Jacques Pépin’s chook, of sorts

Some time last week I was watching the MAD conference, letting the day’s hours pass by with all too much ease. MAD is certainly something that would bore most people, but it was one of the talks that really piqued my interest. It was Jacques Pépin, the 80-year-old food stalwart, who kept me watching. Jacques talked through his childhood and his food story, about his mother and the first chef he worked with. He talked about how his name evolved from a grunt to something a little more identifiable, the further up the food chain he moved. He looked back at what his mother would cook for him on the family’s tight budget. Whiting, old mushrooms, vegetables. The food is just as much as part of him as anything else, it’s part of the fabric stitched together, to create this fascinating man.

 

It’s was mesmerizing. That’s not just because it was Jacques, the master of French cuisine. It was what he was doing with his hands that entire time. I’ve seen plenty of shows of Jacques’. He’s softly spoken, his paternal calmness is soothing. All the while he’s doing some incredible work with his hands and a sharp blade – he’s the coolest cucumber you’d ever come across. What he’s doing is eviscerating a chicken, then taking each and every bone out to create a galantine.

“It’s easier to show than to explain in words.”

He talks about osmosis. I for one complete agree with his notion that the best way to learn is to follow someone else, to learn from their mere presence and absorbing, the personal touches come a little bit later. So that’s what I did, I tried to do what he was doing with that chicken.

It certainly wasn’t an easy endeavour, probably  the hardest thing I’ve tried in a while. Having said that, it’s not that difficult: monkey see, monkey do. While he decided to fill his hen with some deliciously unaffordable mushrooms and herbs, I couldn’t afford that. I substituted it with some chorizo, spinach and some Portobello mushrooms (reduced-to-clear, thanks mate). Trussing the chicken was a breeze and the end result was fantastic. I made sure not to over cook the chicken, dry chicken is a waste of a chook’s life – frankly an insult.

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It ended up perfect. I can’t explain the feeling of elation that I have when I nail something, it’s indescribable. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction I don’t think I get from anything else. I then am able to make others happy.

Going back to what Jacques was talking about, his food story. I thought my food story only really began recently, with my appointment as a reporter for the country’s best food magazine, Cuisine magazine. But it’s not really about that, because no matter whether you’re a plumber of a lawyer, our food stories extend as far back as our memories do. We all have one. It all stems from the first taste of something you feel is truly transcendent, the taste of that food that is inextricably linked to family or experiences. For me, I cannot explain just one. There are too many, so I guess there are already chapters in this book.

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