In Fast Food My Way, Jacques Pépin offers an elemental and elegant approach to preparing great meals.
“The supermarket as prep cook” is a big theme in both of your fast food books. What do you think is the most convenient prepared item?
Probably the packaged, ready-to-cook chicken parts. When I was a kid, to cook chicken was a whole operation: you had to kill the chicken, clean it, eviscerate it, prepare the oven with all the coals. Now you go to the supermarket and can get boneless chicken breasts. With these kinds of supermarket items, I can do a classic recipe in seven to eight minutes.
You've been cooking since you were in your teens. Do you remember any quick cooking recipes from the early days?
My mother used to make a vegetable soup that took five minutes, adding a little bit of bread with Swiss cheese grated on top. And she also made a dressing where she whipped a little bit of cream and added in a dash of vinegar so it got thick right away, and that can be used quite simply on fish or with many other things.
What do you think intimidates home cooks most in the kitchen?
Certainly the idea of being faced with a whole carcass, which everyone used to see in the past and is still standard in other countries; people are so used to seeing things in packets, fish that comes in little rectangles without any heads or tails, that when they are faced with doing a recipe that involves anything more, they don't do it.
You've cooked for many government leaders and dignitaries and other important people. Are there any “fast food” recipes that you would use for them?
When the tomato is good, the olive oil is good, the salt is good, and you put all that together, that beats anything else. It may take only a few minutes, but it is delicious.
What are you working on now?
My editor wants to bring back books of mine that are out-of-print, like The Art of Cooking, which had 3,000 pictures and shows me going through the whole process, like fishing for skate, then showing how to prepare a skate wing. Or maybe I would demonstrate how to carve a whole baby lamb.