If anyone you know has learned how to roast a chicken or make the perfect omelet, there is a not-insignificant chance Jacques Pépin taught them. Over the course of six decades, Pépin has been a constant presence in the American kitchen, through television shows, memoirs, and cookbooks. His 1976 tome, La Technique, continues to be a vade mecum for home chefs.
Part of what makes Pépin great and his work so resonant is that he has always cooked with and for his family: his wife, Gloria, and his daughter, Claudine. In his new book, A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen with Shorey, the 81-year-old heads into the kitchen with his 13-year-old granddaughter, Shorey. Cooking together, said Pepin from his home in Connecticut, took some adjustment. “Frankly, when you speak with a teenager at my age, communication is limited,” he laughed before noting that his hands were still faster on a knife (and slower on a phone). Pépin admits to being much less strict with his granddaughter than he was with Claudine, but he still wants to get it right. He cares about technique. He wrote the book on it.
Still, he’s prouder of his family than that book. Pepin took the Fatherly Questionnaire at his home, which one imagines smells great.
What is your name?
Professional chef and a cook at home.
How old are your child/children?
I have one daughter, 49 years old. I have one grandchild, 13 years old.
What are their names?
My daughter’s name is Claudine. My granddaughter’s name is Shorey.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
Shorey was named after Claudine’s husband’s grandmother. Claudine was named after my grandmother.
Do you have any cute nicknames for your child?
Claudine’s nickname is Titine. I call Shorey baby girl.
What do they call you?
Claudine used to call me Tati, like Jacques Tati. Shorey calls me Papi.
How often do you see them?
They live an hour and a half from us in Rhode Island. We see them every couple of weeks.
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Loving. Too fat. I drink too much wine.
Describe yourself as a grandfather in three words.
Loving. Fun. Happy.
Describe your father in three words.
Fun. Fun. Fun.
Describe your grandfathers in three words.
Dead. Dead. Dead. Both my grandfathers died in a trench somewhere in the first World War. I never met them.
What are your strengths as a father?
I am consistent in my love and in my life. I’m someone you can rely on.
What are your weaknesses as a father?
I’m too impatient.
Relatedly, what is your biggest regret as a father?
Not to have spent as much time as I should have when Claudine was really small. I have no regrets as a grandfather. She lives close to me but far enough away.
What is your favorite activity to do with your children, that is, your special father-kid thing?
Certainly it involves some type of cooking: marketing, gardening, cooking, enjoying. In, addition, we play petanque. We have a court in our home.
What has been the moment you were the most proud as a parent? Why?
Certainly when Claudine graduated from college, and then after, when she got married. I was proud not that she got married but that she married the right person. Now as a grandfather, I am proud that she’s done very well with my granddaughter, probably better than I did with her.
What heirloom did your father give to you, if any?
My father was a cabinet maker in Bourg-en-Bresse in the east of France. He was active in the Resistance during World War II. Both heirlooms have to do with that. The first is an Iron Cross from Hitler’s Army that he picked up from a Nazi he killed. The second is a type of wooden vice screw he had made. It was a symbol of his trade.
What heirloom do you want to leave for your children, if anything?
Describe the “Dad Special” for dinner.
Whatever is in the garden or in the fridge. As my wife and I get older, we have what we call “fridge soup.” It’s just a mix of whatever we have laying around.
Describe the “Grandfather Special” for dinner.
Chocolate. Shorey loves it when I melt chocolate into a tiny muffin or paper cup. Before it sets I put in walnuts, hazelnuts, mint, fresh fruit. I put it in the fridge and half-an-hour later, it’s solid.
Are you religious and are you raising your children in that tradition?
No, I am not religious in the context of organized religion. As a friend of mine used to say, “I’m an atheist, thank God!” I was born a Catholic but I have moved away from organized religion. I am writing, however, something for the Pope who is doing a book with elderly people, their love and their struggles.
What is a mistake you made growing up that you want to ensure your child does not repeat?
That’s a good question but I would say there are no such thing as mistakes. My life was determined from moving one direction to another, coming to America, becoming a cook. Whatever decision you make, it projects you somewhere. There are no mistakes, just the fact that you have to live with it. You make your bed, you have to sleep in it.
How do you make sure your kid knows you love him or her?
Cooking is the purest expression of love. You always cook for someone. You cook for the other. You have to put some love into it.