By ROCHELLE OLSON
In more than two decades as a reporter, I’ve met/encountered/interviewed the famous and the infamous – presidents, star athletes, rock stars, movie stars and convicted killers. It’s my job. After all this time, I don’t get nervous, but I can be apprehensive when the celebrity is someone I’ve enjoyed for years. I worry the person won’t live up to the image.
Like my brief brush with Mick Jagger years ago, my studio interview of Jacques Pepín exceeded my hopes.
I’d like to say I’m a devotee of Pepín’s method, that I’ve worked my way through a third copy of “La Technique,” but I’m mostly a fan and a Francophile with a passion for Paris dreaming of the next time I can walk past the Tuilieries at dusk.
On his shows, Pepín charms, slices, dices and sautes while sharing sweet anecdotes and mildly mischievous asides. He seems so familiar and friendly it’s easy to forget he cooked for Charles DeGaulle and created food with Pierre Franey for the entire Howard Johnson hotel chain in its heyday.
He quickly assuaged my concerns with his calm, relaxed attitude. (If you’re unfamiliar with him, google his YouTube videos on omelet making. Fun and informative as always.)
On camera, Pepín’s flawless. No fumbling or mumbling, just ease. Only a couple of times was he asked to do a second take for this episode. And each was a notch better than the first.I watched the taping on Monday at San Francisco’s KQED and expected to return Wednesday for an interview. But after all the audience members had posed for photos, Pepín and his producers called me over for a shot. I followed orders.
Since I was standing next to him, I started asking questions. Then he asked if I wanted a glass of pinot noir. He was still drinking his wine from the show. I don’t usually drink on the job, but at this time, on the set with Pepín, I responded, “When Jacques Pepín offers a glass of wine, who am I to say no?”
Pepín decided he had time before his afternoon taping to sit for an interview in the green room. Once inside, he asked a producer to get some more wine for us – chenin blanc left over from the show.
Now remember I had gone into the interview wary that the real-life Jacques would be justifiably less amusing than TV Jacques. Instead, here I was relaxing and on my second glass of wine with the great Jacques Pepin – the man who cooked with Julia and any other significant chef in the past 50-some years.
And he was more down-to-earth and direct than I expected. He didn’t bristle at any questions. He was also much more handsome than he appears on TV. He has these deep brown eyes and is as handsome as an older George Clooney – if the movie star had that adorable French accent.
So here are a few snippets I learned that didn’t make my recent story in print:
When I asked about Julia, he told the story about how his neighbor, reporter Morley Safer, asked for an introduction to Julia ahead of a planned “60 Minutes” profile. Safer, most likely, was hoping to warm up his subject before sitting down with cameras.
Pepín shook his head as he recalled telling Safer, “I can introduce you, but it won’t matter. Julia is Julia.”
Still, he and Safer attended one of Julia’s public events. Pepín didn’t recall the first question from an audience member, but he did recall Child’s response: “What a stupid question.”
He met Julia after a publishing agent asked him to read her manuscript for “The Art of French Cooking.” Pepin recalled the agent saying, “I’ve met this very big woman with a terrible voice.” He gave the manuscript a thumbs up – and eventually teamed with Child for their own famous cooking series.
Pepín won’t retire. “What would I do? Now I get up every day at the crack of 10 a.m. I am not an early riser.” But he’s got a heavy schedule of public appearances, cooking events, petanque playing (a French game of tossing metal hollow balls, similar to bocce ball), walking his dogs and hanging out with his wife of 49 years, Gloria.
He hasn’t been to Paris in more than a decade. In the past when he would travel to France, it was to see his mother near Lyon where he grew up. He saw her last summer and she died soon after at 99 1/2, he notes.
He paints as a hobby and considers Picasso the master of the 20th century.
Because he never owned or ran a restaurant, Pepin said, “I didn’t have to worry much about what I said.”
As he’s grown older, Pepin said, “I like things much more spicy than I used to.”
He repeatedly praised simplicity. “Imagination is not something I’m crazy about. Sometimes they can really screw up the meal,” he said.
He likes teaching his granddaughter Shorey how to cook. “The kitchen is the right place to be after school – the noise, the smell of it – all that stays with you the rest of your life.”
Follow Rochelle Olson on Twitter: @rochelleolson
More and more dining-out options are becoming available on Thanksgiving. Here are 20 (very) last-minute ideas (reservations, when available, are strongly suggested):
At Cosmos, the gorgeous dining room (pictured, above) inside the Graves 601 Hotel, chef John Occhiato makes Thanksgiving special with a sumptuous three-course dinner ($45 adults, $12 children ages 12 and under), with multiple choices in each course (check it out here). The smooth, professional service is an added bonus.
The Beacon Public House, the stylish restaurant inside the equally stylish Commons Hotel (formerly the not-so-stylish Radisson University Hotel), is offering a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for $35 per person, and everyone leaves with a turkey sandwich. Here’s a nice twist: bring in non-perishable food items and exchange them for raffle tickets. The grand prize is an overnight stay at the hotel, and dinner for two at the Beacon.
The lovely main-floor dining room at newcomer Marin Restaurant & Bar (in the Le Meridien Chambers Hotel) is a fine venue for a four-course holiday celebration (find the menu here), brought to you by the same team behind St. Louis Park’s health-conscious Mill Valley Kitchen. The $45 per person cost includes a glass of wine.
You won't find a traditional Thanksgiving spread at Bank in the Westin Hotel -- the restaurant is sticking to its standard menu. Still, the setting is one of the city's stunners, the landmark art moderne banking hall of the former Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank.
A brunch with all the usual Thanksgiving suspects is on the brunch menu at the Marquette Hotel, which is kicking open the doors of its Windows on Minnesota -- on the gasp-worthy 50th floor of the IDS Tower -- for the big event. Cost is $41 per person, which includes free parking in the convenient IDS Center parking ramp.
The historic Nicollet Island Inn is preparing a four-course meal (with a choice of three entrees: roast turkey, prime rib or broiled walleye) in its charming riverside dining room, for $68 per person.
The comfortable and attractive Bloomington Chophouse in the Hilton Minneapolis/Bloomington is putting out a turkey-and-trimmings-and-more buffet ($35 adults, $17 children ages 6 to 12, free for children under age 5).
How about a steak? Manny's Steakhouse in the W Hotel is open for business. Splurge on the menu's 85-day aged bone-in rib eye. A few blocks away, another steakhouse -- the Capital Grille -- is also serving dinner on the holiday.
At the Mall of America, Black Friday early birds can slip into the Napa Valley Grille for its a la carte menu, which includes butternut squash soup with petipas ($4 and $6) and roasted turkey with cranberries, garlic mashed potatoes and a savory bread pudding for $17.
The News Room is marking the holiday with a three-course ($24.95) dinner that features roasted butternut squash soup, roast turkey with a Brussels sprout casserole and maple glazed sweet potatoes. Dessert? An apple-sage bread pudding topped with a cranberry compote.
Although expats can enjoy the regular bangers-and-mash menu at Merlins Rest, the kitchen at this British Isles pub also embraces its American side, serving a $15.75 dinner that includes wild rice soup, turkey breast braised in Finnegans Beer, a potato-parsnip mash, herb stuffing, Yorkshire pudding and pie.
Perenially popular Stanley’s Northeast Bar Room is putting together a T-giving dinner — turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy and more — for $11, with a $15 all-you-can-eat option.
At Common Roots Cafe, owner Danny Schwartzman is thinking of adding some kind of turkey daily special but will otherwise concentrate on its regular daytime fare. “We’ve learned that what people really want on Thanksgiving is to have brunch away from their families,” he said with a laugh.
Across the street, the words organic, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free are all on chef George Lohr's $35-per-person menus at the French Meadow Bakery & Cafe. Farm-to-table, too, with turkey from Wild Acres Game Farm in Pequot Lakes, Minn.
Chef David Fhima is offering a handful of Thanksgiving-inspired appetizers and entrees -- along with his standard menu -- at lively Faces Mears Park, starting at 3 p.m.
Spasso is putting out a Thanksgiving buffet ($19.95 adults, $12.95 children ages 11 and under) and serving its extensive, retail-price wine list, too.
To satisfy some truly last-minute Thanksgiving shopping needs, some Twin Cities supermarkets, grocers and natural foods co-ops will be open on Thursday, including:
Dragon Star Oriental Foods (633 W. Minnehaha Av., St. Paul), open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Eastside Food Co-op in Minneapolis, open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul, open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Both branches of Mississippi Market in St. Paul, open 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Seward Co-op in Minneapolis, open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sun Foods (544 University Av. W., St. Paul), open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Select Twin Cities Walmart Supercenters, open 24 hours.
Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis (pictured, above), open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
All six Twin Cities Whole Foods Market locations, open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (some stores open at 7 a.m.)
Several bakeries are also serving customers on Thanksgiving, including:
All three Minneapolis locations of the Turtle Bread Co., open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A Baker’s Wife’s Pastry Shop in Minneapolis, open 6:30 to noon. 729 6898
Patrick's Bakery & Cafe in Richfield, open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Lucia’s to Go in Uptown Minneapolis, open 8 a.m. to noon.
All Twin Cities Bakers Square locations are open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
My Thanksgiving wish? A better photograph of the magnificent turkey that I've been making for the past six years.
If I posted the one that I snapped from my (not-so-great) Android smartphone from Thanksgiving 2012, no one would continue reading this post. Not pretty. And I'm usually so busy getting dinner ready that it doesn't occur to me to stop for a moment and snap a food-porn image for Facebook posterity.
Instead, I'll run the image from the cover of Saveur magazine, November 2007, which featured a you-can't-believe-how-amazing-this-is recipe for the ultimate Thanksgiving turkey. Wait, doesn't that sound like a food magazine cover blurb: "THE ULTIMATE THANKSGIVING TURKEY'?
Truth to tell, that's exactly what it is. Naturally, it's the handiwork of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the gilded-voiced center of The Splendid Table universe. Her recipe (find it here) goes to considerable pains to insert flavor -- in this case, the tail end of apple season -- into turkey, which, if we are honest with ourselves, is not exactly the most flavorful of animal proteins.
Most of that autumn apple goodness materializes via an overnight brine, one that's composed of pureed apples and apple cider. Rossetto Kasper balances the fruit's sweetness with plenty of garlic and chile powder, then finishes with fragrant basil. A third nod to apples comes in the form of apple brandy, a building block for a remarkably robust gravy.
Prior to embracing the Lynne Rossetto Kasper Path to Thanksgiving Enlightenment, I'd never brined a turkey. Now I can't imagine our Thanksgiving turkey any other way. This is one sublimely juicy bird, and the various complementary notes sneak into each bite in a nuanced chorus of whispers rather than shouts.
Another bonus: This is one great-looking Thanksgiving table centerpiece, glowing with a crisp, deeply browned, caramelized skin (photo, above, from Saveur and photographer Landon Nordeman). My suggestion is that you show it off to your guests (what cook doesn't like to hear oohs and aahs?) before carving it, if a tableside knife show isn't part of your itinerary.
The multi-step recipe may seem daunting at first. But persevere. It's detailed, yes. But complicated? No. Just make sure you read it carefully, several times, and several days before starting. After going through it once, first-hand, you'll understand its inherent logic and simplicity.
I'll admit that I cheat with the gravy (don't tell Lynne) by dispensing with the whole making-the-broth routine. Although it's not a terribly time consuming step in the process, I prefer to channel my limited time into other cooking tasks.
I buy it. Not from the supermarket, but from Clancey's Meats & Fish in Linden Hills. Not only Clancey's version a far more convenient alternative than preparing it myself, but the deeply flavorful results are better than anything I could hope to make, not only for gravy, but for basting the stuffing.
Another Thanksgiving tradition? Buying our turkey at Clancey's, which owner Kristen Tombers imports from Wild Acres Game Farm in Pequot Lakes, Minn. It's a superior-quality product, and since the turkey is the sun around which the Thanksgiving solar system revolves, the splurge, price-wise, is more than worth the investment.
One last suggestion: While you're preparing this awe-inspiring turkey on Thursday, tune into "Turkey Confidential," Rossetto Kasper's annual live (and entertaining) Thanksgiving Q&A, with guests Michael Pollan, Mario Batali, Ted Allen, Alexandra Guarnaschelli and Pati Jinich. Catch it from 10 a.m. to noon on Minnesota Public Radio. In the Twin Cities, find it on KNOW, 91.1 FM, or listen to the program's live-stream.
The cake that wowed readers of the Taste section last year around Valentine's Day impressed those in charge at Williams-Sonoma, too.
Now the cake is available from Williams-Sonoma for those more inclined to buy it ready-made ($99.95), prepared by Platine Bakery of Los Angeles and shipped frozen. The cake also got a shout-out in People magazine (see left).
Want to check out the cake in person? This weekend Ross will be at the Williams-Sonoma stores at the Mall of America (Saturday, 1 to 3 p.m.) and the Galleria (Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m.). No samples, but plenty of visuals.
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