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.)