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Jacques Pépin: On Cooking and Painting (3/9)

Jacques and Paco on the Beach Photograph by Tom Hopkins

Photograph of Jacques and Paco by Tom Hopkins

“If you ask me to remember the cooking at the Pavillon, where I cooked in 1960, my brain memory will take me back there and I can recall it logically and discuss some of the dishes with you. I can recall the making of the striped bass roasted with shallots, white wine, mushrooms, and champagne, with the sauce finished with butter. Blindfolded I know that taste.”

“In painting, individuals who have a thorough knowledge of the techniques along with extraordinary talent, like Picasso or Matisse, are geniuses. In the kitchen, a few chefs have certainly risen higher and achieved more to become models, setting the criteria for other professionals. Chefs like Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller are good examples, but, for me, they are still not to be compared to a Matisse or a Picasso.

In Proust’s affective memory, look, touch, taste, smell, and hearing are of the utmost importance. He developed his theory of the memory of the senses, as opposed to the memory of the brain, after eating a small cake called a madeleine that he had dipped in his tea. The taste brought him back to a youthful summer vacation where that cake had always been served with afternoon tea. The memories brought back by the taste of the madeleine were immediate, powerful, unexpected, and very deep, as compared to the memories of the brain. If you ask me to remember the cooking at the Pavillon, where I cooked in 1960, my brain memory will take me back there and I can recall it logically and discuss some of the dishes with you. I can recall the making of the striped bass roasted with shallots, white wine, mushrooms, and champagne, with the sauce finished with butter. Blindfolded I know that taste. However, if that recipe is served to me unexpectedly, the taste of it will assail me in a very acute and profound way. Memories of the taste, smell, look and texture of a dish are very important to the chef and, certainly, to the food critic. James Beard had an amazing food memory and could discuss dishes in detail going back to meals he ate in Paris in the 1950s and ‘60s. Memories of the brain are more sedate, logical, and organized.”

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