Lessons from Jacques Pépin

We love that we live close enough to walk to the Ferry Plaza, where CUESA puts on farmers markets every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. They offer a free chef series with live demos from chefs from all over San Francisco and beyond.  As soon as we heard that legendary Chef Jacques Pépin was going to be demonstrating, I (Sarah) jumped at the opportunity to see him! We both watched him on television growing up and fondly remember him cooking alongside Julia Child. Chef Pépin has written countless cookbooks and is also an artist with a new line of housewares inspired by his art.

Chef Jacques Pépin talks about batters and cooking.
The Taste SF watches Chef Jacques Pépin cracks an egg
Chef Jacques Pépin fries eggplant in San Francisco

My friend Kate and I popped over just in time to grab a seat. The Thursday farmers market is busy with lots of people on their lunch break from the financial district stopping over to get noodles, a porchetta sandwich, or to pick up some fresh produce. The crowd was huge as everyone wanted to see Chef Pépin! In this demonstration, he made a fried eggplant using a long Japanese varietal dipped in a batter. There was time for questions which included lessons on oil, eggplants, restaurants, and how to make batter (use cold water).

We learned that Chef Pépin likes to know what his oil is made out of. Rather than use vegetable oil, he would prefer something like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, etc. What vegetables are in vegetable oil? Good question. Point well made! We also learned that good restaurants re-use their oil. Who knew? Watch the video below to hear a bit of the process from Chef Pépin himself.

We’ve learned to get the moisture out of eggplants, however, Chef Pépin said that sometimes it’s okay to keep the moisture and have a soft center to your eggplant. I guess it all depends on your dish and what you’re feeling like.

fried eggplant made by Chef Jacques Pépin

I’m always curious to know what chef’s eat for breakfast. We’re not huge breakfast eaters ourselves but we’re always looking for inspiration. Chef Pépin does not partake in breakfast. He told us that instead, he drinks strong coffee with cream. When his granddaughter visits, he likes to make her crepes along with a selection of jams so she can make her own creation. He also suggested that people get children into the kitchen. According to Chef Pépin, food is comfort as children. We think of things we ate when we were young. That might be clam chowder to one person or chicken pot pie to another. His recommendation is to start, use something they like, for example chocolate. One of the first recipes he made with his granddaughter was made with cereal.

Jacques Pépin talks to the crowd in San Francisco.

Chef Pépin had an interesting perspective on chefs and restaurants. Restaurants and customers are always looking for the next big thing, the next innovative restaurant or food fad (sometimes it feels like wherever you go you’re getting something similar), but we don’t value the restaurants we can go back to time after time and know and eat food that is uniquely their own. This has inspired us to visit some of the iconic restaurants of San Francisco, the tried and true restaurants that have made the base of San Francisco cuisine.

flowers at the ferry plaza CUESA farmers market in San Francisco
tomatoes at ferry plaza CUESA farmers market in San Francisco

After Chef Pépin was done, we grabbed some supplies, ate lunch at the Imperial Tea Room, and walked home in the warm sun. There’s nothing like a good walk along the Embarcadero along the water! Thank you, Chef Pépin, for a lovely day.

Chef Jacques Pépin visits CUESA in San Francisco and points to a girl who's friends with his granddaughter.

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