SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Jacques Pepin says his new cookbook is an invitation to join him for dinner at his house. Of course, you'll have to do all the cooking, but you can use his recipes. Jacques Pepin will turn 80 years old this year. He says this is one of his last cookbooks, and it's timed to coincide with what he says is his final PBS show, airing this fall, "Jacques Pepin: Heart And Soul." He has an extraordinary career that spans more than 60 years and runs from a four-star restaurant in Paris to Howard Johnson's on the turnpike to Charles de Gaulle and Julia Child and recipes that range from duck liver mousse to hamburgers. His new cookbook is "Jacques Pepin: Heart And Soul In The Kitchen." He joins us now from New York. Thanks very much for being with us.
JACQUES PEPIN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
SIMON: So how does a recipe - wasn't what I was expecting at all - tuna tartare and bagel chips...
SIMON: ...Get into the book?
PEPIN: Why not? Yes.
PEPIN: You know, I may be considered the quintessential French chef by many people, but I do what I like to do. And - the way I cooked - I don't think that I was ever very chauvinistically French. And I do dishes which I like to eat and sometimes they are more French than others. But it really doesn't matter to me.
SIMON: I don't get the chance to ask a lot of people what was Charles de Gaulle really like. I mean, did he like to have a burrito occasionally or something?
PEPIN: No burrito. Everything was very classic French, more like bourgeois French, like a leg of lamb properly roasted with a gratin dauphinois, you know, a scalloped potato with some cream and garlic baked in the oven. And certainly a (speaking French) is a kind of big egg, you know, poached, which was served just with melted butter or a light mayonnaise and grated cheese around maybe an apple tart or a caramel custard. Very simple, straightforward, good food done with the great quality ingredient. You know, that's what great food is all about.
SIMON: You're a frugal man in the kitchen.
SIMON: Does that come from growing up during the war?
PEPIN: Probably, yes. I mean, this is, you know, what I inherited it from my mother. I am very miserly, yes, in the kitchen. Yes, during the war, we didn't have that much to eat. And the woman cooking is usually more economical than men's cooking. They're done different way, so certainly that may influence.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, I ask because - tell us, please, what you do with old cheese.
PEPIN: Oh, yes - old cheese - we do a fromage fort. It came from when we had cheese leftover and that included from Camembert to goat cheese or bleu cheese or feta cheese, and my father would put it into a jar and put white wine on top of it and let it ferment it even more, with the rind and all. So when I add - if there is, I mean, mold on top, I scrape it up, but I still use it. I scrape it up, cut everything, put it in the food processor, you know, a couple of clove of garlic, some white wine, a lot of ground pepper and we make into a paste that become fromage fort - strong cheese - that you serve on bread with a salad, or you put it on bread and put it under the broiler to beautifully glaze it, too. And certainly, it's very important because cheese are very expensive. So if you have at least a few recipe like this, where you can use those leftover, then you can continue serving cheese when they are at their best and using the leftover to do one dish or another. So that's part of the proper management of a kitchen, you know?
SIMON: Mr. Pepin, what do you think of what they now call molecular cooking, or of which you seem to call punctuation cuisine?
PEPIN: (Laughter) Well, punctuation cooking may be a bit different, but I call it a great deal of those dishes where people have little bottle and they do little dots and the little comma and question mark all around.
PEPIN: And basically, there (laughter) is no sauce to dip your bread in. You don't really know what those things have to do with the food. When I cook, I like people to be able to identify the food. I like people to feel comfortable. I want people to look at my food and start salivating and starting thinking of a marriage of that food with a certain type of wine and so forth. But in molecular cuisine, this is fine. I mean, up to a certain extent - a meal or two this way, but after a while, I just want to go out and have a taco and a beer (laughter).
SIMON: (Laughter) As I was reading your book, you know, Julia Child - your friend and co-conspirator of many years - was famous for telling us, remember, nobody sees you in the kitchen.
PEPIN: Right (laughter).
SIMON: But you saw her in the kitchen all the time.
PEPIN: Oh, yes. Yes, we had a good time. I mean, I met Julia in 1960. Helen McCullough was the food editor of "House Beautiful." She said, I have that manuscript here. Can you look at it, of French cooking? What do you think of it? And I say, well I think it's very good. And she said, well, the woman is from California. She's coming to New York next week. Let's cook for her.
It's a big, tall woman with a terrible voice. And of course, that was Julia.
SIMON: Do you hear her voice, that distinctive voice, every now and then, even now?
PEPIN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Very often, when I don't put enough butter in the dish.
PEPIN: Put more butter.
SIMON: She was big on that.
PEPIN: Yeah, right, yes.
SIMON: Mr. Pepin, as you approach 80, how are you feeling?
PEPIN: Tired (laughter). No, I feel OK. I mean, I feel good. I mean, I thank God that I'm still walking around and drinking a lot of wine.
SIMON: Well, I ask because you say that this is probably your last cookbook.
PEPIN: Well, yes and no. I mean, the last cookbook like this which takes a long time to do, but I still hope to do some little thing with my daughter, maybe the lesson of a grandfather, you know, showing her how to do simple thing that we've done together. I have a great deal of fun cooking with her so maybe a little book. Certainly, some video will come with that, yes, hopefully.
SIMON: You've got a section here about you cooking with your granddaughter.
PEPIN: Yes. I mean, she did several show with me. I mean, I cook with my daughter Claudine when she was small and now with her. And she's 11 now, so it's fun, you know, and I hope I can do that with her.
SIMON: Jacques Pepin - his new series, "Jacques Pepin: Heart And Soul" is on many PBS stations this fall, accompanied by a new book, "Jacques Pepin: Heart And Soul In The Kitchen." Chef, thanks so much for being with us.
PEPIN: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.