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Jacques Pépin: On Cooking and Painting (2/9)

Jacques Pepin's Hands Photograph by Tom Hopkins

Photograph by Tom Hopkins

“An art student who spends years in school learning the rules of perspective, how to mix yellow and blue to make green, and how to use a brush, a spatula, or his or her fingers, along with other technical aspects of painting, will be able to sit at an easel and create one painting after another. Does that make this person an artist?”

“Yet, there are cooks in the kitchen who have great technical skill and not much talent. I have known chefs working for 30 years behind the stove who can run a kitchen properly and are technically quite good, but their food is never really great; they have neither the palate nor the talent or imagination to take it further. Moreover, they are often unaware that they have reached the limit of their own taste. It’s difficult for a chef to admit that a food critic with limited cooking knowledge may have a larger, more complex sense of taste than he does and can analyze the chef’s dishes and be aware of his limitations when he doesn’t realize it himself. This is not said pejoratively. Conversely, some people have no technique and some talent, a situation I have found often in students and amateur cooks. They have a sense of taste and a discriminating palate, but not have much technical knowledge and ability. A dish turns out well for them occasionally, perchance, but they cannot control the quality and production of the food that is needed to run a restaurant. Without technical ability, a professional cook is like a writer without knowledge of grammar, an impossible situation.

Likewise, an art student who spends years in school learning the rules of perspective, how to mix yellow and blue to make green, and how to use a brush, a spatula, or his or her fingers, along with other technical aspects of painting, will be able to sit at an easel and create one painting after another. Does that make this person an artist? No, he or she is a craftsman at this point. However, these trained hands now have the means to express talent if talent there is. It is the same with the chef apprentice.”

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