Cooking with Jacques Pépin

Jacques Pepin cookbooks

May 24, 2024

One of my favorite chefs of all time is Jacques Pépin. Over the years I have spent a lot of time with him – watching his PBS television shows, reading his books, and cooking his recipes. I cannot claim an acquaintance but I do possess a deep admiration for the master.

On television

When I was growing up, and I’m surely dating myself, there was no Food Network (it launched in 1993). There were only the cooking shows found on PBS like The French Chef, Frugal Gourmet, and Yan Can Cook. While he is not one of the original PBS chefs, Jacques Pépin has hosted many shows and it was through television where I first connected with him.

Through his television shows, cooking was assessible and easy to prepare for all levels of cooks. But throughout his programs he emphasized the basics and technique – how to core an apple, how to boil an egg, how to break down a whole chicken. And it was also endearing to see him with his daughter Claudine and later with his granddaughter Shorey, sharing the kitchen with them.

“I feel that if Jacques Pépin shows you how to make an omelet, the matter is pretty much settled. That’s God talking.”

Anthony Bourdain

Through cookbooks and recipes

I have a fair number of Jacques Pépin’s cookbooks in my collection. In my big move from Boston back to Hawaii, these books made the cut and still line my shelves. His books influence the recipes I make, many of them an enduring part of my repertoire.

“I simply cooked the way I felt, based on the ingredients at my disposal. That became my definition of American cuisine.”

Jacques Pépin, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen

Attending food seminars

During my time in Boston I was fortunate to attend several food & wine seminars at Boston University. Because of Jacques Pépin’s close affiliation with BU, he was often featured at these events, especially when he had a new book.

Prior to the start of each event, he would chat with attendees and autograph cookbooks. He was always a gracious host.

Jacques Pépin autographing a cookbook
Jacques Pépin autographing cookbooks

While he demonstrated recipes from his latest cookbook, the culinary students, under the guiding hand of his best friend Chef Jean-Claude Szurdak, would prepare the same dishes for us to enjoy.

Jean-Claude Szurdak and Jacques Pépin
Jean-Claude Szurdak and Jacques Pépin

From humble beginnings to becoming the personal chef to President Charles de Gaulle to being an icon in the culinary world, the breadth and depth of Jacques Pépin’s career is outstanding. His approach to cooking and entertaining is very assessible to the home cook but solidly rooted in technique of the professional kitchen. It is amazing to me that I was able to not only be in the presence of a master but to actually meet him.

Jacques Pépin and Julie
Blurry photo of Jacques Pépin with the writer

As he would say, “Happy Cooking!”

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