ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
On Thanksgiving, there's a lot about food - what we're going to eat, when we're going to eat it, what reminds us of home-cooked meals. And sometimes, we talk about the kitchen disaster, the wreck, the unsalvageable mess for which the only remedy is takeout. It's OK. It can happen to the best of us.
JACQUES PEPIN: Never, I'm the greatest (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Literally the best - Jacques Pepin, famous chef and cookbook author. He doesn't like to call them mistakes.
PEPIN: Very often, we do something a bit wrong and say that's exactly what I wanted to do anyway. So...
SHAPIRO: And he has a story about one of those times. It was the early 1970s. He was in front of a live TV audience, about 2,500 people.
PEPIN: And they wanted me to do was souffle. I did the souffle. I put it into the oven for, like, 35, 40 minutes, left and I had no way of checking whether it was OK or not.
SHAPIRO: Pepin didn't notice the oven was on a very-high setting.
PEPIN: That oven went on self-cleaning, like, 725 degrees (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Self-cleaning at 725 degrees, oops.
PEPIN: You've never seen a souffle as black as this one, as burned. In fact, it was so black, the center was still liquid because it formed a crust. It didn't even cook in the center.
SHAPIRO: Still, Pepin's audience was not disappointed.
PEPIN: When I pulled that out of the oven and I had a standing ovation. People were very happy. There was no recovery on that one.
SHAPIRO: So listeners, if you, too, have a dish that flops that badly today, take heart and learn from a master - own the disaster, take a bow and then just remember not to do it again. Next in the hot seat, another famous gourmand.
RUTH REICHL: You know, I wrote a cookbook when I was 21.
SHAPIRO: That's Ruth Reichl. She has a truly impressive culinary resume. As a restaurant critic, she has been feared and respected. She was also the last editor of Gourmet magazine. And her cooking disaster took place before any of that. It's less about screwing up in the kitchen, more about overdoing it.
REICHL: It was just a terrible meal.
SHAPIRO: When Ruth Reichl was a budding food writer, she invited her editor to dinner.
REICHL: I had decided I was going to cook her the most amazing meal she'd ever had.
SHAPIRO: To get to that fabulous meal, the editor had to climb five flights of stairs to Reichl's New York apartment.
REICHL: I made, like, six courses. I started with, like, a rich chicken liver pate, and then I had a cream soup. And then I had a salad with blue cheese dressing. And then I made, like, four desserts, one richer than the next.
SHAPIRO: The editor ate and ate and ate.
REICHL: And at the end of the evening, she was kind of looking sort of green.
SHAPIRO: And then hours later and still very, very full, she left.
REICHL: She walked down those five flights just thinking I'm alive, I'm alive. I'm going home (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Embarrassing, sure, but also a learning experience.
REICHL: I was 21, and I didn't know that a meal is - you have to think of it from one end to the other - don't do bang, bang bang.
SHAPIRO: And to put these disasters in perspective, Reichl says it's just one meal. There's always another one.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We want to cook now, we want to cook now, we want to cook now, we want to cook now, we want to cook now...
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