred a beer! The same thing happened when the Land O’Lakes sponsors were on the set. Jacques and Julia were making a pie crust and Jacques took out the butter. Julia announced she was going to make her pie crust with Crisco!
• A poignant ending to the evening came when Jacques talked about how blessed his life is, how he is able to do what he loves for a living and if he could come back in a second life, he would come back as Jacques Pepin. The audience burst into applause in heartfelt agreement.