This week's meal plan has recipes from two of chef Jacques Pépin's latest cookbooks, both of which were companion books to his popular public television shows. I've watched Jacques on television since I was a little girl and wanted to find out what this legendary chef, who's cooked for presidents and with Julia Child, makes for dinner at home!
I chatted with Jacques about his long career (he's turning 80 in December!) and how his cooking has changed throughout the years. He shared with me the recipes he enjoys making for dinner at home, and some general tips for cooking and enjoying life in the kitchen.
Jacques' Cooking Style
When I asked Jacques if he still mainly cooks with French ingredients and French technique, he said that living in the U.S. and traveling the world have really influenced and changed his cooking style. For instance, he loves the flavors of miso paste and cilantro, both ingredients that aren't part of a traditional French cooking repertoire. He said that when he's cooking, "Ingredients are determined by seasons and what's in my gardens."
Simplicity Is the Goal
Jacques says that his last few books, especially Fast Food My Way, More Fast Food My Way, and Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, have been his most personal. They've all had the same goal: to help simplify cooking. "I like to simplify things; it's my biggest quality. I try to make recipes simpler and simpler. Get to the essence of the dish."
Some of the recipes in these books are from his childhood, like chicken jardinière (a vegetable-chicken stew) and a rustic leek and potato soup. Another dinner in regular rotation in the Pépin household is a simple broiled miso-glazed salmon, one of his wife's favorite dishes. These dishes are ones that Jacques has stripped down to their most basic so they're easy to pull off, but still maintain their original essence.
Jacques' Grocery Store Advice
One tip that Jacques shared with me was how to think about a grocery store. He said, "Use the supermarket as a prep cook." To get dinner on the table, it's okay to use shortcuts you can buy at the supermarket, like pre-cut vegetables or the Bloody Mary mix he uses in a sauce for crispy pork chops. What matters is that you cook!
The Most Important Tool in the Kitchen
I asked Jacques what he thought was the most important piece of equipment one should have in the kitchen, and he immediately said: "The best equipment is your hands. With them, you squeeze, shuck, and pull apart."
Beyond your hands, though, he recommends getting a good knife, a chopping block that isn't "bouncing all over the place, sliding all over your fingers," a rubber spatula, and a vegetable peeler.
Jacques' Life in the Kitchen
My favorite moment in our conversation was when Jacques talked about how much he values and loves his home kitchen. He said, "The most comfortable place in the house is the kitchen. Otherwise you have a couple of glasses of wine, and it's fine." Wise words from a wise chef, indeed.
Thanks so much, Jacques!