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Jacques Pepin in San Francisco - 4.18..12

My sister and I saw Jacques Pepin and San Francisco/Oakland chef/restauranteur Daniel Patterson (Coi, Plum, Haven, Il Cane Rosso) tonight at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. They were being interviewed by a woman (don’t remember her name but she was apparently with Gourmet Magazine for many years.) I hadn’t realized Jacques was sharing the bill with Patterson (I thought Patterson was interviewing Jacques, which was my own mistake). Jacques was lovely and charming, sharp if maybe a teensy bit tipsy, funny, irreverent and down-to-earth. He insisted they all drink wine, and kept refilling throughout the evening. Daniel was a bit too long-winded for us. Every answer he gave turned into a five-minute very earnest and humble dissertation. I really wanted to hear more Jacques!

Pepin spoke of meeting and working with Julia Child, and the incident when she cut her finger (with Jacques’ sharp knife, the only good piece of equipment on the set) just before going on air – the incident brilliantly spoofed by Dan Akroyd on SNL (a skit Julia loved). He talked about his time learning his craft at the Howard Johnson chain – a gig he chose over being the chef at the Kennedy White House. Both chefs spoke about being craftsmen rather than artists (although Jacques did say that the kind of cooking Patterson does at Coi is certainly artistry) and the importance of learning the basics, the skills, the mechanics of cooking – and learning them well, without which they felt no chef can ever become a great chef, Jacques felt that learning the fundamentals then frees you to explore your own style, break the rules, bring your voice to the kitchen.

He spoke of his daughter and now his granddaughter being in the kitchen since they were children, involved in the process, curious and unsqueamish at seeing animals butchered, and the importance of sitting down to dinner with the family for dinner every night. He recounted how Claudine (his daughter and co-host of at least 2-3 of his t.v. shows), had vowed to never be a chef, and studied philosophy and earned her degree in political science, and ended up becoming a wine seller and marrying a chef! Patterson said he wants his kids to become anything BUT chefs.

An audience member asked how they felt about the glut of television cooking shows, the competition-based ones and others. Daniel Patterson said humbly that he didn’t own a television set (and Jacques gallantly said that was because Patterson works in a restaurant and simply has no time to watch t.v.) However, Jacques chimed up and said he has seven t.v.s! Patterson bemoaned the competition shows, and doesn’t think most food-based shows are teaching anyone anything, but rather only teaching people to watch. Jacques said he thought it was all fine – after all, he has been a judge on Top Chef - and had just that day watched an episode of Man v. Food for the first time and was happily agog at someone eating a three-foot long philly cheese steak! He said it’s t.v., and it’s entertainment. In the end, they both said the fact that food has become such a huge focus is a good thing, even if it sometimes goes overboard.

The chefs were asked if there was any kind of food, any single thing that they did not like to eat or would not eat. Jacques said he really was quite a glutton, and if, at a table where he knew the chef, and the chef knew he was in the restaurant, if his wife didn’t like something on her plate and refused to eat it, Jacques would eat it, so as not to hurt the chef’s feelings. Both men said that chefs were there to please, and were very generous creatures.

When asked how they felt about the general public being able to review online every morsel they put out, and taking pictures of their food, both were of the opinion that chefs are just providing a service that a customer pays for, and it comes with the territory. Patterson likened it to being at a sporting event – you’re a paying customer, and it’s your right to boo if you don’t like what’s going on. This response for me backed up their view of themselves as craftsmen, in service to their customers, and not celebrities that must be worshiped.

Someone else asked the requisite question, what would you want as your last meal. Jacques said “well, my last meal would have to be a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very LONG meal!” Patterson waxed lyrical and said it was a morbid question, and it wouldn’t matter what he ate as long as he was eating it with friends and family, cooking in a beautifully appointed kitchen, etc. He ended by saying that he would want to eat something that was “good.” Jacques: “Wow, you should be a politician!” And my favorite Pepin line of the evening “Actually, if you know your last day is tomorrow you would have diarrhea and wouldn’t want to eat anything!”

Patterson wasn’t as annoying as I’m maybe making him out to be (and don't get me wrong, i LOVE Coi) – you could tell he was sincere and had an appreciation and respect for Jacques. But my sister noted he didn’t really add anything new to the dialogue, and he rambled on too long for our taste.

All in all an enjoyable evening but not enough Jacques. I don’t know why they just didn’t have someone interviewing him alone – there is certainly enough in that man’s fascinating life to fill hours of interview time. I get that they wanted someone local on the bill, someone younger, who cooks in a very different way than Jacques does (at least at Coi)… but… I wanted more Jacques!

(sorry for the fuzzy pic.)

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  1. Thanks for your write-up mc, interesting to read. I'm not so clear why they paired him with Patterson, are they friends? Just for local color? Who needs it. I'm sure I, too, would have preferred to see just Jacques.

    1 Reply
    1. re: L.Nightshade

      i'm not sure how well they know each other, though Jacques was familiar with Patterson's food (i'm wondering if he ate there while he was staying in town - he was here the day before, too, as i heard part of an interview on the radio.) maybe you're right - local color - Patterson is a big deal here, with 4 places now - and Coi is wonderful - it was our favorite really high end restaurant before Atelier Crenn. but yeah, all Jacques would have been great!

    2. <"Jacques felt that learning the fundamentals then frees you to explore your own style, break the rules, bring your voice to the kitchen.">

      That can be related to any skill or art and any workshop or studio and an educational philosophy I've subscribed to all my life. This man is a Master Teacher. What a marvelous experience you and your sister had... even though you didn't get enough Jacques.

      Many thanks for posting your review of the evening, Mariacarmen. You did well to give us an idea of what M. Pepin is ad lib. I didn't know who Daniel Patterson is but he sounds the direct opposite of Jacques.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gio

        yes, they both likened it to being a painter, or a mechanic, or anyone who is creating something with their hands. Kind of reminded me of the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

        I'm probably making Patterson out to be more of an annoyance than he was. He was just a little too earnest for my taste, but he was sincere.

      2. Thanks, mc. Enjoyed living vicariously for a few minutes.

        1 Reply
        1. Thanks for the review of the evening MC; sorry you didn't get all Jaque, all the time:) But, it sounds like a great evening none the less.

          1. Thanks for your delightful review of what certainly was a lovely evening, mc.

            I understand your wish for "more Jacques." I can truthfully say that for myself and others I know who know him, no matter how much time you get to spend with him, there is never "enough Jacques." In addition to being a "killer" chef and teacher, he is charming, gentle and generous.

            1 Reply
            1. Thanks for relating the evening in such detail, mariacarmen. I wish I'd known about it, as I might've tried to get a ticket! Have you read Pepin's memoir "The Apprentice"? If not, you ought to as it's a great dose of "more Jacques." He comes across as so charming in everything he does, and has had such an interesting career and life path.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                I've been so remiss - my sister lent me the cd set of that book AGES ago, and i've still not listened to them. i should have just picked up the book. but i will get to it! Thanks for the reminder Caitlin.

              2. "However, Jacques chimed up and said he has seven t.v.s! ...Jacques said he thought it was all fine – after all, he has been a judge on Top Chef - and had just that day watched an episode of Man v. Food for the first time and was happily agog at someone eating a three-foot long philly cheese steak! He said it’s t.v., and it’s entertainment."

                I am so glad to hear someone so accomplished and so secure in his craft admit to liking this stuff. Like he said, "it's entertainment." I respect Jacques a lot. Always have.

                Thanks for posting mariacarmen!

                1 Reply
                1. re: ttoommyy

                  i know, there's not a pretentious bone in his body!

                2. Sounds like a great evening mc! I had tix to see him speak in NY last fall and ended up missing the talk because I was sick. Your write-up has me looking forward to another opportunity to see him, as he sounds as charming and entertaining as I expected he would be.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: EM23

                    oooohhhh that would suck! i hope you get another chance....

                    although.... are you sure it actually happened? because we had tix to see him here in November 2011, but the show was postponed because he had hip surgery, and was rescheduled to April 2012. maybe yours was too...?

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      I think not as I kept calling the box office to check if it was still on and they confirmed that it was (I had read about him cancelling engagements due to the hip surgery). The actual talk was on Dec. 1 and he was signing his latest too so it did suck. Next book tour I hope ….

                  2. Great (and detailed) review!!

                    If you want more Jacques, read his amazing autobiography, "The Apprentice". If you thought he was a cool guy now, you'll be blown away at how cool he is after you read it.

                    Did you know he was a ski instructor?!?!
                    Did you know he was one course away from a PhD from Columbia?!?!

                    Truly an amazing dude. It's a great book and a quick read. Check it out if you haven't!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bart Hound

                      Thanks BH - yeah, i mentioned above that I have the CD set of that book and have still not gotten around to them! But maybe the book would be easier. I did know he was a ski instructor, but not about the Ph.D!

                    2. Looks like Pepin was on a bit of a media blitz in the bay area the last few days.

                      His talk on KQED's Forum (audio):

                      His talk at Google (video):

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Kirk_T

                        Thanks! I heard part of the KQED interview live, and will check out these links.

                        For the sake of accuracy, the woman who interviewed them at the Herbst was Barbara Fairchild, late of Bon Appetit, not Gourmet as i had it above in my original post.

                        1. re: Kirk_T

                          I greatly enjoyed that video. Mr. Pepin has always struck me as a very pleasant and interesting man.

                        2. ACK! He posted on my FB wall! Jacques Pepin read this!!! He said he was flattered and thanked me! he also said he was glad to be home.

                          HOW COOL IS THAT?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: mariacarmen

                            Good for you mariacarmen!
                            Just reinforces what I've thought of him all along: a true professional and gentleman.

                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              That is very cool! Promise to never wash your cheek, er, I mean, never whitewall your FB page.
                              How fun for you!

                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                That is great. I would love it if they released all of his cooking shows on dvd. Definitely my favorite teacher.

                              2. Maria,

                                You should have gone to the Prescott Hotel last Wednesday, April 18 for his 4:00pm-5:00pm book signing. There were only a handful of people there and you could have had Jacques to yourself. He graciously signed an older cookbook of mine "Encore with Claudine" which holds many of my favorite recipes. Through the years, I've attended a couple of KQED events honoring Jacques -- one was a dinner at the Left Bank. He came to each table and briefly conversed with everyone individually and inquired if we were enjoying the dinner menu that he put together. He also signed our cookbooks and asked us our favorite recipes. A dream come true. He is the master and my inspiration to prepare interesting dishes.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: carlch

                                  oh wow! bummed i missed that! but i was at work, and the event i wrote of above was later that evening. he apparently also had a pre-event thing in Herbst itself, with wine and book signing, that I also didn't know about.

                                  How lucky for you! thanks for sharing.