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Jacques Pépin Gets Personal

"I am what I cook," writes the master chef in his latest cookbook, which focuses on the recipes that matter the most to him. Here, an exclusive F&W preview with Jacques’s recipes, family snapshots and paintings.

Of all the cookbooks I have written, this is certainly the most personal. Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) is more than a cookbook. It details my lifestyle—which includes recipes, of course. But the recipes are ones that I have a connection with, ones that bring images to my memories and mean something personal to me. Some of these recipes are variations of those I have published in other books, that I keep making over and over again, but most are recipes for dishes that I remember from my youth in France, or cooked with my wife, Gloria, or with friends at my house.

One of the French epicure Brillat-Savarin’s most famous aphorisms is, "You are what you eat." I believe that for many people, I am what I cook, because I have been defined by food all my life, or at least for the last 60 years or so. Going back as far as my memory can take me, I see my mother, my aunts and my cousins in their kitchens, and I can smell those kitchens. I see myself with my father in the cellar drawing wine, tending the garden with my brother, mushrooming with friends or cooking with Gloria or my friend Jean-Claude Szurdak. My cultural identity is in great part related to food, and that gastronomic culture includes a whole set of rules and habits that define my way of life. In this culture there are rituals and special events, such as playing boules, picnicking or going frogging or mushrooming. These rituals are also expressed through traditional recipes and specific ways of doing things.

In this book, I explain the recipes as I would if I were talking to a friend, rather than following the conventional structure of an organized, detailed set of quantities. My goal is to excite the imagination rather than set limits in a structured recipe. I want to give freedom to the cook, who can then imagine the recipe through my description and take it further down the path, making it much more personal, intimate and special. There is mystery and suspense in the making of a dish, and I do not want to take that away from the cook. The discoveries along the way will make that recipe unique and private. The same dish made with the same ingredients by 10 different cooks will have 10 different outcomes. Some renditions will be dull and tasteless, and others brilliant, tasty and original, depending on the talent and generosity of the cook. One has to cook with love and eagerness for the food to be exciting and flavorful, and this has to be controlled by good techniques.

You won’t find hundreds of recipes in this book, only the ones that count. This is an egocentric and personal book, and I have chosen recipes that I like to cook and eat. Most people can live well with 20 or 30 recipes. The dishes that matter are the dishes that are cooked with love.

Published April 2007
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