Jacques Pepin: Chez Jacques/Chez Alliance Francaise

Let me start by saying something you probably already know, but I want it out there:  Jacques is as nice, smart, charming and, yes, good-looking in person as he is on television.  Okay, now we can move on.

While I’ve known Jacques and his wife Gloria for about 20 years – I even had his old over-under electric oven in my Connecticut kitchen for a while – I’d never spent as much concentrated time with him as I did the week before our Alliance date.  Of course, most of that time was spent reading, but reading Jacques’ new book is almost the same as being with him in his comfortable Connecticut home; the title Chez Jacques is perfect, the book is that personal.
 

And I re-read The Apprentice, My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques’ culinary biography and a treat no one should go through life without.  I read The Apprentice from cover-to-cover in one sitting and thought, as I often think at the end of a good novel, one in which I’ve been happy to spend time with the characters: I wish it weren’t over!  It’s a spectacular read and so interesting – this is the true, really true, story of what it meant to be a chef before chefs became rock stars; actually, even rock stars weren’t rock stars when young Jacques was learning how to peel onions!

So, to prep for the interview I: read, read, read; went to hear Jacques speak at my favorite bookstore in Connecticut, R.J. Julia, in Madison, Jacques’ hometown; made the perfect roasted chicken, part of the perfect dinner, from Chez Jacques; had drinks with Jacques and Gloria at our house; and went to dinner with them at Liv’s Oyster Bar in Old Saybrook, CT, a great addition to our limited roster of good restaurants in the area – the chef/owner, John Brescio, is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, where Jacques is a Dean. 

When it came time to interview Jacques, I had a ton of questions and then, even though we had an hour or so of stage time, barely a minute to ask them.  Not surprisingly, Jacques doesn’t need an interviewer!  He’s got so many good stories, and he’s sooooooooooo charming, that all he really needed me to do was say, “Here’s Jacques!” and then, 45 minutes later, make the T-sign, whistle and shout, “Time’s up!”

  • Be miserly – use everything in the kitchen.  This is the dictum that informs the delicious Fromage Fort (click for the recipe) that you’re very likely to be served with drinks chez Jacques: it’s a spread made from leftover bits and pieces of cheeses and it can be served hot or cold.Well, I might not have gotten to ask Jacques my questions, but here are just a few of the Jacquesian pearls I culled over the week:

  • Keep your leftovers, but don’t just reheat them, they’re often disappointing the second time around – try to use them to make something new.
  • You can judge a chef, a restaurant (and, by extension I’d guess, your own skills) by the roast chicken, a dish that Jacques says expresses simplicity and quality.  When Jacques is teaching at Boston University(he and Julia Child started the culinary program there), he tests the students’ skills by asking them to roast a chicken.
  • Even using the same recipe and the same ingredients, each cook’s dish will taste different:  your mood affects what you cook.  (I always believed this and it was nice to have it confirmed.)
  • Develop your taste memory; it’s more important than recipes.
  • The recipes that matter are the ones you share with family and friends; the reason to cook is to share the food you’ve made: food tastes better when it’s shared.  (Knew that also – bet you did too.)

Dorie Greenspan

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