Jacques Pepin is one of the world's greatest chefs. He has contributed so much to the culinary world., giving us classic French recipes along with classic sound advice. As he turns eighty, he reflects on that in a special article in today's Food section of the New York Times, It's insightful and interesting, much like the chef himself
As with his fellow Frenchman, Marcel Proust, Chef Pepin, recounts his food memories, through taste and smell. He even calls to mind that moment when Proust's beloved madeleines bring the author back to his boyhood summers at his aunt's house in Normandy. The combined flavor of them mingled with the tea that they're dipped in, bring to mind, the heat of those summers, the family cook , the garden and finally the entire seaside town of Combray. Such is the sensual power of food. Chef Pepin has the same moments, many of them, in fact as he calls up his earliest culinary memories.He is, after all, a child of a restauranteur, He knows the power of a flavor or aroma. However his first strong memory was not in his mother's eatery but at farm where he stayed during a school vacation. realizing he missed his mere, the farmer let him milk a cow,. The taste of warm, foamy , fresh milk seared into his memory, and forever shaped the way he looked at food.From there he waxes lyrically about his family's dishes, as he writes, our family recipes are what shape us as people. They mold our tastes and define how we cook.It's obvious with Chef Pepin. He recalls his mother's treatment of fresh picked fingerling potatoes(skins that were simply rubbed off by gentle caressing and then sauteed in butter until crisp) and his Aunt Helene's chicken in cream sauce.
His life in America has also shaped his palate as well as his cooking style. Chef Pepin lives in Connecticut but has worked in some of the best kitchens in New York City. His recipes are linked to his local markets, in his town of Madison and the nearby town of Guilford. Eggs from a vibrant Jamaican named Nathalia also are part of the mix..He also credits a farm in Hammonnasset for fresh peas and the Lobster Landing in nearby Clinton CT for lobster. The markets of his native southern France figure large in their influence, especially the ones from Provence such as Arles, Avignon and st. Remy. Seasons are another influence as well. He lovingly recalls the sensations and food that make up the year. Summer is walking in cool grass , picking up mushrooms or along the shore , gathering up tiny fish to be fried.It's picnics with a Gallic twist, lobster, corn, and fried chicken along with lukewarm tomatoes and cooled white wine , celebrated on the Hammonnasset River, Fall is the aroma of baking apple tarts, making cider, and the flavor of Concord grapes and his favorite holiday's Thanksgiving turkey.Winter brings him back to 1959 when he first arrived in New York City and smelled that Manhattan street classic roasted chestnuts.It's also the comforting aromas of bean stews and homemade split pea soup made with ham, along with cheese fondue. There is also fond remembrances of the holidays with oysters and foie gras, chocolate truffles and homemade caramel candies.
Chef Pepin could be considered the Proust of our age. He has such beautiful memories of the foods , flavors and aromas that have shaped his life. Every one should have those fond and warm remembrances.