Jacques Pépin On Love and Simplicity

Jacques Pépin gets asked a lot of questions.

The Classic: What’s the best piece of kitchen equipment?

A good, sharp knife, the kind that can glide right through a tomato, Mr. Pépin believes. Also, a rubber spatula, plastic wrap. But he loves to keep things simple. So, really, he says, “the best equipment is your hands.”

The Technical: Should we follow recipes strictly? (This to a man who has written tens of thousands of recipes.)

The first time, yes. After that, a recipe is a point of departure, something to be shaped to your own taste. Plus, “the recipe is only the expression of one moment in time.”

No two dishes will be the same – the oven is gas here, but electric there; you’re in a lousy mood this time, a terrific mood next. So, as he once wrote, “there is something evanescent, temporary and fragile about food.” It is to be savored now; it won’t come like this again.

The Curious: What does The Jacques Pépin, chef to de Gaulle and author of La Technique, a cooking school essential, eat at an airport?

Hot dogs. Jacques Pépin loves hot dogs anywhere. When young chefs come to him wanting to learn the fancy dishes and the complicated recipes, he simplifies things. Let’s do a hot dog, he says. If you can find the depth in a hot dog, he says, if you can make it a memorable experience, then you’re really something.

But of all the questions he gets asked, the one that most frequently ends an interview is Seeking Wisdom: What advice would you give aspiring chefs?

And Mr. Pépin always gives the same advice for chefs, though really for anyone. Don’t cook for fame or money. You might not get those. Cook “because it gratifies you…and it fills up your life.” Do that and no matter your material success, you’ll live richly.

To keep it simple, as Jacques Pépin loves to do – “Cook for the right reason: for love.”

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