Jacques Pépin has spent his career defying expectations. By 1958, at the age of 23, he had cooked for three French presidents. But he left that life to work at a high-end restaurant in New York, then gave that up to cook at Howard Johnson's, making food for the masses. After a life-altering accident, Jacques found his next love: teaching other people how to cook. By the early ‘90s he was one of America’s best-known TV chefs. This week, Dan visits Jacques at his home in Connecticut, where the chef shares his recipe for SPAM, talks about his pandemic pivot to Instagram, and discusses the pleasures of a life spent experimenting.
If you want to see photos of Jacques’s menu books, his wall of pots and pans, and more, follow Dan on Instagram.
And in other big news, you can now buy tickets for our Sporkful Live event! On Wednesday, March 9, at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, Dan will be talking with the one and only J. Kenji López-Alt. It's Kenji's first ever full-length Sporkful interview, and that week his new cookbook The Wok comes out. Proof of vaccination and masks will be required. Get your tickets here.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Sun So Sunny" by Calvin Dashielle
- "Feel Real Good" by Will Van De Crommert
- "Hot Night" by Calvin Dashielle
- "On The Floor" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Stacks" by Erick Anderson
- "Playful Rhodes" by Stephen Clinton Sullivan
- "Kellyanne" by Paul Fonfara
- "Trippin" by Erick Anderson
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
Dan Pashman: Jacques, I'm looking at your wall of pans behind you.
Jacques Pepin: I don't like to go into the closet and look for pans, so it's hanging. I think it's, uh, it's aesthetically pleasing. Those are pots that I use all the time, back and forth, so it's easier.
Dan Pashman: My wife thinks I have too many pans.
Jacques Pepin: Oh, okay. Well, your wife doesn't know me.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people.
Dan Pashman: Before we get to the show – big news. Tickets are on sale now for the first Sporkful Live Taping in two and half years, and our first ever in the Bay Area! Yes, that’s right. We’re feeling optimistic about this virus you may have heard a little bit about. My guest for this show will be the one and only Kenji Lopez-Alt. He's going to be sitting down for his first ever full length Sporkful interview, the same week his new cookbook all about the wok and cooking with the wok comes out. The book will for sale and Kenji will sign copies after the show, so this is big. Wednesday, March 9th, at Swedish American Hall in San Francisco. Proof of vaccination and masks will be required. Get your tickets now at sporkful.com/live. I can’t wait to see you. All right, let’s get to the show.
Dan Pashman: Long before Alton Brown and Rachael Ray, before Emeril and Ina, Jacques Pepin became a household name as one of America’s best known celebrity chefs, back when that wasn’t even a term. He’s been teaching people how to cook for 50 years, since way before food was a whole genre of television. He’s written dozens of books and hosted numerous TV shows...
CLIP (JACUQES PEPIN): There is nothing as simple and as good as just a fried egg. There is a way of doing it — I mean my way of doing it, not everyone’s way, but mine.
Dan Pashman: Today, at age 86, Jacques is still driven by the idea that anyone can learn to cook, and he’s still showing people how — now on Instagram.
Dan Pashman: What is the key to making a very good instructional video? What makes some better than others?
Jacques Pepin: If people can really relate to it. I mean, for me, I'll say, I'm very to the point. I like to demystify it. Peeling an asparagus, you know. So in that sense, I like to break it down and say that the important part. And even when I see my video, there is never enough close up for me. I say, you should have had a close up, they won’t be able to see it. They don't have to see me.
Dan Pashman: You want them to show your hands?
Jacques Pepin: Absolutely. Only my hand. At the end, if I present the dish, maybe my face, but not the —
Dan Pashman: Right, because you want people to learn.
Jacques Pepin: Yeah, absolutely.
Dan Pashman: So while most of the top French chefs in America are serving caviar and truffles in white tablecloth restaurants, Jacques Pepin prefers to teach home cooks how to peel asparagus on Instagram. As you’ll hear, he’s spent a lot of his life defying expectations.
Dan Pashman: Back in October, I went to his house in Connecticut. We sat down in his kitchen, in full view of his glorious wall of pots and pans. Jacques grew up in Bourg-en-Bresse, near Lyon, during and after World War II. When he was six, his mother took him to a farm, where he would stay for the summer. When she said goodbye and left, he began to cry. To comfort him, someone who worked at the farm led Jacques to the barn to milk a cow. The milk was warm, foamy — it's his first real food memory. For Jacques, food has always been a source of comfort, even when he got back home.
Jacques Pepin: For me, there is no place more secure than a kid coming back from the school to sit in the kitchen. When I was a kid, you hear your mother voice, your father, the clink of the equipment, the smell of the food that you eat, that you share. Those are very visceral memory that stay with you the rest of your life, you know, and sharing food the same way.
Dan Pashman: Soon after that summer on the farm, Jacques began working at the restaurant his parents owned. He’d wash out wine bottles, peel potatoes. When he was 13, he quit school and began apprenticing in the kitchen at a fancy hotel in town. From there, he moved from one restaurant to the next, climbing the military-style ranks of French kitchens.
Dan Pashman: By the time he was just 23, he'd been the personal chef to three French presidents, including Charles de Gaulle. Jacques was one of the most prominent chefs in the country.
Dan Pashman: And then you left, you went to New York. Why?
Jacques Pepin: Well someone introduced me and said that man was chef to three French president. The three of them are dead.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Jacques Pepin: So I said, I better leave. So I did.
Dan Pashman: No, Jacques wasn't actually suspected of assassinating any French presidents. He just wanted something different. He figured he’d stay in the U.S. for a year or two.
Dan Pashman: He arrived in 1959, and he definitely found something different. Oreos. Iceberg lettuce. Jell-O. He loved them all. He also had his first-ever supermarket experience — one stop for all his ingredients, instead of five different specialty stores.
Dan Pashman: Jacques’s first job was cooking at Le Pavillon, a famed French restaurant in New York City. And even though he was still making French food, he found the culture in the U.S. to be less rigid, more open to experimentation.
Jacques Pepin: There was that type of freedom in this. All kinds of things in America that I probably wouldn't have done in France and that's why I stayed. You know, I discovered another world. You will always, if you keep your eye open, learn something different, something new, you know, and that's what makes it exciting.
Dan Pashman: Soon Jacques had earned such a reputation that he got offered another job cooking for a head of state — this time for President John F. Kennedy. Seems like a plum gig right? But Jacques turned it down. First, he says back then a job like that wasn’t as glamorous as you’d think. The chef was hidden in the kitchen cooking in anonymity.
Jacques Pepin: I had done that. I didn't want to do that again. I was doing things that I had never done, so I didn’t want to leave New York.
Dan Pashman: Jacques wanted to keep doing things he had never done. So he left Le Pavillon, and went to work for Howard Johnson. Instead of cooking for the president, he would be cooking for the masses.
Dan Pashman: And you might know Howard Johnson as a roadside hotel chain with those orange roofs. But in the '50s and '60s you could eat there too. In fact, it was one of America’s first big restaurant chains. At its peak when Jacques was there, Howard Johnson served more meals than anyone in America except the U.S. Army.
Dan Pashman: Jacques was hired as Howard Johnson’s director of research and new development. In the beginning, he spent a few months getting to know the company by working as a line cook at the chain's busiest location, off a highway in Queens, New York. So he went from making cassoulet at Le Pavillon in the heart of the city, to flipping burgers with a view of an exit ramp.
Dan Pashman: In the Howard Johnson test kitchen, Jacques worked with food chemists — something else he had never done before. He began to blend his French training with American techniques. He replaced margarine with butter, swapped in fresh onions and potatoes for frozen or dehydrated ones. But he also embraced the microwave, and became an advocate for the blender. He was having fun, experimenting, and learning in the kitchen.
Jacques Pepin: We cut the hot dog and you make an incision the long way.
Dan Pashman: Slice it down the middle the long way.
Jacques Pepin: And then after every quarter of an inch, the other way, put that in the skillet and it curls up like a round thing.
Dan Pashman: Okay, if you’re having trouble picturing this: when you slice a hot dog the long way and make tiny cuts the short way, then cook it in a pan, the whole thing curls up into a circle. A “curly dog,” Jacques calls it.
Jacques Pepin: And we serve that on the bun, a hamburger bun or something,
Dan Pashman: I saw that! That's so funny. There's a brewery near my house on Long Island called Blind Bat Brewery. And that's how they serve hot dogs.
Jacques Pepin: Oh, no kidding?
Dan Pashman: Yes.
Jacques Pepin: They must have seen that somewhere that I did that many many years ago.
Dan Pashman: Yes, that's so funny. Wow.
Jacques Pepin: We served it on an English muffin ...
Dan Pashman: That’s how they did it, on an English muffin. It's so funny because I mean, I thought it was very clever and fun to see a different way of doing a hot dog —
Jacques Pepin: Ah, okay. Well I show it with English muffin, maybe, they saw it back then.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Yeah. But my eight-year-old daughter, who ordered a hot dog was a little bit confused.
Jacques Pepin: Oh, right. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: She was like, "What is this?"
Jacques Pepin: It’s okay though, it’s fun.
Dan Pashman: For Jacques, working at a big chain was new and different. He loved that. He also loved the scale of it.
Jacques Pepin: So we did the chicken pot pie, for example. We put the chicken in cream sauce and so forth. I started doing 10 pounds of chicken in the kitchen, then we did 50 pound. We ended up 3,000 pounds of chicken at a time. We did, you know, 3,000 pounds of bone to do stock. I learned a great deal about marketing, I mean, chemistry of food. As I said, I would never have been able to do those jobs after without the training of Howard Johnson.
Dan Pashman: In 1970, after a decade at Howard Johnson, Jacques moved on. But as he said, he took what he learned with him. Around this time. America’s middle class was growing. People were going out to eat more. The pace of life was picking up. There was more pressure on restaurants to serve more food, faster. The classic French sauces that take hours or even days to make — it just wasn't practical.
Dan Pashman: So Jacques opened a restaurant that just served soup. You ordered at a counter and got your soup with a piece of fresh bread on a tray — cafeteria style. Very democratic, as he put it. The soup restaurant brought together everything Jacques had picked up over the years —classic French influence meets mass production meets new technology.
Dan Pashman: The place was a big success, but Jacques had a falling out with his partners and it never expanded. Still, he was prescient. You can see the seeds of fast casual places like Chipotle and Shake Shack in his concept. As he told the New York Times around this period, “You have to adapt to modern techniques. Some stuff is better frozen. Puff pastry bakes more reliably. As for the blender, if Escoffier were alive today, I’m sure he would use it.”
Jacques Pepin: Yeah. I still agree with that, whatever I said at the time. It's true.
Dan Pashman: What do you think drives those — that evolution that you don't cook the way you used to cook. Restaurants aren't cooking the way that they used to cook.
Jacques Pepin: No.
Dan Pashman: These things are always moving forward.
Jacques Pepin: Culture, art habits, life itself. You know, the speed to the internet, all stuff. All of that has an influence on the way you live and the way you live has an influence on the way you eat and the way you cook.
Jacques Pepin: If you go to the market now, you got pre-washed spinach. You have pre-sliced mushroom. you have skinless boneless, breast of chicken. You come back, you have a non-stick pan. You put that together, you can do the same thing. Use the supermarket as the prep cook in a sense. It may not be the least expensive way of shopping, but certainly, you know, save you a lot of work.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, before Jacques can figure out his next career move, an unexpected event forces him to leave restaurant kitchens forever. Then later, he tells me the best way to cook Spam, and we talk more about the creative process in the kitchen and beyond. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Why do some foods taste better at room temperature? Is there really a difference between kosher and iodized salt? And where’s the line between a simmer and a boil? WHERE I ASK YOU?!
Dan Pashman: If questions like this keep you up at night, I want to hear about it. We’re doing a show with the authors of a new book called Food IQ. So what weird annoying questions about cooking technique are bugging you? Record a voice memo telling us your first name, where you're from, and your question. Then, email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We might just play it on the show. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Now, back to Jacques Pepín. After his soup restaurant, Jacques had to figure out his next move. But before he could, he had to change course again — this time not by choice. One day while driving, he hit a deer. His car rolled into a ravine and exploded. Doctors thought he might not be able to walk again, that they might have to amputate his arm.
Jacques Pepin: I had 12 fractures. I broke my pelvis in five places. My two hip, my leg, uh, arm. I mean, standing 12 hours a day behind the stove wasn't possible anymore.
Dan Pashman: Jacques’s days in restaurant kitchens were over. But in classic Pepin style, he adapted. He decided to focus on writing and teaching. He had done a bit of that, but after the accident, it became his focus. He began traveling around the country, teaching cooking classes.
Dan Pashman: In 1976, he published his seminal cookbook, La Technique. A cooking bible, filled with a novel concept of the time — step-by-step photographs. Instead of recipes, La Technique was like culinary school in a book.
Dan Pashman: A decade later Jacques helped start the Culinary Arts program at Boston University, where he ended up teaching for more than 30 years.
Jacques Pepin: Well, I always liked to break down things and teach and understand why to go beyond the recipe. As a professional chef, you never look at the recipe. You know, the irony is, is that when I do a recipe, I start with an idea. Maybe I read something in a book, I go to the market, oh they have beautiful mushroom. I say, I am going to do this. That's why, I start with an idea. And I take A and B and put it in the skillet. Then all of a sudden it's different. I'm reacting to the food too. So I adjust, react, adjust, react. When I start that recipe, I have total freedom. I can put anything I want in that. There is nothing written too. By the time I give you the typed written page, everything is structured and written. So I could say on that of the philosophical level, at least, that the fact of writing down the recipe probably destroy the recipe or the spirit of the rhythm.
Dan Pashman: Right. I think what you're getting at is that you're more interested — there's a difference between teaching people a recipe and having them follow the instructions to make a recipe and teaching them how to cook.
Jacques Pepin: That's true. The recipe work or the way you explain, it doesn't really have to do with you. It has to do with whoever is listening to it. Ultimately, to do a recipe, it's not to duplicate a typewritten page. It's to duplicate a taste. And where the hard part of it come in for a professional chef, that you go there, it's already exactly the same at the end. So, and to have it exactly the same at the end, you have to change it each time you do it. Because when you do — if you cook a chicken, your chicken won't have exactly the same amount of fat than I have. You cook on gas. I cook on the electric. You cook on the cast-iron. I cook with copper, it's humid. It's not humid. I’m in a good mood. You're in a bad mood.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Jacques Pepin: So now, I'm going to change a tiny thing your cooking.
Dan Pashman: Just as Jacques was really getting into teaching, another new technology came along. But it wasn't a microwave or frozen pastry crust — it was a new way to teach cooking, video. Way back in 1975, Jacques cooked on camera for the first time in a barebones documentary.
CLIP (JACQUES PEPIN): Now, we're going to do a julienne of mushroom. This goes with the fish again. [chopping noises]
Dan Pashman: In the ‘80s, Jacques was making instructional VHS tapes for people to watch at home. By the early ‘90s, he was a fixture on PBS — he once filmed 105 cooking segments in two days, including maybe his most famous video of all time: how to make an omelet. This video still comes up on Reddit or Youtube every now and then, teaching a whole new generation how to properly whisk the eggs.
CLIP (JACQUES PEPIN): So it’s not like you just stir the eggs back and forth. You have to go from one end to the other ...
Dan Pashman: By the late 90's, Jacques had teamed up with another giant of early food TV: Julia Child. The two had a hit show, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home:
CLIP (JULIA CHILD): Today, we're going to do souffle. Everyone knows the heart of the good souffle is —
CLIP (JACQUES PEPIN): Egg white. Beaten egg white. And I'm going to do mine in copper. I beat it faster than the machine.
CLIP (JULIA CHILD): Well, we're going to see if you're faster than machines.
CLIP (JACQUES PEPIN): All right.
CLIP (JULIA CHILD): Okay. On the countdown. 1, 2, 3. Go!
[COOKING EQUIPMENT SOUNDS]
Dan Pashman: From there, Jacques just kept teaching. He never stopped. In 2016, he and his family created the Jacques Pepin Foundation, which offers free culinary training to people who may struggle getting jobs, like those who’ve been incarcerated, or unhoused.
Dan Pashman: He’s also never stopped learning. In his recent cookbooks he's got recipes for fish tacos and vegetable spring rolls, right alongside recipes for French dishes like raspberry gratin, which he makes with frozen raspberries.
Dan Pashman: Today, Jacques has embraced another new technology and taken his cooking lessons to Instagram. Dressed in a well worn button down shirt, sometimes with a TV on in the background, Jacques posts videos from his home kitchen.
CLIP (JACQUES PEPIN): You know, I love hamburger. But I always have a hard time — you know, and I have a big mouth — putting that in my mouth. So I’m going to do it a bit differently for you today …
Dan Pashman: When the pandemic sent many people home and into the kitchen, there was Jacques, on Instagram, always, always, always stressing that you can do this. A few basic ingredients, use whatever you have around, throw it together. He did a video for fromage fort, a traditional French spread where you take whatever bits and pieces of cheese you have in the fridge, cut off the rinds, put them in a blender with some white wine, and spread it on toast. Then there was this one, where the whole recipe is just spreading some butter and honey on a baked sweet potato ...
CLIP (JACQUES PEPIN): That’s it. Sweet, buttery, and all that. Great sweet potato. Happy cooking.
Dan Pashman: With help from his daughter, Claudine, and his son-in law, Rollie Wesen, Jacques has posted more than 200 quick and simple recipe videos during the pandemic. And during that time, his super basic approach took on new importance. A lot of people turned to food pantries and other assistance programs during the pandemic — by some estimates, 4 out of every 10 of those people were using those programs for the first time. So Jacques told me, he’s tried to make videos with ingredients that might come from those sources — things people may not know what to do with.
Jacques Pepin: My son-in-law, he told me, you know, I don't know, a few months ago, you know, I'm bringing you some food for you to cook with canned salmon, canned chicken, canned whatever, this, that, that I've never really used. He said, "That's what they get in their package, you know? So do something with those." There is nothing wrong with using that, you know, as well as other things. It's new. You already learned something. You can also realize that, if you have a good can of tuna in oil, a can of anchovies, some good sardine, I mean, you know, if I have a tomato, I slice, put some sardine on top, a dash of vinegar and olive oil, so I have a great lunch, you know? So it doesn't have to be complicated. I hate to throw anything away. Often I use leftover what my wife used to call fridge soup, whatever is leftover in the refrigerator, wilted lettuce, to retrieve it, to show people I think the part of economy in the kitchen, it's very, very important.
Dan Pashman: One of the videos you made during the pandemic to teach people who are getting food from the food pantries was, were Spam.
Jacques Pepin: Oh yeah. Right.
Dan Pashman: What's the secret to cooking some, cooking up some good Spam?
Jacques Pepin: You know, it's funny because I remember Spam during the war in France. We had can. My father was in the resistance. Occasionally, I guess he could get some can of sardines or whatever from American soldier, or wherever we could get it. And we had Spam. And Spam, we call it “le singe”, for some reason. Monkey meat. I don't know why we call it this, but this was a great treat, you know, to have it.
Jacques Pepin: And certainly, my mother would do a lot with one can of Spam. She would extend it with a cabbage or potato or — to make her a lot about a little bit of that type of protein. So there, I did some steak of Spam by putting a mixture — a bit of honey, maybe ketchup, sugar to glaze it into the oven, and it's fine. It's good.
Dan Pashman: What do you think it is about instructional cooking videos that continues to keep people so interested? Because it certainly, with social media, there's only more and more and more of them and people still love them. What is it?
Jacques Pepin: Well, I don't know the ones that don't like them will tell me. So opening an oyster, opening a clam. Poaching an egg.
Dan Pashman: Shell stuff.
Jacques Pepin: Sharpening a knife.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Jacques Pepin: All those are very visual, very — the manipulation that you do with your hand is very important and very visual. I mean, I take a knife and I take a stick of butter and I'll show you scraping, how to do a roll with butter. If I have to explain that in word, it took me a page. Put your knife parallel to the thing ... what is he talking about?
Dan Pashman: Right. Right.
Jacques Pepin: You see it, you say, oh yeah, yeah. The food, I mean, I used to poach an egg 50 years ago or 80 years ago in France, but you still poach the eggs the same way. So those technique have been used over and over, I go — and they don't become obsolete.
Dan Pashman: The way you poach an egg hasn’t changed. But Jacques says in the years since he was a young chef, he’s changed a lot. And for him, that’s not just about cooking. It's more of a life philosophy.
Jacques Pepin: As a young chef, you tend to add more to the plate to add, to add, to combine, to add to. And the older I am now, you take away, take away.
Dan Pashman: Yes.
Jacques Pepin: You know, to be left with something more essential and without too much embellishment. Is it better, better on not? Not really better or not, but it's different.
Dan Pashman: It think that's so true. And I think that's true of the creative process in all different ways.
Jacques Pepin: Yes, probably.
Dan Pashman: This is probably like a pretentious reference, but like Nietzsche's first. He said after he wrote it, that it was way too wordy. He was just trying to impress people with how smart he was. He put as many big words and long sentences in there as he could. And as he got older, it got more and more direct.
Jacques Pepin: That's true. That's true. But you know, I find that in the kitchen, certainly, doing a dish now there is a kind of minimalism maybe that I didn't have before.
Jacques Pepin: If I have a good olive oil, I saute that. I cook it less. I finish it up. I said, that's it. That's enough. I don't need anything else. And maybe in the way I dress also or maybe in the way I do other things. I don't really realize but was probably follow that —and certainly the way I paint.
Dan Pashman: Jacques has been painting for more than 50 years. He likes to listen to music while does it, have a little wine afterwards. He paints rural landscapes and farm scenes, with lots and lots of chickens. Maybe images that remind him of the farm where he spent that summer when he was 6.
Dan Pashman: It's interesting. Just listening to you talk about your creative process, cooking, and your art as well. It's it's reminding me — I was reading this article recently about Paul McCartney's new album.
Jacques Pepin: Right. Oh yeah, right.
Dan Pashman: And it talks about like, it was kind of making the point that for decades now he has sort of just been experimenting. He'll try this style. He'll play with that band. He'll play this instrument, then he'll try that instrument. He's also someone who's dabbled in art and just, I think that sometimes there's too much focus on the idea that you have to be like an expert or a specialist at one thing. And sometimes like a creative life is more just about exploring.
Jacques Pepin: Right. I mean, you don't — there is no ultimate, you know, you cannot reach and this is it. You are the greatest. No, not really. And some days you're better than other days, you know, some days it doesn't work too well. Sometimes when I start a recipe, the recipe takes hold of me and starts moving in the direction that I didn't think would go. Likewise with art, maybe even more so with art, I start painting something, I have an idea, and sometimes it morphs into something quite different. It's interesting because I look at painting that I did in the '60s and I'm kind of amazed. I would never be able to do that now. I'm not saying that it's better or not as good or this. I'm just saying that I would not be able to do that. I wouldn't even know where to start to do it this way. I would love to be able to taste food that I did when I was in the apprenticeship 50, 60 years ago. All you have left in the food memory, which can be very powerful. But you don’t know the way it was.
Dan Pashman: It’s true. You don’t know the way it was when you cooked that dish all those years ago. But there are ways to hold on to memories — of food, and people. At this point, Jacques brings me in to his living room, to his walls of bookshelves — floor to ceiling, crammed with sun-faded spines.
Jacques Pepin: I have here, I can show you. I have 12 big book here. Those book, our book of menu.
Dan Pashman: Jacques pulls one of these books of menus off the shelf. It’s big and heavy, like a high school yearbook. He flips through the pages …
Jacques Pepin: in 1970, '68, something like that, my wife and I, when we had people coming to the house, we wrote the menu and people sign on the other page saying funny things or whatever, too.
Dan Pashman: Jacques and his wife, Gloria, were married for 54 years. As a young couple, they began a tradition: making books of menus. When they had people over for dinner, Jacques would write up the menu, all the courses they were serving, and paint decorations on the page. The book he's showing me is one of a dozen of them, from dinner parties going back 50 years. He's hand painted bright red cherries, shellfish, some kitchen utensils ... There are finger paintings from when his daughter was 4-years -old. Each menu is signed by the people who attended the dinners.
Jacques Pepin: I see my mother in it. My two brother or many people who are gone now are in those books ...
Dan Pashman: Gloria died in 2020. But Jacques continues the menu tradition.
Jacques Pepin: You look at these one, it's Labor Day. So it's not long ago. This one was September.
Dan Pashman: … salade niçoise, chicken tender …
Jacques Pepin: Yeah, yeah, '21. And here —
Dan Pashman: This was just a few days ago. Creme de champagne, black chanterelles.
Jacques Pepin: Champignon with black chanterelles.
Dan Pashman: Champignon, right.
Jacques Pepin: A pork shoulder butt braised with sweet potato, petit pois de Français, salad, cheese, fruit, ice cream, coconut cream pie. We had …
Dan Pashman: Oh, coconut cream pie. This is making me want to write down menus when I have people over and have everyone sign it.
Jacques Pepin: Absolutely. You know, you have kids?
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Jacques Pepin: Right. So, you know, what did your kid eat for first — for about a year old? What was for dinner his first Christmas, his first Thanksgiving? His second one, his third? Or I could show you there, Claudine doing the menu, drawing the little chicken herself for her third birthday with all of her friend — sign it there. She was 3-years-old. So those are ... those are great memory that you cannot —
Dan Pashman: I love that, like, some — I mean, I can see looking around your home that you have a lot of pictures. And some people look through picture books to reminisce.
Jacques Pepin: Yeah. I do, too.
Dan Pashman: I love that you look through menus.
Jacques Pepin: Oh yes, absolutely. So yeah, those are important to me.
Dan Pashman: How does it feel when you look back through those?
Jacques Pepin: Well, there was a great deal of emotion, you know, sometimes depending on the ... on the occasion, so it's a world of memory, you know, for those great meals that you share with your friends or your family. Those books are my whole life.
Dan Pashman: After that, Jacques put his menu book back on the shelf, and I turned off my recorder. Then, he offered me a glass of wine. Now, I’m not a big wine drinker, but when Jacques Pepin asks if you want to have a glass of wine with him, you say YES. He opened a bottle of white and did something that I thought was a huge faux pas: He put ice in his wine glass, and offered me some in mine. Ice! In wine! I don’t think this is how they did it at Le Pavillon. But let me tell you — it was delicious. Best wine I’ve ever had.
Dan Pashman: And yes I took a picture of the bottle — it was Chateau des Roches sauvignon blanc 2019, which sells online for 15 bucks. So I don’t think it was the wine. I think it was the ice. And since then, I have been drinking white wine on the rocks on the regular. I ordered it at a restaurant and Janie was like, “I don’t even know who you are.” And I said, “Look, I learned it from Jacques Pepin.”
Dan Pashman: My thanks to the one and only Jacques Pepin, chef, TV personality, and teacher. He's the author of many books, most recently Jacques Pepin Quick and Simple. And he does lots of work with the Jacques Pepin Foundation, which supports free culinary training for people with high barriers to employment. And hey, if you want to make menus of your own dinner parties, you can check out his book from a few years ago, called Menus: A Book for Your Meals and Memories. He painted the pages and left space on each one for you to fill in your own menus, and memories.
Dan Pashman: If you want to see some photos of Jacques’ menu books, his wall of pots and pans, and more from our taping, I’ll post pics on Instagram, follow me there @TheSporkful.
Dan Pashman: Reminder to get tickets for our live show in San Francisco in March with Kenji Lopez Alt, go to sporkful.com/live.
Dan Pashman: Next week on the show--the story of one of the only cookbooks to exist in the Soviet Union. In fact, it was so universally known, it was just called "the book." That’s next week.
Dan Pashman: Finally, don't forget to send us your questions. What's bothering you? What weird quirky quirky cooking questions do you have for us? Send a voice memo with your name, where you're calling from, and your question, then email it to email@example.com. Thanks.