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Chef Jacques Pépin gets cooking at Celebrity Forum


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Chef Jacques Pépin, right, signs books April 24 at Main Street Cafe & Books in downtown Los Altos. He was in town for a series of Celebrity Forum Speakers Series appearances.

The Celebrity Forum Speakers Series transformed the Flint Center stage into a makeshift kitchen for chef Jacques Pépin’s cooking demonstrations April 23, 24 and 25.

The stage included a large table stocked with locally grown produce and various cooking utensils. With his daughter Claudine’s assistance, Pépin shared his basic habits for better, happier everyday cooking.

“I always start with a glass of wine when I cook,” he shared as his No. 1 tip.

Pépin has appeared regularly on PBS cooking programs for over a decade, hosting more than 300 shows. Before leaving France for the United States in 1959, he served as personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. He is currently dean of special programs at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

The author of 25 books, including “More Fast Food My Way” (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), Pépin starred with cooking legend Julia Child in “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” on KQED in San Francisco. Pépin opened each program by demonstrating his peeling technique with a downward push of the finger. He demonstrated knife skills at Celebrity Forum for a soft food like a tomato and a hard food like an apple and provided criteria for selecting knives.

“For a chef, the finger techniques are used over and over, even when sharpening the knife,” he said. “Chefs work long hours, holidays and weekends. You must love the work as well as have talent, discipline and fortitude. It is rewarding because you bring pleasure to people.”

With Claudine handing him utensils, Pépin demonstrated making mayonnaise, removing the bones from salmon, making omelets and preparing a chicken.

The large screen at Flint Center showed close-ups of Pépin’s fingers as he worked.

“The first thing I do is take out the wishbone,” he explained. “I can debone a chicken in seconds. The same procedure is used for a turkey or a quail.”

During preparation of the chicken, the audience sat quietly, focused on the procedure. They exploded in spontaneous applause at the conclusion of the cooking demonstration.

The audience had the opportunity to ask questions after Pépin’s presentation:

How can we make airline food more enjoyable?

“Bring your own food.”

Any food you would not buy?

“Processed foods.”

Can you share any memories of working with Julia Child?

“She is a big woman with a terrible voice and she had just come back from France. We cooked together for years and did two KQED specials without a plan. We drank a lot of wine and used a lot of butter. Julia would say, ‘I want Crisco.’”

How has cooking changed since 1959?

“Creativity is the biggest mistake. You may be very creative in the kitchen, but you can’t take advantage of your skills if you don’t know the basics.”

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