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Jacques Pépin: On Cooking and Painting (4/9)

Jacques’ Brushes and Palette Photograph by Tom Hopkins

Photograph by Tom Hopkins

“If an artist had to intellectually analyze a painting and decide that it needs a touch of blue indigo here and a trace of red vermillion there, or a soupçon of cadmium yellow in this corner, by the time the tubes of paint are open and squeezed onto the palette, the urge and the vision are gone.”

“…So, first is the learning of techniques. Endless repetition, a kind of mechanical process, is an investment of time that is necessary for a chef. Eventually, the techniques become so much a part of the self that they will never be forgotten. Only after that fastidious process has been acquired can one think in terms of combinations of ingredients, texture, color, harmony, and complementary saveur. As long as one is impaired by the menial tasks of slicing, dicing, boning, and poaching, there is no space for talent to emerge. I am able to cook and talk at the same time to an audience on my TV show because I have transcended the level at which I have to struggle with techniques. They are a part of who I am and my hands are working almost independently of my mind. So, I have time to concentrate on combinations of color, taste, texture, presentation, and the like.

When a chef cooks at the stove, he or she doesn’t follow a recipe but the memory of a taste or a new idea. He acts intuitively, impulsively adding, correcting a nuance in a sauce or a shade in a seasoning with all the ingredients at his disposal while visualizing and aiming for that elusive “goût” or savor. Similarly, if an artist had to intellectually analyze a painting and decide that it needs a touch of blue indigo here and a trace of red vermillion there, or a soupçon of cadmium yellow in this corner, by the time the tubes of paint are open and squeezed onto the palette, the urge and the vision are gone. The colors have to be at the ready on the palette for the painter, just as a set of ingredients must be in front of a chef as he or she cooks. The process is inherent, automatic, and intuitive. The artist places that touch of color there because it feels right, it belongs there, it fits, just as a cook adds a dash of salt, pepper, or wine to a sauce to get the taste exactly right. You cannot suppress the subconscious, certainly in art, especially abstract or surrealistic, like in Dali or André Breton (1924) automatic writing, where the unconscious or subconscious is the source of inspiration.”

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