WRITTEN BY PHILLIP SILVERSTONE
This week I’m concluding my trio of summer columns about the 3 great TV chefs I have come to know and interview. Jacques Pépin is now 80 and has been part of our lives for half a century, both on our TV screens on PBS and on our cookery bookshelves.
And, even though he was born in France and still maintains a heavy French accent he is a national treasure in this country for everybody who appreciates the art of fine cooking. Here is an extract from one of our many chats. This one took place in the mid 90s.
Phillip Silverstone; Are you a wine drinker?
Jacques Pépin: Well, I drink wine everyday … about twice a day!
P.S.: Do you have any particular favorites?
J.P.: Yes. I have a lot of favorites, but it does change everyday with every meal. I am from Beaujolais so that is always at the top of my list
P.S.: Most French people, I would assume, have grown up with wine at the dinner table. Would you agree that wine is more of a food than an alcoholic beverage?
J.P.: Absolutely. In the context of European tradition, that’s what it is. And, in the context of what has been called the “French paradox,” yes, wine is to be consumed in conjunction with food on a regular basis, in moderate form. Here, in America many people tend not to be too “moderate,” people are extreme. When we get “moderate,” we get “extremely moderate”! What’s important, as we say in France, is “moderation in moderation.”
P.S.: Do you have a particular favorite restaurant in the Unites States?
J.P.: Well, to paraphrase James Beard, I think, when someone says, “what is your favorite restaurant?,” I usually say, “My favorite restaurant is where they know you,” which is really true. But, yes, the day before yesterday here, in New York, I had dinner at Daniel, and it was extraordinary. I think it was great but, I mean, I wouldn’t want to eat at Daniel every night. I love Chinese food, I love Mexican food, I love Thai food, and this type of “urban food” that we have in the United States now is unmatched anywhere in the world. You can have extraordinary food in those different ethnic groups.
P.S.: I can imagine a chef in a restaurant being told that Jacques Pépin is sitting at the table. Do you think, perhaps, they might panic a little if they know you are in there?
J.P.: I hope not. I mean, big deal! Actually, I am a glutton. I eat whatever you put in front of me. My wife is much more fussy than I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize what I eat, but there is so much snobbism about food and maybe even more so about wine, I suppose, so I hope not. I hope that people who know me are not impressed by me being there.
P.S.: What annoys you most, if anything, about people’s dieting habits?
J.P.: Snobbery, fad, and attitude: everyone jumping on the green peppercorn, after the pink peppercorn, after ginger, and so forth. People eating with you and shoving food in your mouth and picking stuff off of your plate, and being totally relentless and so tense and excited that they get totally berserk. So, after awhile I want to get out and get a taco and a beer somewhere and relax. There is nothing wrong with talking about food when you are at a table, but when you want to dissect every minute portion of whatever your are eating, it becomes extremely tiring. You forget the most important part about food: the enjoyment, the congeniality, and having a good time.
P.S.: What contribution do you hope to have made to the world?
J.P.: Well, my daughter is a contribution. I think that a child is very important. I don’t really see anything else of lasting value because all the influence will be an immediate influence that maybe the people who work for me and learned from me can pass on that something to somebody else. But in terms of long-distance, in two generations or so, people will probably not know who I am, or my name, or whatever it is.
In closing I would like to say that all 3 of the chefs I have featured: Julia Child, Graham Kerr and Jacques Pépin were the most generous, kind, friendly people I have met from the world of TV cooking. And, most important, there wasn’t the slightest trace of ego. Just a passion for their work and the pleasure they brought millions of people worldwide. It was a privilege to spend time with them.
Phillip Silverstone’s column appears each week in this publication. “Time Out With Phillip Silverstone” is a weekly two-hour podcast heard exclusively on TuneIn radio anytime and anywhere worldwide either on the free TuneIn app for all smart phones and tablets (Search: Phillip Silverstone) or online on Tunein at: http://bit.ly/1gY2Ht4. “Follow” the show for weekly updates. You can also LIKE Phillip on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Phillipsilverstone and follow him on Twitter: @wining