Jacques Pépin: A Frenchman in New York

From the struggles of finding fresh mushrooms, his love of Oreos to his beginning as a cook at Le Pavilion, Jacques Pépin describes being a Frenchman in NYC.

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[MUSIC] When I came here I came with a man with a restaurant in New York, Analyzation. And it was very easy to come. I got my green card, my working paper within less than six months in France. I came on a student boat and eventually took the train in Montreal and arrived. Arrived in Grand Central with my two suitcase without speaking much of English. And that man the day after took me to The Pavilion. He told me this is the greatest restaurant in New York, probably in the country, French restaurant. I never heard of The Pavilion and it was interesting for me the difference with the Pavilion in France, it was much less vegetable. It was nothing grilled. Grilled so much American food not with a broiler. No grill really other than the Pavillion at the plasat in Paris there was too big grill for fish and meat. There was very little vegetable. The meat was superb. Lobster was superb things like that but otherwise that's what I you know find also my first super market A new [UNKNOWN], a supermarket. Then take this really here started in France, 1960, 1959, when we had the apartment there. And I thought it was a great, great idea, instead of running all over the place, to have everything under the same roof, with a lot of box. Box, box, box with stuff in it that I didn't know what it was There was no shallot, no leek, no alternate vegetable, of course I said where are the mushrooms, they say aisle five, that was can mushrooms. You aught to go to a specialty store to get mushrooms, you know, and now you go to stop and shop you have 15 different type of mushrooms, and most of them have no taste, but there are 15 different type of mushroom. When I stopped working at the [UNKNOWN], which I didn't know at the time. I learned after that [UNKNOWN] ate food that create a school of cooking. A French cooking that most of the great restaurants in New York from [UNKNOWN] to [UNKNOWN] would follow [UNKNOWN] into the line of the [UNKNOWN] So they, the other, were very strict and very classic. The outcome here for the World Fair in 1939, and could not go back to France because of the war, so they created the Pavillion. And it was an excellent Pavillion where all the intelligentsia of New York, the famous people, would go to the Pavillion. The Pavillon in the you know in the history of restaurants in New York. Will remain as one of the founder one of the great restaurant which has created unfortunately what was called at the time Continental cooking. With a lot of restaurant and the big menu in France totally misspelled With bad food, not French, which remember at that time that was what was called [FOREIGN]. It was no great Italian restaurant. Italian restaurant that I knew, meatball, spaghetti, very good. But fancy Italian food did not really exist, it was another world. At the [FOREIGN] we have some great dish. [FOREIGN] have really, and again serve it Table side to have the whole roast chicken. And again at that time even we have organic chicken coming from the farm. So we source the place pretty well. And that was cooked with the bone cooked in a reduction like a very strong chicken stock. Added champagne to it, shallots, reduce. Thicken. Finish with cream. And in the juice of the chicken, itself, we are reduce to a glace diviane, a pure. And that glace diviane was dribbled on top of that champagne sauce. And one portion, you would have the whole chicken brought to the table, certainly. Serve. Carve On the table side and so forth. So that was really old classic French food. I worked there as the chef of the fish department. And after, the sauce, and eventually I was the sous chef. But that was certainly a great experience for me. But not really that much different than what I had done in France. So I didn't feel different. Now when I went to Howard Johnson, it was something totally different. I was in New York, it was 1961, and Kennedy was running for president. So I was offered the job at the White House, and I was offered a job at Howard Johnson. But [UNKNOWN] was the executive chef at the [UNKNOWN] And Mr. Johnson, who used to come and eat there all the time, always tell Pierre you're gonna work for me one day. So we went there. At that time it was a family restaurant, very excellent product, simple. Now we start working in production and the beauty of it was that we could do basically what we wanted. And it was a great deal of experiment. This is when I first Get a cookbook. I never had cookbook. I never read recipe. I never did that type of thing and I start working in a different way. I had a chemist working to talk about the specific gravity of the sauce. The different type of carbohydrate or whatever it was and it was of course a great learning experience for me And also learning the American eating habit which I was always fascinated, too. I mean, when I first came here, I remember one of the first weekend I went to Pierre's house in East Hampton. His wife, of French extraction as well, was born in New York, for breakfast she'd give me the little box of Rice Krispies. It was in the box, you made a hole on top, you open it. I thought that was really, really neat And crunchy [INAUDIBLE] with milk in it. I love Oreo cookie. I like Jello very much too. And iceberg lettuce. I love iceberg lettuce. So that were things which I never had in France, no. [LAUGH] [MUSIC]
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Jacques Pépin: A Frenchman in New York