Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way
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How would you define "fast food" in a conventional sense? How does your definition of this term differ as it applies to your new book and series, Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way?

Conventionally, fast food is associated with processed food. My food is usually easy and fast to prepare, but it is not processed food; I use fresh and, occasionally, canned ingredients but certainly never processed food full of all kinds of chemicals. I try to use organic ingredients whenever possible. A simple tomato salad with fresh basil and red onion, for example, is a fast-food recipe as I define the term.

Why did you decide to do a series and book now with a "fast food" theme?

I think that most people are very busy these days, so they are receptive to anything that makes their lives easier -- including my version of "convenience" foods. My last series, Jacques Pépin Celebrates, had a more lavish theme; it featured more involved recipes for special occasions and holiday entertaining. Several years ago, I wrote a book of heart-healthy recipes for people with cardiac problems, and for several years I had a column in The New York Times consisting of recipes for a family of six on a minimal food budget. Essentially, I guess I like the challenge of creating recipes to fit the demands of different situations. Moreover, since I was going to be working alone this time in front of the camera (not with my daughter, Claudine, as I did on several earlier series), I found simple and quick appealing -- closer to how I cook at home from day to day.

Would you give a few examples of "fast foods" that you find especially appealing?

One great fast-food recipe from the show is for a black bean soup that just involves emulsifying a can of black beans in a food processor with garlic, olive oil and Tabasco sauce and then finishing it with a garnish of sour cream, cilantro and some sliced banana or crushed tortillas. This is a great, very fast, cold soup.

For another dish, I place a raw tuna steak directly on a serving plate and cook it -- still on the plate on which it will be served -- in a 250-degree oven for about 15 minutes. While it cooks, I prepare a little sauce or vinaigrette of diced herbs and tomatoes to serve with it. This is easy and delicious.

Can you mention a few shortcuts in terms of equipment or ingredients that enable us to prepare food faster?

Yes, great equipment is very important: nonstick pans are easier to clean. It's good to have substantial stainless steel bowls of various sizes for mixing; a good food processor is essential; and a pressure cooker -- not used much in this country -- is very easy to learn to use and enables you to prepare long-cooking dishes in very little time. You can also line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleaning and use pre-sliced mushrooms and pre-washed spinach to cut down on your work. Additionally, cans are treasures in the pantry; canned white beans, anchovies, tomatoes or peaches can be put to good use in creating countless recipes.

Do some ethnic cuisines lend themselves better to quickly prepared dishes than others?

Yes, some, although most cuisines can be adapted to quick preparation. Take Chinese or Japanese, for example: a great many of the seasoning ingredients used in these cuisines -- oyster sauce, soy sauce, various vinegars, sesame oil and paste, hoisin sauce, shrimp paste, and garlic paste -- are all available readymade at the market. I take advantage of timesavers like this, too, whether I use prepared mayonnaise or chili sauce or buy pre-washed salad greens.

How has your life changed in the past few years?

I don't think my life has changed much. It's a process of getting older and maybe eating simpler and more straightforward foods. Certainly, becoming a grandfather (to Shorey, Claudine's daughter) this year was a milestone. As for the publication last year of my memoir, The Apprentice, the response was amazing and very gratifying. I see myself as moving forward, progressing; I don't see myself as being static. And I think that there is still time and space for me to do better things than I have ever done before.

For many years you traveled around the country teaching cooking classes and making appearances. Do you still travel and teach as much?

I travel almost as much as I ever did, but I don't teach as much. A great deal of my traveling now is for public television or to help raise money for one cause or another. I'm also affiliated with the French Culinary Institute and Boston University, so a fair amount of my time is spent at these schools.

The beauty of television for me is that it has made me accessible to so many more people, and, as a result, I have much greater visibility now than I used to have. Fortunately, this enables me to sell more books, so I can make a living without traveling from one cooking school to another. So this is, again, a progression in my professional career.

What is ahead for you? Upcoming projects?

What's ahead for me is probably more of what's behind me, but I continue, as I always have, to move forward. To a certain extent, I look at the future in much the same way as did Jean-Paul Sartre, who, when asked what his best book was, said that it was the book he was going to do. I feel there is much more ahead. I have this new television series beginning, a new book, and I'll keep teaching. I am as excited as I've ever been. I love my life!

jacques pépin

Jacques Pépin Celebrates!
Get seasonal holiday recipes, view step-by-step recipe & technique slideshows.

Jacques Pépin: The Apprentice
View an interactive timeline of Jacques' life with quotes and recipes from his autobiography.

Jacques Pépin Recipes
Recipes from previous series featured in KQED.org's Cooking section.

Jacques Pépin's Website
Recipes, tips & techniques, appearances, book information, and artwork by Jacques Pepin.


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Photo from FAST FOOD MY WAY by Jacques Pépin, photographs by Ben Fink. Copyright © 2004 by Ben Fink. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All right reserved.
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