My Day on a Plate: Jacques Pépin

You’ve watched him eviscerate chickens, turn sticks of butter into floral arrangements, and trade friendly barbs with Julia Child. As part of a continuing series, Jacques Pépin—former chef to Charles de Gaulle, dean at the French Culinary Institute, renowned pétanque shark, and America’s favorite food personality emeritus—tells us everything he ate and drank over a period of 24 hours. What does the man who can do anything in a kitchen cook for himself?
jacques pépin

Well, let’s see… yesterday morning—I don’t eat in the morning. I have some coffee with milk and that’s about it. We have a very fancy machine here at the house in Connecticut—a Jura—which costs millions of dollars, and it grinds coffee and foams milk and makes espresso and cappuccino and just about anything you want. So I make a big bowl of café au lait, and I probably end up having two of those. I’ve never been a breakfast person. Occasionally, if I’m on a cruise or something, I may have a croissant. I love English muffins, so sometimes I’ll have half an English muffin with some jam that I might make, but that’s the most I would ever do for breakfast. [The voice of his wife, Gloria, in the background: “Corn flakes!”] Oh yes, I love corn flakes. I have them sometimes for lunch, but I haven’t had them in a long time.

So that brings us to lunch. I had a nice big leek, so I made a soup with it—just the leek with chicken stock and tomato and pastina, with grated Swiss cheese on top. I have leeks in the garden, but they’re not ready yet. So I went to the market the other day—we have an organic market on Friday here, and it comes every summer for about three or four months—and we bought some good stuff. To drink, Gloria might have a Coke and I might, too, or just water. Five in the afternoon, when I start cooking, is when we start drinking wine. We probably drink too much of it. Yesterday we had a bottle of Cambria white wine from Santa Barbara Valley, a 2004, I think, and then red later on, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape—the Bosquet des Papes Chante le Merle Vieilles Vignes—from 2000. Gloria and I had a few slices of saucisson and some red caviar on a little bit of toast.

I bought some beautiful asparagus at the market yesterday, so I made it with a sauce of a tablespoon or two of sour cream, another tablespoon or two of mayonnaise, some lemon juice, and some hot tomato salsa—about a tablespoon or two to jazz it up. And after that I had some lamb sausage I made, which I do occasionally. I put cumin and cayenne and paprika in the ground lamb and then I put pistachios in it and feta cheese. So I make a patty, maybe five or six ounces, and I put feta cheese in the center, which is a recipe from the latest Fast Food My Way. I sauté it in a skillet, along with some potatoes. And we had a shallot out of the garden and a whole bunch of arugula, which grows like crazy in our garden—you just can’t get rid of it. You could feed a whole restaurant with it. I had parsley and dill, too, a few handfuls of those from the garden, so I made a kind of fresh herb salad with arugula.

We have mushrooms spouting up in the yard, and I cooked some of those last week, but not yesterday. They’re wine-cap mushroomsStropharia rugosoannulata is the Latin name—and they grow on shavings of wood. What I do with wild mushrooms is cut them and wash them and cook them in a skillet just with a little water until the water disappears. With certain kinds of cèpes, unless you cook them for about 15 minutes, you can have a pretty serious reaction. So I do the water method and then sauté them with garlic and parsley.

Did we have any cheese yesterday? Gloria says we decided no cheese yesterday. We usually do, but we didn’t yesterday because we had a big meal on Sunday, where I made six courses with some friends. And we don’t do dessert much, unless, of course, we have guests, so ordinarily for us it’s just some fruit and maybe a piece of cheese. Anyway, that’s pretty typical of how we eat here at home.

So this morning there was more coffee. Gloria sometimes has orange juice, too, but I don’t, or only rarely. I get up at the crack of 10 o’clock; we’re not early risers. We usually have lunch at 1 o’clock, and dinner at 6:30 or 7. Gloria just started making lunch for today—sandwiches with bacon and the asparagus sauce from yesterday.

For tonight I was going to get some shad roe, but I’m not sure I can get it now, since it’s the end of the season. So I have some chicken thighs, but I don’t know what I’m going to do with them yet. If I have guests or if I have to do recipes, I plan ahead, but otherwise Gloria and I decide the very day, usually when I get to the market. We never really plan ahead. If we don’t know what to do, there are always eggs. We love them. Right now I have beautiful tarragon, chervil, chives, and parsley coming up in the garden, the classic ingredients for a fines herbes omelette. With just some potatoes next to it, it’s the perfect dinner.

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