Jacques Pepin is one of America's best-known chefs. He is the author of 24 books, including a best-selling memoir, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. He has also hosted nine public television cooking series, the most recent of which is called More Fast Food My Way. Pepin was born in rural France and his first exposure to cooking was in his parents' restaurant, Le Pelican. He began his formal apprenticeship at the age of thirteen and went on to work in Paris as the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. He moved to the United States in 1959 and studied at Columbia University. Pepin is a former columnist for The New York Times and now writes a quarterly column for Food & Wine. He received France's highest civilian honor, the French Legion of Honor, in 2004. He lives in Madison, Connecticut.
Question: Do you have a personal philosophy?
Jacques Pepin: Well my philosophy is to go to the market; to get the best product that I can do; to get home; to cook it with my wife or a couple of friend; to sit together; to drink a few bottle of wine; to enjoy the food; and to have discussion and arguments and all that. Because the discussion itself is part of the table. The table itself is the place where you bring those things together. And that’s why it’s so important to sit down and eat together. I mean at the Congress of Vienna in 1824 I believe, it was Louis XVIII who sent Tallarin. . . Tallarin was the French Prime Minister, and I think Louis XVIII tell him something to the effect, “I need to give you more advisors.” He said, “No, no I need more cooks and more pots. That’s what I need more.” And it’s true, you know? In a certain extent, the deals are created around the table. There is nothing as seductive, if you want, than a good table, the right wine. This is where the discussions are. And if you don’t do that with your children or your wife then you never talk to one another. You pass life without even realizing it. And this is not to say that you don’t argue. You should argue. We have to argue because who said that . . . consensus is the negation of leadership, anyway. So you do have to argue and we do. But to be together, to be able to share . . . I mean go to a foreign country, you know, and you take another language . . . I remember being in Yugoslavia 20 some years ago and being in the mountains. And people would open their door and their window and look at the foreigner going down the street. And they kind of . . . You know they kind of mistrust you as you may do that. But you sit at the table, and you offer someone a glass of wine or a piece of bread. If you share food and wine, and all of a sudden you’re much less dangerous looking or whatever. This is how you bring people together – by dialogue, you know?
Recorded on: 09/04/2007