Food Matters: Jacques Pépin’s new ‘video cookbook’ series shares chef wisdom straight from their home kitchens
What: “Cook with Jacques Pépin and Friends”
“Video Recipe Book, Volumes 1 & 2”
Where: Jacques Pépin Foundation, jp.foundation
How much: $40/annual membership
More info: Jacques & Claudine Pépin will host an online demo May 14; Volume 3 is forthcoming in November 2021.
Watch and learn: This is the way of French chef Jacques Pépin, arguably the most influential culinary professional alive today. As one of America’s first “celebrity” chefs and media personalities on the scene since the 1980s, Pépin has led by example, showing countless home cooks and aspiring chefs his master techniques, tips and tricks through long-running, eponymous TV cooking programs and more than 30 cookbooks.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced a nationwide shutdown last spring, Pépin, now 85, got cooking in his Connecticut kitchen — with cameras rolling, of course.
“He had a very small pod, (which) included his personal friend and longtime photographer Tom Hopkins,” explains Rollie Wesen, executive director of the Jacques Pépin Foundation (JPF) and husband of Jacques’ daughter, Claudine Pépin. “Tom was there in his kitchen; they were shooting on iPhones and needed a little production work.”
The JPF, which the Pépins and Wesen founded in 2016, “supports community kitchens that offer free life skills and culinary training to adults with high barriers to employment, including previous incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse issues, and lack of work history,” according to its mission statement. JPF content editors working on the community kitchen curriculum and culinary materials — on pause due to canceled in-person gatherings — were assigned to the “Jacques at Home” 2020 video library project.
“Well, he went crazy on this idea. Ultimately, in six months from March to October, he shot 175 videos,” Wesen continues. “The man is prolific.”
Along the way, the JPF team posted the short, two- to six-minute demos to Pépin’s social media pages, effectively quadrupling the chef’s online following and garnering a whole new generation of fans. And, they realized, all of Pépin’s chef friends — marquee names such as Ming Tsai, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Alice Waters — were shooting and posting their own clips, too. So, why not invite them to join Pépin in raising money for JPF culinary education?
The JPF “Video Recipe Book Volume 1” launched online in November 2020; Volume 2 followed on March 9. Membership ($40/year) grants access to these first 100 videos from notable chefs cooking in their own homes (about 12 hours’ worth, plus printable recipes), as well as a growing collection of footage from Pépin’s vast archive, searchable by technique, meal course and keyword. Volume 3 of the “Video Recipe Book” drops in November.
“You could hardly name a chef who didn’t say ‘YES’ when we reached out to them,” Wesen says. “Suddenly, this took on a life of its own. We have content coming in from 100 different chefs.”
Nestled among the patchwork of culinary instruction filmed in homage to a living legend are stories about the master himself. Alongside his daughter at home, chef José Andrés prepares eggs three ways. “I first met Jacques years ago at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen,” Andrés recalls in his recording. “He was in front of hundreds of people, teaching a master class on eggs, naturally. And in that moment, for Jacques and the rest of us, it was as if that egg was the only thing in the entire world.”
He holds up a favorite, ancient cookbook by Angel Muro: “The Jacques Pépin of Spain back in the 1800s.”
Justin Chapple, of Food & Wine’s “Mad Genius Tips” series, bakes a rustic root vegetable galette and recounts how Pépin taught him the most efficient way to peel a carrot while he was a student at New York City’s French Culinary Institute (Pépin is the founding dean). The classic, unsweetened pastry dough—pâte brisée—shows up also in recently discovered 1975 footage, now a 35-minute documentary titled “Jacques Cooks with Friends” (available to JPF members).
Andrew Zimmern opens his segment for asparagus and lobster salad with mustard-miso dressing by mentioning that the recipe is “simple and elegant, just the way (Jacques) is.” We pick up Zimmern’s preferred method of euthanizing a lobster and learn why emulsifying egg yolks into miso sauce is essentially foolproof.
“It feels like the (Food & Wine) Classic to watch the book, because we met and spent time with (many of the chefs) at the Aspen Classic,” says Wesen, a chef and culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, who contributes a pork tenderloin video recipe. Pépin, he says, has missed only one year in the Classic’s nearly 40-year history.
Similar to experiencing Pépin’s filmography, savvy viewers may strengthen their own sense of agency after seeing pros roll with the punches. When chef Tom Colicchio runs out of lemons at home, he subs in lime juice instead.
“You want some acid in there,” he quips, dousing oil-poached bluefish. Colicchio’s father, a corrections officer, gifted him his first Pépin cookbook. The story underscores the JPF mission: “Our industry will hire those people who…took a wrong turn.”
Italian chef Cesare Casella shakes l’onda (“the wave”) into a pan of ready risotto, and chef Joanne Chang laminates croissant dough, step by step. Chef Stephanie Izard doesn’t fret when her Mandarin pancakes turn out asymmetrical: “If they’re not perfect,” she confesses, “everyone will know you made them yourself!”
Former Howard Johnson’s employee Thomas Keller dons a Big League Hat (a foldable, children’s menu gimmick from the 1970s) while he fries razor clams, a twist on the dish Pépin created for the chain during his decade-long “American apprenticeship” as director of research and development. Reminiscing on good times with Pépin, chef Jacques “Mr. Chocolate” Torres churns ice cream in a mason jar. “Something that Jacques taught me,” notes Gail Simmons, while crushing toasted coriander seeds for dressing to drizzle over roasted sweet potatoes. “Coax the most flavor out of simple ingredients, and you don’t have to do much else.”
“I once had the honor of making risotto for Jacques and Jean-Claude (Szurdak, Pépin’s best friend) while working at Ajax Tavern in Aspen, Colorado,” remembers Dena Marino, now family chef to LeBron James. “I’ve also always cooked seasonal local cuisine with Italian roots…this (is) a perfect dish to honor Jacques.”
The second installment of the “Video Recipe Book” features chefs Marcus Samuelsson, Carla Hall, Cat Cora, Traci Des Jardins and Rick Bayless, among others. Not to miss: Aspen’s own Jimmy Yeager, demonstrating his recipe for the GoldenRye Cocktail, featuring homemade ginger syrup and Woody Creek Distillers rye whiskey. Pépin is a Jimmy’s VIP, no doubt.
A native of Lyon, near Pépin’s hometown of Bourg-en-Bresse, chef Daniel Boulud cooks a “soulful chicken casserole” with vinegar and tarragon. Watching Boulud butcher a chicken swiftly—then reassemble eight cut pieces on a cutting board, like a puzzle—is a revelation. “We were both apprentices, and we know that good mentorship, good education in culinary, is the key to success for any young chef,” Boulud narrates. “So, thank you, Jacques, for being so impactful to the next generation of chefs in America. Merci.”
Amanda Rae is the editor of “The Aspen Cookbook,” a fundraiser for restaurant workers. AspenCookbook.com
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