Jacques Pepin is one of America's best-known chefs. He is the author of 24 books, including a best-selling memoir, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. He has also hosted nine public television cooking series, the most recent of which is called More Fast Food My Way. Pepin was born in rural France and his first exposure to cooking was in his parents' restaurant, Le Pelican. He began his formal apprenticeship at the age of thirteen and went on to work in Paris as the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. He moved to the United States in 1959 and studied at Columbia University. Pepin is a former columnist for The New York Times and now writes a quarterly column for Food & Wine. He received France's highest civilian honor, the French Legion of Honor, in 2004. He lives in Madison, Connecticut.
Topic: Creative Process
Jacques Pepin: First usually when I determine what to cook, it’s usually going to be determined by the market, what’s there. And I go to the market because I think, “Maybe I’ll do a roast duck,” and I come back with a leg of lamb and artichokes because they were on sale, they looked good, and fine I’m buying it. So the market will determine various times what I’m cooking. Throughout the year, however, your taste changes. Your metabolism change. And as I get older, I tend to take away from the plate rather than add to the plate. By that I’m saying that very often as a young chef, you know, you do a roast, then you put a can of sauce on top of it, then that type of herb, then another herb, then another garnish, then a little bit more of this, and a little dot of this, a little ______ of that. You know you throw all that sauce around. And as you get older, you know, maybe you change. Your metabolism certainly change, and you go to the essential . . . you know to the important. And in that way you can take away just to be left with what’s essential on that plate.
Question: Do you have a creative process?
Jacques Pepin: I suppose that I do. I don’t know whether I could define it. I mean the creative process, again, will start at the market with the ingredient. And then when you do recipe . . . When you do recipe for a book or whatever, you can really taste the recipe in your head, I mean for me. I can visualize a recipe and taste it in my head by adding this, this and that and so forth. I get pretty close to it by the time I actually do the recipe; but I may not, you know, hit the nail on the head exactly; but with a couple of corrections, I am there. So I can really transgress the recipe by thinking about it, and that would be the type of creative process that I do, which comes with years of practice to a certain extent, you know? Practice, practice. Then you can think about the food and visualize it. But certainly the ingredient itself will define whether the dish comes out good or not.
Recorded on: 09/04/2007