Growing Up with Jacques Pépin

I’m trying to remember how old I was when I first watched Jacques Pépin on TV. I was in my early teenage years and already a fan of cooking shows. In the home where I grew up, the first floor was an open plan where the kitchen opened onto the dining and living rooms. The TV was often on in the living room, and we could watch it all the way back from the kitchen. My Mom and I would often cook or bake while watching cooking shows – I inherited her ability (or need) to do two things at once – and it strikes me today that most of the cooking shows produced in Quebec back then were hosted by homemakers rather than chefs, which made their cooking very approachable.

My Mom very often jotted down the recipes we liked as we were watching live, and I remember, reading her notes, feeling I still had a lot to learn because she only had to write down the ingredients and a few keywords (oven temperature, cooking times) to remember how to make a dish. She knew the techniques so she didn’t have to detail everything, and she usually liked to make the recipes her own by changing an ingredient or two or presenting it differently.

It was around that time that I started zapping to American channels once in a while, discovering the advantage of watching teenage TV shows that we had to wait for so long to see translated into Canadian-French. I was still very unfamiliar with English but I was hungry to learn more, particularly to understand the lyrics to the music I listened to (very loudly) in my room or my Walkman every day. One day, I suppose I tuned in to PBS and stumbled upon Jacques Pépin’s show.

I remember feeling intimidated but mesmerized at once: it was the first time I was watching a man cooking on TV; I found he was working so fast and so instinctively – and I was impressed that a man with such a bad French accent could have a career on television! Most people my age had that same very bad French accent (but much less vocabulary), so we were very shy and wary about speaking English to anyone. I was mortified when I had to speak in English in front of 30 other French-speaking students, so of course I could absolutely not imagine reaching out to thousands of viewers like Jacques Pépin did. I found him easy to understand because he pronounced words the same way I did, and I felt all grown up to be watching a “real chef” cooking.

“If I had to judge how good technically a chef is, I probably would ask him to do an omelette”. A 5-minute classic.

So you’ll understand that seeing Jacques Pépin in person, a couple of weeks ago at the IACP conference in Austin, was kind of a historical moment for me. I couldn’t believe how he looked exactly the same as he did 15 years ago. I watched him cooking on stage, using his hands as spatulas to empty mixing bowls, dipping the tip of his finger into whatever he was making and licking it to check seasoning, cutting things roughly and assembling dishes in seconds. He was just as quick, brusque and nonchalant as he always was, answering questions from the public as he cooked five different dishes in an hour. Seeing him perform as he always did felt reassuring, and I did feel all grown up indeed, watching him while sitting amongst a crowd of culinary professionals rather than from my couch at home.

Jacques Pépin and Barbara Fenzl, culinary demonstration at the International Association of Culinary Professionals Annual Conference, Austin, Texas

It was with great pleasure and honor that I later met him at the book fair. I had the chance to chat with him in French for a few minutes, telling him unoriginal things like how inspiring he was as a culinary model when I was growing up, but he was very kind and much softer-spoken than whenever he’s performing. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.

I thought that many (if not most) food-lovers must consider Jacques Pépin as a legendary figure as well, so I had him sign a copy of his book, Fast Food My Way, for you to win! This is truly a collector’s item. Scroll down for the giveaway details.

*** NOTE: This giveaway is now closed. ***
The lucky winner of a signed copy of Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Way is: Peter!

Win a signed copy of Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way

I find Fast Food My Way a great summary of Pépin’s natural style: it’s a compendium of simple, unfussy but elegant recipes. It isn’t bound to just French techniques: it crosses the borders to bring flavorful inspiration to dishes you will want to make again and again. Some dishes are heavy on their promises (the Instant Beef Tenderloin Stew and 30-Minute Cassoulet are especially intriguing), but the recipes I tried delivered both on simplicity of execution and taste.

To give you a taste of his book, I’m sharing a classic French recipe, the Bouillabaisse, made the Jacques way: simpler, faster and just as flavourful. The ingredient list is impressive, but it’s quick to assemble and it takes just 30 minutes to cook.

Chicken Bouillabaisse

This dish takes its inspiration from the famous fish stew of the South of France and contains all the classic seasonings, including saffron. An expensive spice, saffron is essential to this dish. The best comes from Spain and bouillabaisse is a beautiful way to showcase it. Although the use of tarragon is not absolutely necessary, tarragon has a slight anise flavor that complements the other seasonings. The dish is served with a traditional rouille, a garlicky mayonnaise seasoned with cayenne and paprika.

Jacques Pépin's Chicken Bouillabaisse

Serves 4

1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
½ teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon herbes de Provence
½ cup coarsely chopped onion (1 small)
¼ cup coarsely chopped celery (½ stick)
¼ cup coarsely chopped carrot (1 small)
4 chicken thighs (about 1¾ lb total), skin and fat removed
1 14½-oz can diced tomatoes (about 1 cup)
½ cup dry white wine
¾ cup water
5 red or yellow Yukon gold potatoes (about ¾ lb total), peeled and halved
1 piece (about 10 oz) kielbasa sausage, cut into 4 pieces (see note)
2 teaspoons Pernod or Ricard (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, chives or parsley

2 large garlic cloves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 large egg yolk
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Dash of salt, if needed

For the bouillabaisse: Mix the olive oil, garlic, saffron, lemon zest, salt, pepper, fennel seeds, herbes de Provence, onion, celery, and carrot in a large bowl. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to cook (at least 20 minutes). This step can be done up to 8 hours in advance.

Transfer the contents of the bowl to a Dutch oven or a stainless steel pot and add the tomatoes, wine, water and potatoes. Cover, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and boil gently for 25 minutes. Add the sausage and cook for 5 minutes longer. If adding Pernod, stir it in now with the tarragon.

For the rouille: Remove half a cooked potato and ¼ cup liquid from the pot and place in a food processor with the garlic, cayenne and paprika. Process for 10 seconds. Add the egg yolk. Then, with the processor running, slowly pour in the oil and process for a few seconds, or until incorporated. Taste for salt and add some, if needed.

Serve the bouillabaisse in warmed soup plates with a spoonful of the rouille drizzled on top.

Recipe by Jacques Pépin, from his book “Fast Food My Way“.

Note: I couldn’t find kielbasa sausage so I used good-quality organic fully-cooked pork sausage instead.

Jacques Pépin's Chicken Bouillabaisse

Jacques Pépin's Chicken Bouillabaisse

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed copy of Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Way
(and two more signed books in the coming weeks!)

*** NOTE: This giveaway is now closed. ***

The dedication says (en français, bien sûr): “To a lucky Food Nouveau reader, Happy Cooking”
Win a signed copy of Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way

The chance I had to meet my favorite authors in person at the International Association of Culinary Professionals Annual Conference in Austin inspired me to allow four readers to benefit from it as well. In June and early July, I’m giving away four fantastic cookbooks, all signed by their authors.

The second giveaway is a copy of Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Way. A collector’s item!

To enter the giveaway:

I will randomly draw one lucky winner on Thursday June 23rd, 2011 at 12PM EST.
Future giveaways will occur weekly until July 7th. Come back every week to find out which book I have in store for you.

Good luck to all!

Winner of the Dorie Greenspan giveaway!
The lucky winner of a signed copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table is: Tanja from I Heart My Food!



77 Responses to Growing Up with Jacques Pépin

  1. I have to say that while Pepin’s cooking skills are impressive, as a native born English-speaking American, I’m appalled that in all these years, he hasn’t bothered to learn proper English. It’s rare he says the plural of a word correctly (“these onion” instead of “these onions”, etc). It’s very distracting and frustrating.

    That said, I do a lot of learning to cook watching PBS. They do show some great programs.

    • I agree that it may be surprising that he still speaks a very broken English, after all those years! Many other famous French chefs (Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, etc) may have a better vocabulary but they still have a razor-sharp accent. And it’s not just chefs, in my experience, a lot of French people (from France) have trouble adjusting to the English language. Who am I to judge? I myself of course have an accent when I speak English, but I think French-Canadians manage to modulate our way of speaking a little bit more easily. You’d have to ask why that is to a language specialist! As long as we can understand each other, right?

  2. I’ve been a fan of Jacques Pepin since the first time I saw him on TV. I remember him saying, in regards to pairing wine with asparagus, “the only thing worse than a bad wine pairing is no wine at all” (or something to that effect). I’d love to be entered!

  3. ah jacques pepin….. a favorite from way back. he seems so direct in his instructions, and his books always seem truly his, as if right from his table.

  4. This looks very nice. It’s too hot here to eat this now but I’ve added this to my cool weather “things to cook” list. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Main menu