Ask famed chef (and one of our all-around favorite people) Jacques Pépin what his most important job is, and he just might say “grandfather.” In his latest book, A Grandfather’s Lessons, he explores the lessons taught (and learned) in the kitchen with his granddaughter and constant cooking companion, Shorey.
Full of recipes, life lessons and delightful stories, we think it’s a pretty special book—but don’t just take our word for it. Here’s a sneak peek.
Excerpted from the Introduction of A Grandfather’s Lessons by Jacques Pépin. Used with permission.
I have always cooked for my family. Even when I was a child, I cooked with my mother or for her or for my brothers or my father—and later on, for my wife, Gloria, and for my daughter, Claudine. I held Claudine in my arms when she was a couple of years old and let her stir the soup pot or mix the salad. She would get all excited and insist that she “had made it,” and she could not wait to taste it. It was her production. It is important to have a child spend time in the kitchen. The most secure, comfortable, loving place in the house. The smell of food cooking, your mother’s or father’s voice, the clang of the utensils, and the taste of food; these memories will stay with you for the rest of your life. The purpose of this simple book about cooking with Shorey, my granddaughter, is to show how spending time together in the kitchen can enhance your life as well as your relationship.
My cooking has changed a great deal in the last thirty years, but regardless of the style or the food, traditions remain important at our house. Sitting down together for dinner is an essential part of our daily life. So for this book, I wanted to cook things with Shorey, dishes that she likes. And now that she is thirteen, I also wanted to teach her through simple, logical steps that she could understand. I wanted to prepare food that is plain but elegant and, more than anything, I wanted it to be fun. I have always liked to simplify the steps of cooking to get to the essentials, and I always place more emphasis on taste than on presentation. I wanted Shorey to tell me, “Papi, this is really good!” Like most children, she is very honest—if she likes something, she tells you; if she doesn’t, she tells you that as well.
Shorey is precocious in her food tastes, which is understandable, considering that her father, Rollie, is a chef and her mother, my daughter, Claudine, cooks every day for the family, using the best and freshest possible food available, either from their garden or from organic markets nearby. When she was about two years old, I asked Shorey if she liked blueberries. She responded, “Oh yes, I love blueberries. They have a lot of antioxidants in them.” I barely knew that word! She is precocious, curious, and inquisitive. From the age of five, whenever she came to our house, she liked to stand next to me at the counter on an upside-down wooden box so she could “help” me cook. She would do small jobs, like wash the lettuce, pass me the ingredients or tools, or go into the garden with me to pick herbs that she would taste and help me clean.
Shorey is a gourmand and eats almost everything because, just as it was with Claudine when she was a child, her parents don’t give her a choice: Dinner comes to the table, and whether it is spinach, string beans, squash, tomatoes, poultry, or fish, that is dinner. So she grew up loving artichokes, Brussels sprouts, and spinach, just as Claudine did. I think it is a mistake to feed children something other than what is on the family menu or to reward them for eating spinach or Brussels sprouts. There are exceptions, of course. I know Shorey is not crazy about my tripe and headcheese, but that’s okay; I know that eventually that will change. What is important is to put the meal on the table and engage in conversation while enjoying it.
For this book, I wanted to feature dishes that Shorey would have fun making. For example, my Curly Dogs with Pickle Relish (page 90) demonstrated a way of cutting hot dogs so they curl. She likes fish, so we made Salmon for Grandma (page 76), as well as Lemon Sole with Butter and Lemon (page 70), which she prepares with her mother. Sometimes we enjoyed just eating radishes and butter in the French way (see Radis au Beurre, page 17). We created a kind of dressing called mayogrette, a mixture of vinaigrette and mayonnaise, that we used to dress a potato salad (see page 39). We also made Garlic Spinach with Croutons (page 135), which she adores, and Mashed Potatoes with Garlic (page 132). Like me, Shorey loves pasta, so we prepared Macaroni, Spinach, and Ham Gratin (page 114) and Bow-Tie Pasta in Garden Vegetable Sauce (page 110). She had a blast making a big one-dish meal of Sausage, Potatoes, Onions, and Mushrooms en Papillote (page 102), which she made again for her dad’s birthday.
More than anything else, though, Shorey likes to make desserts. We made a special raspberry cake (Shorey’s Raspberry Cake, page 146) that she has baked for her mother’s birthday, and a Strawberry Shortcake (page 142). Chocolate desserts are her favorite, so she particularly liked making Chocolate, Nut, and Fruit Treats (page 158).
Most of all, I wanted us to spend time together. I also wanted to teach her respect for ingredients. In the videos that we filmed with these recipes, she has a natural way of handling food, which helps her recover, even when she makes a mistake. Her innate elegance and poise are evident on film.
Shorey is thoughtful in giving me or her grandmother, father, or mother compliments, because she has a kind disposition and good manners, and she always smiles. We loved doing the show on table manners, where she corrected the way I sat at the table, my speaking with my mouth full, putting my elbows on the table, interrupting her when she spoke, slouching at the table and the like. Shorey has very clear and precise opinions about life, cooking, school, and fun. She tells us bluntly what she likes and dislikes about cooking, what her favorite part of the meal is, and she remembers her first dish and the best restaurant she has eaten in. Of course, I think she is brilliant, but it is the prerogative of a grandfather to boast about his granddaughter.
Great meals are always the ones that are shared with family and friends. For me, that started many, many years ago in France and continued with Gloria and Claudine after I came to America. Now I’m sure that our family traditions, our kitchen legacy, will continue with Shorey.
A Grandfather’s Lessons is available online and in stores now, and don’t forget to watch the companion video series—full of additional recipes and tips, plus more Jacques and Shorey—at www.surlatable.com/jacquespepin.