The helpful hints he tosses off during each half hour episode more than justify a viewing.
The menu for the episode titled “The Egg First!,” above, includes Red Pepper Dip, Asparagus Fans with Mustard Sauce, Scallops Grenobloise, Potato Gratin with Cream, and Jam Tartines with Fruit Sherbet so simple, a child could make it (provided they’re set up with good quality poundcake in advance.)
Delicious… especially when prepared by a culinary master Julia Child lauded as “the best chef in America.”
And he’s definitely not stingy with matter-of-fact advice on how to peel asparagus, potatoes and hard boiled egg, grate fresh nutmeg with a knife, and dress up store bought mayo any number of ways.
His recipes (some available online here) are well suited to the current moment. The ingredients aren’t too difficult to procure, and each episode begins with a fast, easy dish that can be explained in a minute, such as Mini Croques-Monsieur, Asian Chicken Livers, or Basil Cheese Dip.
Many of the dishes harken to his childhood in World War II-era Lyon:
When we were kids, before going to school, my two brothers and I would go to the market with my mother in the morning. She had a little restaurant… There was no car, so we walked to the market—about half a mile away—and she bought, on the way back, a case of mushrooms which was getting dark so she knew the guy had to sell it, so she’d try to get it for half price… She didn’t have a refrigerator. She had an ice box: that’s a block of ice in a cabinet. In there she’d have a couple of chickens or meat for the day. It had to be finished at the end of the day because she couldn’t keep it. And the day after we’d go to the market again. So everything was local, everything was fresh, everything was organic. I always say my mother was an organic gardener, but of course, the word ‘organic’ did not exist. But chemical fertilizer did not exist either.
If you have been spending a lot of time by yourself, some of the episode themes may leave a lump in your throat—Dinner Party Special, Game Day Pressure, and Pop Over Anytime, which shows how to draw on pantry staples and convenience foods to “take the stress out of visitors popping in.”
The soon to be 85-year-old Pépin (Happy Birthday December 18, Chef!) spoke to Zagat earlier about the pandemic’s effect on the restaurant industry, how we can support one another, and the beauty of home cooked meals:
People—good chefs—are wondering how they will pay their rent. It is such a terrible feeling to have to let your employees go. In a kitchen, or a restaurant, we are like a family, so it is painful to separate or say goodbye. That said, it is important to be optimistic. This is not going to last forever.
Depending on where you are, perhaps this is a chance to reconnect with the land, with farmers, with the sources of food and cooking. This is a good time to plant a garden. And gardening can be very meditative. Growing food is not just for the food, but this process helps us to reconnect with who we are, why we love food, and why we love cooking. With this time, cook at home. Cook for your neighbor and drop the food off. Please your family and your friends and your own palate with food, for yourself. This is not always easy for a chef with the pressure of running a restaurant. Cooking is therapeutic…
Many people now are beginning to suffer economically. But if you can afford it, order take-out, and buy extra for your neighbors. If you can afford it, leave a very large tip. Think about the servers and dishwashers and cooks that may not be able to pay their rent this month. If you can be more generous than usual, that would be a good idea. We need to do everything we can to keep these restaurants in our communities alive.
…this moment is a reassessment and re-adjustment of our lives. Some good things may come of it. We may have the opportunity to get closer to one another, to sit as a family together at the table, not one or two nights a week, but seven! We may not see our friends, but we may talk on the phone more than before. Certainly, with our wives and children we will be creating new bonds. We will all be cooking more, even me. This may be the opportunity to extend your palate, and to get your kids excited about cooking and cooking with you.
Watch a playlist of Jacques Pépin: More Fast Food My Way (they’re all embedded below) courtesy of KQED Public Television, which has also shared a number of free downloadable recipes from the program here.
Attention last minute holiday shoppers: the companion cookbook would make a lovely gift for the chef in your life (possibly yourself.)
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse. Follow her @AyunHalliday.