I have been an avid cookbook reader, researcher and collector for many years. It is not uncommon for me to read a cookbook as one would read a novel or other book of interest. I love delving into the backgrounds of the writers, discovering their beginnings, and their inspirations while following them on their gustatory voyage. On occasion I admit to developing culinary crushes. I refer to these crushes as my “boyfriends” or “girlfriends” as I speak of them to others, share their recipes, or just dream of a chance meeting where it will become evident to us both that we were destined to meet and collaborate on some fabulous project.
Today I am focused on one of my long-term crushes who continues to amaze and delight me as well as many others throughout the world. He needs no introduction other than, my “boyfriend”, Jacques Pepin. I love this guy! His career spans sixty years as a cook, professional chef, husband, father, grandfather, author of many cookbooks, and a cooking teacher. Classically trained in French technique, he has great respect for ingredients and how they are used. He discovered America in the 1960’s a decade of change, transformation, and learning for many. Clam chowder and fried chicken were quickly replacing coq au vin and quiche in his repertoire as he worked for 10 years for Howard Johnson’s, a chain of more than a thousand hotels and restaurants. He was trained with the rigidity and discipline of the French kitchen and now he was embracing American informality.
Forced by the second world war to leave school when he was thirteen, he was left with an unquenchable thirst for reading and learning. He used his time in New York to study at Columbia where among other things he studied the great philosophers. You have got to love that, right? His social life expanded as well and in the 1970’s he opened a soup restaurant La Potagerie on Fifth Ave in New York. The 80’s brought the opportunity to teach and cook on television which eventually led to the beloved series, “Jacques and Julia”.
The turning point when admiration turned into a full-blown crush was when I read his autobiography, “The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen”. It was a real page turner for me as I followed him through his life’s journey and saw just exactly how much we had in common. We both grew up in a restaurant family, love food, value family, reading, painting, and even share a common thought on surrounding ourselves with our kitchen accoutrements as a way of decorating. Our unpretentious approach to good food and respect for the best ingredients made me fall head over heels for this culinary legend. He says his soul mate is his wife, Gloria, but there must be room for me in there somewhere. Right?
The book I am highlighting today is his latest, Essential Pepin, which is also the name of his current PBS show where he demo’s all the featured recipes. It is a collection of more than 700 of his all-time favorites from his life in food. Jacques says, “While trends change, basic techniques do not.” With this is mind, it comes with a searchable DVD demonstrating every technique a cook will ever need and he says are essential for the novice as well as the seasoned cook. I highly recommend this for your collection as he has taken his most loved recipes from childhood and throughout his life and modified the methods, striving for simplicity, a search for the best ingredients and an emphasis on taste rather than presentation or originality. Jacques approach to cooking according to his memoir has always been pragmatic and unpretentious but doesn’t exclude elegance and sophistication. He has over the years adapted and modified his cooking eventually becoming an American cook but says one thing that will never change: the greatest meals are the ones shared and enjoyed by loved ones.
Jacque says, “There is no greater love than the love of cooking. One always cooks for another.” In the future I will highlight some of my favorite recipes from this book and share the responses from my loved ones. Let’s hear your love of cooking stories!