Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Inspirational Chefs II: Jacques Pepin

I have a big soft spot for Pepin. He can make any classical dish look simple as he coaxes you step-by-step through anything he prepares. I tune in as often as I can to WLIW, the public network, on sundays and mondays to catch any episode, even if it is a repeat.

From impoverished beginnings in Bourg-en-Bresse in France, his first tate of the culinary world was in the family restaurant. His mother spared nothing, nada, not a morsel. A true 'chef' in the original French fashion wasting nothing. I admire that, and I think these thrifty roots have dictated JP's philosophy to a certain extent. He will find uses for anything. Even the water he's boiled meat or vegetables in. A man after my own heart. I got a clip 'round the ear if I wasted any food.

Pepin spent a long time in his family restaurant in Bourg-en-Bresse, Le Pelican, and it was at Pelican that he found a passion for cooking and bringing out the best in any ingredient. From here, where he spent an informative childhood, he trained under Lucien Diat at Plaza Athenee in Paris where he learned the workings of a tremedously busy kitchen and the importance of consistency and perfection. Pepin was becoming famous and recognised as a brilliant young chef, and President Gaillard made him his personal chef, when he was found in the French navy cooking for officers during the Algerian War of the late 1950s and early 60s. He cooked wonderfully extravagant dishes for the French premier at Matignon, and then in 1958, during France's darkest hour in postwar history, the present government toppled and one General Charles De Gaulle took power. He was fond of lamb and hake, and Pepin spend many long hours preparing lamb and fruit coupe for the General and his guests.

He longed to come to the New World though, and America beckoned. In 1959, when Pepin's green card had arrived and his English was up to scratch, he set sail aboard the Ascania from Le Havre, destined for New York. He found a job at the famous Le Pavillion where he toiled under oppressive heat with fellow Frenchman, and it was here that Pepin started to mingle with high society. Businessmen, and the Kennedys. He was offered the job as the Kennedy's personal chef at the White House, but Pepin was entered in a college course at Columbia and he enjoyed his life in NYC too much and turned down the job (he was slightly concerned about the publicity also.) He plumped for a job with Howard Johnson's empire where he and other colleagues were destined to develop ways to keep food consistent, for large restaurant chains. He developed methods to keep clam chowder and fried chicken - national staples - consistently delicious no matter where you eat them.

Pepin was becoming a favourite of the nation, and along with Julia Child, possibly America's most well known cook, he embarked on a TV career. In the 70s and 80s, Pepin was rarely out of the limelight and forever the archetypal TV chef to a nation discovering European cuisines and unusual ingredients. Indeed in that repsect, Japcques Pepin and Julia Child have much to be praised for. To an audience hungry for more, they delivered the World on a plate.

A few years older and wiser in the modern day, and unlike any other TV chef, especially Mr Lagasse who looks SO disjointed and awkward in front of the camera, Jacques is so smooth, slick, and he doesn't waste a single second. In the brief moments that he's not demonstrating techniques on dressing mushrooms, breaking down lobster or the correct way to present something in the Borgeoise fashion, he's giving away valuable information or timeless tips on the best way to prepare an unusual ingredient or keeping your knives sharper than a surgeon's scalpel.

"And that's it." Jacques' final words after preparing any dish on the telly. He makes it looks so easy, and isn't that always the sign of a true prfoessional? My wife loves to watch him also, though I doubt it is for the dishes he prepaes in front of the camera. I often find her marvelling at his cute French accent, as if my English one wasn't enough.

1 comment:

butch said...

We are trying to find a good brioche receipe and are having a lot of trouble. Can you help us. Thank-you
My wife is French and I have been trying to make her brioche and threw away three batches already. che claims you aer the best. Thank-you

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