Cooking is not just about the food.
It’s about the people you’re eating with and being with others.
At least that’s Jacques Pepin's philosophy.
The famous chef (he’s won 16 James Beard awards, authored 29 books and has so many other accolades it would take this entire article to list them all) is coming to Proctors on Friday, along with his daughter Claudine. The two have authored a cookbook or two together: “Cooking with Claudine” and “Encore with Claudine,” and have been cooking together for years.
At Proctors, they’ll be sharing a few tips and tricks for cooking (and enjoying the process) as well as talking about some kitchen taboos. The Pepins are also able to answer any prodding questions that audience members have.
In between teaching at Boston University and no doubt working on another cookbook, Jacques Pepin took a few moments to talk with the Gazette about the importance of including kids in the kitchen and a life surrounded by food.
Q: Growing up, how did your parents treat mealtime?
A: Well, I was born basically in a restaurant. When I was probably five or six, my mother had a restaurant and my brother and I helped whether it was carrying stuff from the market or peeling potatoes. I left home when I was 13 years old to go into a formal apprenticeship and my home like I said, was already a restaurant. So I don’t know any other life really.
Q: Do you remember anything specific from cooking with your family that made you love it?
A: Not really. When you’re a kid, or even in an apprenticeship, if a chef tells you “Do this,” you don’t even question it. You don’t say “why?” because if you say “Why?” they’re going to tell you “Because I just told you.” You just do things they tell you to do and eventually you learn through a type of osmosis. You learn how to do it and you don’t even [realize it] it’s just part of you.
Q: Did you, in turn, do that with [Claudine] and start cooking with her at a young age?
A: Yes, but not in the same way. I would hold Claudine, my daughter who is now past 50 years old, in my arm when she was a year and a half or whatever. I made her stir the pot and taste it and of course, she was going to eat it because she “made it” with her father. So it’s a question of getting the kid involved in this or going to the garden [and asking] “pick me up some parsley” or “pick me up some tarragon.” Then going to the market too with the kid and telling them “pick me up some tomato, make sure they are ripe, smell them,” so the kid gets used to handling the product from the garden to the market and telling at the counter. So it’s a question of involvement.
Q: Why do you think it’s [so important] to have the right environment to enjoy a meal in?
A: Oh, because I mean if you’re frustrated it’s likely you’re not going to digest the food properly. You have to be in a happy mood to cook and cook well and you have to be in a happy mood to eat well. When I cook with my granddaughter, it’s not only a question of cooking [its] being together and talking, of sharing the meal after, talking about it and about other things after.
Q: So it’s important to make [social] connections [while] cooking?
A: There has to be! I’m past 80 years old, I mean, what do you talk about with a kid who is 13 years old? [We come] from different world[s]. At least cooking and eating brings us together and carry on other conversations.
Q: Over the years, you’ve done a lot of shows, including one with Julia Child. Can you tell me about one of the funniest memories you have of working together on the show?
A: Well, in 1960 I met her so I know her for maybe half a century. So we were very comfortable together. I’ve been teaching - actually I just came back from teaching two days ago - at Boston University and I’ve been teaching there like 35 years. She lived there in Cambridge and we used to cook together at BU in front of students and eventually we did a series on PBS called “Cooking in Concert,” it was before the Food Channel Network and eventually, we did a show together. What people don’t know is that we didn’t have any recipes in that series. So we could do anything we wanted. It wasn’t particularly good for the cameras because they didn’t know where we were going to be. Also the fact that conventionally when you do a show like that in 30 minutes, you try not to go too much over time because it’s expensive. But with Julia, we didn’t concern ourselves with that. We drank wine, we cooked and we finished when [we wanted]. Sometimes it was over an hour to do that show.
Q: How does doing a live show, like you’ll be doing at Proctors, compare with doing a television show?
A: I mean actually it’s really similar. I’ll be there with Claudine, we’ll discuss some things, we’ll probably argue about one thing or another. Julia would always tell me, “It’s important to remember you can’t be too serious.” But yet at the end of each program, we would say “Alright, what did we teach today.” There was always a teaching element and to a certain extent, that’s what I do with Claudine as well. That’s what I will do at [Proctors].
Q: What will you be making or preparing when you come [to Proctors]?
A: Not really. Because in those type of very large venues, usually you don’t really have a stove so we always work out a schedule of technique making, [like] boning a chicken to boning a fish or peeling asparagus, things like that that show a lot of cooking but that I don’t need a stove for.
Q: [You] mentioned that you’ll also be talking about some kitchen taboos. Can you give me an example of [a common] one?
A: It depends on what questions people ask. For example, [someone asked about] washing mushrooms. People say, no you don’t wash mushrooms, but I say of course you wash mushrooms. It’s not a question of washing mushrooms it’s a question of doing it at the right moment, just before you use it. You don’t buy mushrooms and wash them or wipe them, then they get all soggy. You leave them just the way they are and when you’re ready to cook you wash them.
Q: What do you think is next as far as cooking or food trends?
A: Well, it depends. People are now getting interested again in organic food and simplicity. On the other hand, there are more and more people who eat on the go; eating a sandwich and not even sitting down for dinner. I mean, the other day I [saw] on television this couple who have two kids and they decided that rain [or] shine they’re going to do two meals a week for the kids. So I say, “Wow, what a big accomplishment, you know? What happens to the rest of the week?” So you have people who live in very different ways. Food is easier and easier to buy prepared at the supermarket and so forth. There’s a blurring between really cooking the food or just warming it up. But I still think it’s good for people, even if they don’t cook it completely or partially to at least sit down with the kids and partake of the food. [Some] people in the dining room or the living room looking at their tablets eating with the plate on their lap and another [is eating with] their tablet in another room. It’s pretty disheartening. I’ve been to a restaurant where you have five people and everyone has their phone in front of them and no is having any conversation. That should not be allowed at the table.
Heart and Soul in the Kitchen: An Evening with Jacques Pepin and Claudine Pepin
WHEN: 8 p.m., Fri.
MORE INFO: proctors.org