Jacques Pepin, 86, talks about his new book, The Art of Chickens

MADISON, Conn. — Jacques Pepin’s knife hasn’t dulled during the pandemic. The French chef has created more than 250 cooking videos on Facebook, and he now has 1.6 million followers. He recently completed an 11-day cruise where he was the main course and, so to speak, hosted demonstrations, while the Full Pepin channel played in the passenger cabins.

Pepin, who turns 87 in December, is a bit old-fashioned but still suave. He was the last of the first culinary legends to become household names – Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey. For forty years he has been a regular in many American kitchens. Pepin democratized formal technology. He has directed legions of American professional chefs and home cooks, not in a slew of expensive white-cloth restaurants, but through cookbooks, and has hosted 13 independent public television series.

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Pépin may be best known as a comrade in children’s TV kitchens, but he’s gone beyond Poulet à la Crème and Maman’s Cheese Soufflé, while still celebrating the deliciousness of both. He understands that modern chefs embrace change — even microwaves and Instagram.

When it came to retirement, he looked confused, maybe a little annoyed, and raised his eyebrows: “Retirement what? What to do in retirement I love? retire cooking?

He is always publishing. His latest work: “The Art of Chicken by Jacques Pépin: A Chef’s Drawings, Stories, and Recipes for Birds.” This is the most beastly book. This chicken roll — probably his 32nd volume, who can count? – Includes a gallery of his chicken paintings, anecdotes from his extraordinary life, and recipes that are more stories than guides.

As its title suggests, “The Chicken Art of Jacques Pepin” celebrates his painting, which he has completed for 5 years, and his lifelong love of chickens – the birds of Bresse, an area near his hometown of Lyon of delicious food. “Proust has his madeleines. I have chickens,” he wrote. “As a chef, I am in awe of the contribution this humble bird has made to the world’s cuisine. As an artist, I am in awe of the beauty of its brilliant colors and changing plumage.”

like any french chef who really deserves him choose, Pepin has no problem liking the same “tender, joyous and docile” beasts that he cooks. His “stately chicken” portrait faces his recipes for Gizzards, Gizzards and more Gizzards. Pepin no longer keeps chickens on his property—too much travel, too many hardy raccoons—but collects fresh eggs from neighbors. How he likes eggs! “If you asked me to choose one ingredient I couldn’t live without, it would probably be eggs,” he wrote.

Pépin initially created his paintings for himself and the menu – mostly oil and acrylic. Although painting is a hobby, he’s not shy about showing off his work – in his books, in exhibitions at local libraries and for sale to benefit the Jacques Pepin Foundation, which supports professors Diversify and marginalize students’ culinary skills to help gain gainful employment. Painting “is always a testament to your creativity,” wrote Pepin, a member of an informal coalition of celebrity craftsmen that included George W. Bush, King Charles III and Tony Bennett.

Paintings fill his house, a brick factory he once shared with his wife of 54 years, Gloria. She passed away in December 2020, and her picture is draped on the wall. In his latest book dedicated to Gloria, she is often mentioned, although her passing is not mentioned. How is he doing during the pandemic? “Not so good,” Pepin whispered as his 8-year-old miniature poodle, Gaston, lay on his lap.

His longevity and expanding book catalog has allowed him to update print courses, teach new chefs and reach a younger audience. “Culinary changes all the time,” he says with a glass of rosé. (Add ice!) Pépin also changed. “He got new vegetables. He tried new things. He was always curious,” said Tom Hopkins, his friend, photographer and videographer. “As he gets older, he grooms less and simplifies more.” For lunch, Pépin feasts on tomatoes from his garden, wrapped in olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt.

“I love Descartes so much. I love breaking down recipes and showing how it’s done,” he said. “The paradox here is that I can make this recipe five times and I’ll never do it the exact same way, but it will come out the same way. When you work in a restaurant, you don’t have a recipe. You’re from training , do it from instinct. It’s about adjusting the balance.”

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His chicken bessie recipe, offered without measure, relies on the guts of the home cook. It reads in full: “This classic chicken preparation is made by slicing chicken into pieces, then sautéing with shallots and butter until all pieces are even and browned. After that, deglaze with dry white wine, add some half syrup, and finish with sliced ​​mushrooms Garnish with baby pork sausages and finish with a drizzle of lemon juice and a dollop of butter.”

When a chef writes in a library of more than 30 books, it’s understandable that recipes may be revised and retell the story. why not? Novelists are reviving characters all the time. Pépin’s latest book revisits the stories he shared in his 2003 memoir, The Apprentice, not to be confused with the TV show that helped launch the presidency. Pépin and his editor Sarah Kwak decided that, for this book, they would ditch the formal cookbook in favor of art and storytelling. “It feels more intimate. He’s talking to you. When you eat with him, he’ll tell you to do something,” she said.

Pepin shares the story of his rise to culinary glory as he talks to readers through recipes for chicken Kyiv, chicken liver mousse, eggs cocoa and other delicacies. He left school at the age of 13 and began his hard climb in the ranks of professional French kitchens. He proved to be a remarkable success. In 1959, he came to the United States with a plan: to stay for a year or so to learn English. He has lived here ever since.

“I’m very existential in this way,” he said. “You make decisions in life that you are responsible for, and it can take you into a whole different area. That’s what life is all about.”

Pepin turned down an offer to be the White House chef preparing a state dinner for Jackie Kennedy. Instead, he opted for a job at Howard Johnson perfecting chicken pie for the masses. Then again, Pepin has served as President Charles de Gaulle’s chef.

He didn’t regret a fried clams. He worked at HoJo for ten years, rising to executive chef. This experience gave him an understanding of America’s industrial kitchens, while also exposing him to a more diverse workforce, which he supports through his foundation. This allowed him to study at Columbia University at night. Ultimately, he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in French literature.

In 1974, his car hit a deer. The accident nearly killed him and ended his full-time culinary job in a professional kitchen; endless standing time was no longer an option. Gourmet existentialists adapted. He became a restaurant consultant. He wrote the cookbook. He found TV. TV found him. The audience was mesmerized. He has collected Emmys (resting on the mantelpiece) and 16 James Beard Awards, many for his television work. Does he still eat venison? But of course.

One of the great ironies of Pépin’s culinary adventures is that while his TV sidekick and occasional comedy Child became synonymous with French cooking in the country, the immigrant from Bourg-en-Bresse was quick to embrace the richness and richness of his new home. Range of international cuisine. His recipes began to compliment supermarket staples. In the refrigerator, he kept the caviar next to the beer.

He stressed that the caviar was not beluga but a much cheaper caviar concoction marketed with his backing. Raised in modest circumstances during World War II, the son of a carpenter and mother a professional cook, Pépin admits to being “stingy” and Rarely discard, freeze veggie tops and chicken bones in milk cartons for later storage.

“The recipe is an instant,” he said, constantly changing in its execution and demise. A meal brings joy, and then— puff! – It’s gone, a memory. “I wish I could taste the food I made for Charles de Gaulle when I was 25,” he sometimes said to his daughter Claudine.

He eats almost anything, as long as it doesn’t have too many calories, cinnamon, nutmeg, or coconut. “I’m almost a glutton,” he said. He’s not one to complain in restaurants – imagine the desperation that would lead to – but Pepin is not a fan of “punctuation cooking,” and the new dishes go well with squeeze-bottle calligraphy. “They touch the food too much. You don’t want to torture it.”

He has relaxed his cooking, but not his entertaining style. Pépin is a member of an energetic pétanque club that plays on weekends from June to September and consists of around 40 players. He has a courtroom on his property, located between his two full kitchens. Games and festivities run from 1pm until evening. When he hosted, it was a sit-down dinner, prepared by three people: Pépin, his daughter and son-in-law.

“It’s a very precise and organized thing. There are hot and cold appetizers,” Claudine said. “We had to have first courses, on separate plates. Maybe a cheese course, salad or dessert. We had tall glassware and napkins. There were 200 plates at most.” The cleanup continued into the early hours.

When she dared to suggest that they use napkins, she recalled, “I got it”, although she did succeed in substituting bamboo plates for the china. Pepin hates wasting food, and he efficiently plans shopping and menus, says Claudin, “We never have leftovers. Ever.”

This season, he will promote “Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Art” on TV, lectures and book fairs. “I’m very old. In 10 years I’ll be 97,” he said. However, this book will not be the final word on a culinary career that has lasted more than seven years. It wasn’t even his last word about chicken.

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He recently submitted the manuscript for his next book – coming out next fall – which will return to a more traditional form: Fewer chickens, for budget-conscious cooks (those who are as “stingy” as he is) recipe, and size. and painting, though not so much.

The Art of the Chicken by Jacques Pépin

The Chef’s Drawings, Stories and Bird’s Recipes

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