Our Executive Culinary Director dishes on his French favorites, family culinary traditions, Julia Child & more.
You recognize the classically trained French chef’s jovial face and charming accent from his beloved PBS cooking series, perhaps you’ve picked up his kitchen wisdom from numerous cookbooks, and you may have even sailed with him aboard one of our ships. A legendary master chef and our Executive Culinary Director, Jacques Pépin celebrated his 82nd birthday this year and continues to share his endless fount of culinary knowledge. We sat down with Jacques recently to find out his favorite French city for epicurean adventures, his take on Jacques Bistro and much more.
What is your favorite French city to visit, purely for food and wine?
It’s difficult to decide, but if I had to pick one, I would pick Saint-Malo. It is in Brittany and is an extraordinary, historic walled city to tour. The big varied seafood plates you can enjoy right on the water are hard to beat – it’s simply beautiful.
How does the emphasis on culinary technique in the U.S. differ from that in France?
To start with, it used to be in France that you would spend 3 to 5 years as an apprentice without being paid, so you had a great deal of time to repeat and repeat and repeat so that you refined the techniques. In the U.S., there are so many other types of cuisine from around the world that are based on other techniques, so it’s a different world than it would be if training in France. Still in France, however, whenever I went somewhere to get a job, people would ask me or anyone, perhaps, to make an omelet. That was a guideline to finding out if you knew your technique.
You had a close relationship with Julia Child – tell us something many may not know about her.
I met Julia in 1960, so I knew her for a half a century. Certainly many do not know that when we did our show together, we actually had no recipe. Usually, when you are doing a cooking show you have a recipe you will follow, but we would not and this made the cameraman kind of crazy. It took two years to put on the air because they had to edit it and craft the show around what we did afterward. Maybe that’s why the show looked very natural, it was truly improvised. We had a really good time.
Tell us about a family culinary tradition that is special to you.
We keep books filled with illustrated menus of big family dinners and special occasions. We have done it for over 50 years now. I have 12 large books of menus, a testimonial to our life in the last half-century. I can look in those books and see what Claudine had when she was four – she’s almost 50 now. It’s a great tradition to have because it creates a keepsake that keeps growing and evolving. We just added another last week.
How would you describe the concept behind The Bistro at the Grand Dining Room and the cuisine served there?
Like a bistro in France, it is defined by being unpretentious, a neighborhood type of restaurant where people know one another. It is usually small, kind of casual, serving old classic dishes, like a cassoulet, earthy and closer to home-style cooking than to haute cuisine.
What’s your favorite dish from Jacques Bistro? One of the classic bistro dishes, like escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails with Burgundy garlic butter) and a salade Niçoise.
What French dish can you not live without?
A good onion soup gratinée, my favorite!