Iconic chef, extraordinary culinary teacher, television and social media personality, prolific author and philanthropist, Jacques Pépin (aged 87 next month) continues to amaze with his energy and artistry. The recent publication of his 31st book, Art of the Chicken: paintings, stories and recipes from a master chef of the Humble Bird (published by Harvest Books, an imprint of William Morrow / HarperCollins Publishers), is already a bestseller. The 228-page hardcover—an endearing look at Pépin’s successful life—offers a wealth of chicken and egg recipes from around the world, described for readers not in the typical list of ingredients, but rather as stories, as though Pépin at standing by your side, in your home, suggesting to you, as a friend would informally, how to cook a favorite dish, such as Arroz with Pollo or Southern Fried Chicken or Coq au Vin or The very best French toast. Reading his written words, fans of Pépin will likely also “hear” his soothing French-accented voice, which can be easily identified by watching his KQED PBS-TV cooking series, as well as videos on YouTube and Facebook. His essays, spiced with humorous and poignant anecdotes, illuminate Pépin’s leaps – from a childhood in France, helping his mother in his family’s small village restaurant, then leaving home forever at age 13 to be apprenticed in strict cuisines from esteemed European restaurants; managing intoxicating, dazzling jobs, such as personal chef to French President Charles de Gaulle; and moving to the United States, to continue his award-winning professional trajectory. Still, the main focus this makes new ones book distinctive from all his others is the inclusion, for the first time, of nearly 100 paintings by Pépin, some of which are shown below. To view an attractive TBEN interview with him, go to Legendary chef Jacques Pépin, 86, on the joys of Thanksgiving, traveling, helping others and not slowing down. If you’re interested in a Pépin signed fine art print or original artwork, go here.
In Art of the ChickenIn Pépin’s introduction, Pépin writes, “I don’t paint as long as I cook, but it’s been more than half a century since I picked up a brush instead of a knife and started to find creative fulfillment through another outlet. About fifty years ago I started a tradition of writing down and keeping the menus of the dinner parties we had at home. I illustrated my menus with whimsical images of animals, flowers, fruits, vegetables, vines, landscapes. Only after acquiring a thick stack of these mementos did I realize that an unusually high percentage of my drawings depicted chickens, often in comical, mischievous poses. I reimagined the birds as leeks, cabbage, pineapple, artichoke – wherever my brush led me. Time and time again I painted chickens, and they have been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for me.” His resulting oil and acrylic canvases – expressive, perceptive, lively and playful – are certainly feathers on Pépin’s cap.
Art of the Chicken unfolds 12 lively chapters. Pépin begins by explaining the theme of the book: “Proust had his madeleine, I have chickens. As a chef, I am amazed at the humble bird’s contributions to world cuisine. As an artist, I am amazed by the iridescent colors and varied beauty of its plumage. And the little boy still inside of me never tires of watching the social interactions and antics of chickens, whether they’re pecking and foraging in American farmyards or on the edges of streets in developing countries. Whether I am in France, China, Italy, Spain, Africa, Mexico, Greece, Canada or here in the United States, the rooster crowing at dawn is a universal language proclaiming the triumph of light over darkness. .. [It] registers something peaceful and comforting, like church bells ringing in the morning in France. I wake up in a friendly world.”
Curl up with great stories about his friendship with Julia Child and their hit TV show. Pépin and Child could never agree on the ideal way to roast a chicken, but they did agree that “one of the greatest pleasures in life is a perfectly roasted chicken served with a sauce that is made from the brown bits left in the frying pan. Other celeb-rich chestnuts pepper the pages, like the surprise Best Chicken Salad, dreamed up by famed actor and comedian Danny Kaye.
“I was born and raised in Bresse, a region about thirty-five kilometers northeast of Lyon,” says Pépin. “In France, Bresse is synonymous with [its] delicious chickens … as Bordeaux is with good wine. Besides being delicious, the chickens of my home region are beautiful creatures, large with striking blue legs, brilliant white feathers and bright red combs: blue, white, red — the colors of the French flag.”
“Discovering new foods helps you understand people, learn more about yourself and appreciate other cultures,” insists Pépin. “I have traveled all over the world enjoying chicken recipes from America to Russia, from Italy to Africa. During my travels I have always been amazed by the power of food to bring people together.”
“These recipes are meant to appeal to your imagination, to the poet within you,” Pépin muses. “This book wants you to dream of succulent food, of happy memories and of the generosity of sharing your table…”
There are all sorts of hints woven into the text. On eggs (because how could he show a book about chickens and not include eggs?), Pépin recommends: “High quality eggs from chickens that have been fed a good diet and are allowed to flutter, run and forage freely are the premium well worth the prices they command I honestly admit I am normally a cheapskate in the kitchen My narrow mindedness stems both from being a child of the war years and from growing up in my mother’s restaurant, who could make great dishes with scarce meager ingredients Organic produce is great but I buy conventionally when it’s fresh and only half or a third of the price Similarly, except on special occasions I tend to buy the to favor wines that are young and cost less than twenty dollars a bottle over an expensive one Grand Cru. That said, if possible, don’t cut corners when buying eggs. Buy the best quality organic eggs you can afford.”
“Cooking for someone is the purest expression of love, and sharing food with friends or strangers is a great equalizer,” confirms Pépin, embracing a particularly appropriate memory for this Thanksgiving week.