Interview with Jacques Pepin Part Two

Here is the second part of our interview with Jacques Pepin. Part one is here.

When you ask chefs what are their favorite dishes, it seems like nine times out of ten the answer is roast chicken, something very basic--
When the question is asked, often it doesn't necessarily have to do with the food. It's like I said in a book I did with Claudine, my daughter. She had a small apartment at Boston University when she was a freshman in college. She decided to cook for me. She did just a roast chicken with a salad and potatoes. She started way too early and I came late and that was a bad combination. The chicken was disintegrating by the time I got there. She asked me how it was. I say, "as a father or as a chef?" And that's the point.

If people ask you what is the greatest meal you ever had in your life, usually it is going to be a dish that has to do with something more emotional than the food itself. It has to do with the family, or with memories from when you were a kid, with many things, which encompass the whole art of living. We do remember those dishes much more than what you had at Per Se in NY or at Farallon here or whatever.

How does being a home chef compare to being a professional chef?
It's different but the greatest expression of love is cooking because you always cook for the other person, whether it is your daughter, or your father, or mother, a friend, a cousin, or a lover. It doesn't matter. I don't know many people who are going to set up a table with beautiful crystal, put on a tie, bring flowers, open a bottle of champagne, and sit down to eat by themselves. That would be quite depressing.

As a professional chef, you still have to work on Saturday and Sunday; you still have to work 16 hours a day, and you don't make very much money. There are a few exceptions like Wolfgang Puck who have created an empire. But in general you are not going to make as much money as a lawyer or a stockbroker, or whatever. All of that is fine if you really truly love it and get gratification from what you are doing. But if you go into the business as many young people do now to "become the new Emeril" or to write a book, you are very likely to be disappointed and not last very long.

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What are your favorite cooking gadgets?
I'm still down to plastic wrap and the rubber spatula, which is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Or maybe the micro-plane but I would tell people to go to Home Depot to buy the rasp for wood. It does the same job but it is less expensive. The sous-vide is a great thing. I did a foie gras this weekend in a sous-vide which was excellent. To a certain extent, you find yourself distanced from the food when you have those vats of water at different temperatures and those tiny probes to measure temperature, none of the aroma escapes from anywhere. Up to a point, its okay.

As a French chef, do you think people are right when they say that all produce tastes better in France?
I don't know if it is better but it is stronger in taste. I have my own organic garden at home. When my mother came to visit, she would always add more tarragon or herbs. She said she couldn't add that much in France, it would be way too strong. And I would go one step further. I go wild mushrooming, I have picked up to 500 pounds of mushrooms a year, up to 30 different types in the woods in Connecticut. When I pick up chanterelles or different kind of boletus in France there is no question that the taste is much more intense in Europe. I don't know why.

What are you enjoying most these days, tv, teaching, writing, or cooking?
All of the above, one cannot really be separated from the other. I am really lucky to be able to make a living out of something I love to do. There is something a bit fake about television, which I probably would not enjoy after awhile if I had to do it every day.

I've been teaching at Boston University for the past 22 years, I teach at the French Culinary Institute and if I had to spend my life in academia, which sounds pretty good from the outside, I probably would get pretty frustrated with that too. I come in and I do a week at BU and then I get out of there. And likewise with writing, I used to have a column in the New York Times for like 7 years. If you have to write a column every week, you are always under pressure. So that doesn't make it enjoyable but writing it once a month is enjoyable. I do enjoy the television I do as well as teaching, as well as writing because I do it at my own pace in a way that doesn't stress me or force me to change things in my life that I don't want to change. It's all in the context of cooking and sharing and being with family and friends so I have a dream life.

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For a behind-the-scenes account of the interview visit Cooking with Amy.

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