American Masters

How Jacques Pépin’s “La Technique” changed modern cooking

Transcript

Settling in to a more manageable life in Connecticut,Jacques turned to writing.

He had spent years watching Americans cook, and was convinced they were missing something very basic.

I may not have thought of telling people howto peel a carrot, or whatever.

I thought it was a given - people know that - but they say, 'oh! that's how you peel a carrot?'

I say, 'yes.'

He just kept seeing that everybody did all these things not quite right, and somehow there is a bar, there is a way to do things, and, uh, he wanted to show that way.

So Jacques had this book in mind.

Working in his home kitchen with a photographer taking some 6,000 pictures, Jacques demonstrated everything from basic butchery to fine decoration.

It was an entirely new idea: a cookbook without recipes.

He called it, simply, 'La Technique.'

Jacques deconstructed all the moments in whichyour hands and food interact.

The breadth and depth of his knowledge is really astounding.

I don't know anyone who could do what he did.

He created a bible.

Nobody told him what to do.

He knew it at the time - that's what every new chef should know.

As a young 15-year-old sitting in my kitchen in Elizabeth, New Jersey, this book opened up this idea of the possibility of what cooking could be.

And I think what he said was, 'Don't treat this as a cookbook.

Treat it as an apprenticeship.'

And I really took that to heart, and so Iwould work through the book.

I would go out and buy celery because it was really inexpensive and practice knife skills.

And, you know, there's also some funny stuff in there, too, like how to make a rabbit out of an olive.

That was always like a little parlor trick, you know, you can impress your girlfriend, like, 'hey - look what I can do: an olive.'

Back then, the idea of a chef was someone in a wife beater with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth stirring red sauce, and my career could have gone in that direction, um, but La Technique clearly informed me thatthere was a lot more out there.

So it just completely opened these doors.

You look at Julia Child, and she was introducing you to a world around food, and the dishes themselves.

But what Jacques did, was he deconstructed how to do it, so that you could feel empowered.

It's the greatest novel of empowerment, butit happens to be a cookbook.


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