by Jacques Pépin + Rollie Wesen + Karen Stabiner | The Counter [*]
“Jacques shared his knife skills with viewers stuck at home, kept his foundation afloat when funding dried up, and helped prepare formerly incarcerated job-seekers for food-service work.
It takes un village to be Jacques Pépin, these days: The 85-year-old chef and educator’s expanding identity roster now includes Facebook celebrity, activist, and, according to GQ, online style icon. When the pandemic sent all of us home, his first instinct was to help us cook, with a batch of instructional videos posted on social media. Next he turned his attention to The Jacques Pépin Foundation, which teaches job skills to formerly incarcerated people but had canceled three fundraising events; it needed help as well. Along with his daughter, Claudine, the foundation’s president, and Rollie Wesen, its executive director, Pépin created a video recipe book full of recipes contributed by a network of chefs, which went to everyone who bought a $40 annual membership. Wesen joined Pépin for this conversation, to talk about what came next.
Jacques Pépin: My daughter, Claudine, had this idea, because everyone was at home. I really don’t do Facebook but she has for years. And she said, ‘People are at home, they’re interested in cooking, can you do something using the stuff in your fridge, in your freezer, something that’s not complicated?’ I’m always using stuff that’s left over, what my wife used to call ‘fridge soup.’ Maybe because I was raised during the war in France, I’m pretty miserly in the kitchen. My father would never throw out a piece of bread without kissing it first and giving it to the chickens. So I said, ‘Fine, this is what I do normally, no problem,’ and we decided to do an online cooking series for Facebook and Instagram, for everyone to have, for free. It’s been easy, and, frankly, rewarding in many ways. People were stuck at home, looking for something to watch, and it was easy enough to follow what I was doing, an hour of basic technique, with Claudine in the kitchen with me: how to use your knife, how to cut vegetables, how to use what you have and not waste it.
The process of cooking, of doing the techniques, is repeat, repeat, repeat. I’ve been in the kitchen 72 years—I left home in 1949—so I can go on TV and talk to people while I’m working with the knife. I don’t think about my hands anymore. But you can teach people that; anyone can acquire the technique. Some people do it much better than others, but it’s a question of practice and repeat.
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