Before Anthony Bourdain’s new cookbook, Appetites, comes out on October 25, I must confess une affaire du tube with Jacques Pépin. Ironically, Bourdain introduced us with a No Reservations segment where Jacques demonstrated proper egg-cracking technique. At the time, I thought he was cracked.
Then everything changed.
PBS has been rerunning three Pépin series: Essential Pepin, More Fast Food My Way, and Heart & Soul. After just a few episodes, I became obsessed and bought the DVDs and companion cookbooks for the latter two series, and all summer I’ve been studying Jacques like a culinary school groupie.
(Essential Pépin is good, but uses more mis en place and time-skipping, which minimize all that’s really involved. In the other two series, Jacques’ cooking is more down-to-earth. Heart & Soul is my favorite. Alas, it’s said to be his last for PBS.)
On weekends, my mother becomes my sous chef. I send her the recipe so she can shop, then I go over and we watch Jacques make it on DVD before we try it.
So far, every dish has turned out well and my parents enjoyed them.
Every time I see Jacques chop an onion, “poetry in motion” pops into my head. I even bought a good chef’s knife and keep it sharp, but I’ll never come close to his dexterity.
Also thanks to Jacques, I now use herbs de Provence.
Unfortunately, no photos, but here are a few dishes I’ve done. Many recipes are available online.
Poulet à la Crème (chicken thighs elevated)
Gloria’s Linguine with Clam Sauce (loved it!)
Corn Soufflé (practicing for a Thanksgiving side)
Asparagus Fans with Mustard Sauce (finally, green sticks get some personality)
Soda Bread (so quick and easy, I’ve made it perfectly twice)
Not only does Jacques explain what he’s doing, but tells how he economizes, appreciates ordinary ingredients (white button mushrooms, for example), and even uses canned goods without getting snarky about it.
Years ago I learned Chinese cooking from Wok with Yan with Stephen Yan (no, not Martin). I also liked Emeril, but can’t say I soaked up any technique or made his dishes.
And then there’s Bourdain. He was never a celebrity chef, though they keep calling him one. He wasn’t famous at Les Halles, and he quit that job when Kitchen Confidential took off. I’ve seen him cook only a handful of times.
That said, he remains my biggest culinary influence. Just watching what he eats and says about food has opened new worlds. I know what mis en place means. I cook more creatively. I ate squid with ink in Lisbon. And now I appreciate top-tier chefs like Eric Ripert and Jacques Pépin and learn technique from them.
I’ve pre-ordered Bourdain’s book Appetites with expectations it’s more user-friendly than his Les Halles Cookbook and will join my two Pépin cookbooks as favorites.
So, thank you, Tony, for putting Jacques Pépin on my radar. And thank you, Jacques, for enriching home cooks by sharing your amazing knowledge with such charm and generosity.