Laura Lehrman: Your newest book written with Julia Child was just released in October 1999, and now only a couple of months later, it's already on bestseller lists all over the country. Congratulations! What do you think are some of the reasons for its instant popularity?
Jacques Pepin: I think that this book tends to demystify cooking. Cooking is a fun occupation and our book shows the conviviality of two pals cooking together. Not that we don't take our cooking seriously, but what the heck, it's not the end of the world in importance. We did not have a prepared script or outline; instead, we worked within a free structure. I think that we convey the idea that people should feel free when they cook, that they have fun, without worrying about the recipe itself.
LL: What do you like best about the process of creating a cookbook? What aspects do you like least?
JP: Cookbook writing is always a complete project with a beginning, middle and end. You have the whole project under your belt. I like the fact that it's always different to get to that end. My books tend to be very focused projects such as La Technique for very serious cooks, The Shortcut Cook which had fast and simple recipes, The Purposeful Cook which came out of a column that I wrote for The New York Times and had to do with cooking economically and Simple and Healthy Cooking which evolved from a project I did with the Cleveland Clinic. The whole process of writing cookbooks is part of my daily life. I do the recipes at home when I cook at home. For example, when Claudine and I were working on our cooking shows that have accompanying books, we did a list ahead of time and then I would make one or two dishes every time we cooked. It's just part of our lives. What part don't I like? I hate the editing, checking, coming back and editing again.
LL: Both you and Julia are seasoned pros at the art of making cookbooks. How has the process changed throughout the years?
JP: Well, we are getting more specific in our needs for cookbooks these days. More and more people know something about cooking, equipment is better and products are fairly standardized. For me, things are different because I'm not a chef in a restaurant anymore. My writing goals are different. I don't have to do recipes to show off the quality of my restaurant because I don't have a restaurant. Now I use food from the supermarket and conventional equipment because my goal is to teach people cooking at home. I'm writing so that people can relate to cooking in a different way.
LL: Everyone who I have talked to about your new television show, "Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home" says that it is clear that the two of you had a great time working together on this project. Would you tell our readers about some of your favorite moments making this show with Julia?
JP: I've known Julia for over forty years. She has her ideas and I have mine. There is bantering between the two of us on the show and maybe some people have made too much of this. On the whole we agree, especially about the important things. We agree about TASTE. It's more important than decoration or presentation. We believe in simplifying ingredients and we believe that techniques are important. There shouldn't be too much mixing of different ingredients, again because of simplicity. We definitely agree on having fun in the kitchen while food is being prepared and afterward when we are sitting down and eating what we created, enjoying the food with a glass of wine. In 1949, when Julia was at the Cordon Bleu in France, I was doing an apprenticeship. I've had fifty years in the food business and we sort of started together. There's a certain amount of suspense involved with us cooking together on the show. We liked the idea that we never knew completely exactly what was going to happen. It was fun to do. We both like the sharing and had a good time with it.
LL: You are both as experienced at the art of teaching and entertaining on air as you are at making cooking understandable and fun through your writings. A large percentage of StarChefs readers are professional chefs as well as culinary students as well as people considering the possibility of becoming food professionals. What advice can you give people who think that they may want to start working on their own cooking show?
JP: The best advice I can give is to be you. Don't try to imitate anyone who is famous. Being your own person is the beauty of what we do - Julia, Emeril, others who are on food shows and I - we're all different. When I go to the Aspen Food Festival, for example, which 5,000 food people attend, many people come up to me and tell me you're the best. But, only the people who love me come up to me. That's the way it should be. Be what you are. Some people will love you and some won't.
LL: In general, what are some basic cooking tips that you suggest for the start-up cook - for someone who is motivated to cook but never has?
JP: Good equipment. There's incredibly good equipment on the market and it doesn't necessarily have to be so expensive. A few good pots, knives, a cutting board, a good oven are essential. Many people handicap themselves by not having good, sharp knives. Cook with a friend who knows how to cook. Share a bottle of wine. Start cooking on your own. Get in the mood and try it. It should be relaxing and pleasurable.
LL: What should this start-up cook have in the pantry? What cooking equipment? What other cookbooks besides Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home?
JP: In the pantry: potatoes, onions, eggs, milk, garlic, butter, oil, herbes de Provence, cans of tomatoes and anchovy fillets; dry goods from pasta and rice to beans. You could feed anyone who shows up at your door. What cookbooks is a difficult question. I have written about twenty cookbooks and my wife likes to use the first one I wrote called, The French Chef Cooks at Home. I always say, "Try another one," but she feels comfortable with that one. I would recommend The Joy of Cooking and Julia's Mastering The Art of French Cooking. Everything is relative and we're all different in our likes. Try your friends' cookbooks and see what works for you.
LL: We at StarChefs receive many letters asking all kinds of questions about choosing culinary institutions after high school, after college and/or from career changers. What advice do you have for them?
JP: Again, it is important to consider differences and what makes sense for the individual making the choice. Cooking schools differ from one to the other. I think that you know that I'm a dean at The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, which is an excellent school, particularly for career changers. The program is intensive and is one of total immersion. There are not courses in business or accounting, which may or may not make sense for everyone. We have career changers like doctors, lawyers and accountants and they don't need nor are they interested in those types of courses. Cooking schools such as The French Culinary Institute, the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales are very expensive. There are also apprenticeships available at some restaurants. I suggest that you spend a day visiting the school just as many people do when they are picking a college. Go to a class, have lunch or dinner there. See the style of the school and its instructors, taste the food. Do whatever you can to help you choose because it's a very important decision and such a large investment to make.
LL: Finally, would you be kind enough to tell us what you would like viewers and readers to learn from "Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home," the television show and the accompanying book?
JP: We sort of talked about this in the beginning of the interview. I would like to think that people will tag along and cook with us. Cooking is something that is enjoyable. Not just the eating, but making it a part of your life. It's something you look forward to and like to share with your friends and family. Sometimes in our busy lives, especially on weekdays, I too end up buying frozen products and canned goods or picking up prepared foods. But, on the weekends, it's great to cook and enjoy the food with people you care about.