Jacques Pépin set the stage for what we know today as the modern chef. His work was never one-dimensional—whether he was pioneering cooking shows on TV, writing cookbooks (he’s penned more than 30), or teaching at culinary schools, Jacques set an example for many chefs—myself included—by showing the impact we can have through different channels. As you’ll learn on page 83, his groundbreaking career made it clear that there was more to being a chef than getting hired at a restaurant and working yourself to the bone.
Jacques is an extremely intellectual person who never stops working. Over the years I’ve learned that the secret to Jacques’s lasting success is his unfailing, youthful energy—he refuses to retire because he has more to give. At 80 years old he established the Jacques Pépin Foundation with his daughter, Claudine, and son-in-law Rollie Wesen, a nonprofit offering free culinary training for adults with high barriers to employment like the homeless. At 85 he established himself publicly as a visual artist, exhibiting more than 70 works at the Stamford Museum. He recently published a book featuring some of this beautiful paintings, The Art of the Chicken. This incredible work is exactly what makes Jacques just as relevant today as he was when he started in this business decades ago.
Jacques has always paved the way for others with generosity of spirit and a smile on his face. He’s always willing to share his expertise, as he does here on page 80. Consider his advice a guide to boosting your confidence in the kitchen as you tackle some of his iconic recipes at home. —Marcus Samuelsson, chef-owner, Red Rooster Harlem
Below, Genevieve Yam shares Pépin’s tips for cooking like a pro from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Follow the recipe.
Want to take on an elaborate recipe? On your first attempt, “I feel that you [should make the dish] exactly the way the recipe says,” Pépin explains. Don’t start riffing until after you feel familiar with the method—eventually, the recipe will become your own.
Master the basics.
Knowing the essentials, like how to break down a chicken or poach eggs, will equip you with the skills and confidence to tackle more difficult recipes. “While food trends change, basic techniques do not,” says Pépin in his book Essential Pépin. Soon cooking complicated dishes will feel like second nature and you’ll be able to elevate everyday ingredients into elegant meals you’ll want to cook over and over again. “Repeat, repeat, repeat,” he recommends.
Figure out what you like.
After you get comfortable with a recipe, take some time to tap into your intuition and play around. Follow your instincts and cook your eggs, steak, or chicken a little longer (or shorter!) if it’s what you prefer. “Some people will never want an omelet the way I do it,” says Pépin, whose butter-laden herbed French omelet is well known around the world. “I do it this way because I like it this way.”
Keep an open mind.
“I work with some youngsters, and I’ll say, ‘Wow, I never thought of doing something this way,’ ” Pépin says. Even after 70 years of cooking professionally, Pépin still finds inspiration and insight in watching others cook. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, be open to changes, and get out of your comfort zone in the kitchen—you might just learn and taste something new.
Keep your knives sharp.
With a good quality knife, anything is possible. Your knife should always be sharp enough to slice through a soft, ripe tomato cleanly. It may be tempting to purchase a fancy knife set with several blades, but the most important thing to buy is a great chef ’s knife that’s comfortable to use. To keep your knives in top condition, Pépin suggests using a wooden cutting board, which doesn’t dull the knife’s blade. “A good cutting board, a good knife, a good cut, and that’s it,” Pépin chuckles.
5 recipes from Jacques Pépin:
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