egendary chef Jacques Pépin offered many words of inspiration for chefs in his keynote speech to kick off the first-ever, ACF Virtual Convention, held August 3-5. In addition to talking about his experience as a young chef’s apprentice in France, he demonstrated several of his favorite dishes and answered a few questions sent in ahead of time from attendees as well as from Chef Rocco Paradiso, an ACF Tampa Bay member, who MC’ed the event.
“Many chefs have been heroes during this time, but that’s what we do; that’s our mission, and that never goes away,” Chef Pépin said. “We bring pleasure and comfort and life to people; there are no religious, political, racist or gender discrimination in what we do. Everyone is the same in the eye of the stove.”
Pépin noted that more chefs might be home cooking for their family and friends these days—maybe even for the first time—and that’s a good thing. “To cook with or for your family and friends is the greatest gift of love you can give. Sharing food and conversation around the table may be the ultimate expression of what civilization is—it has prevented wars, helped us make friends, discover talents and discover love. Never doubt the importance of what you do, especially now. So, keep cooking, sharing and bringing joy to all the people around you and happy cooking.”
Earlier in his talk, Pépin recounted the hard work he put in as a young apprentice chef, leaving his home in Lyon, France, at a very young age to work in a respected restaurant kitchen, miles away from his family. “Life was hard, but I didn’t realize it at the time,” says Chef Pépin , who clocked many hours in a day, 7 days a week with few days off. “But we were a happy group, invigorated by the excitement of the kitchen. We were taught to repeat, repeat, repeat procedures until our hands could accomplish them without having to think about what we were doing. I personally don’t think you can be a great chef until you are a great technician.”
When asked by a conference attendee what would be his ideal last meal, Chef Pépin joked that he doesn’t know how hungry he would be if he knew I was going to die in the next 24 hours, but if pressed for an answer, he said he would have a “very, very, very, very long meal that would include everything I love to eat, from caviar to hot dogs to caramelized egg to raspberries to Oreo cookies and I would definitely get drunk!”
If he had to choose with whom he would have his last meal, Chef Pépin said it would the most important people in his life, including his late mother, father and brother, wife Gloria and daughter Claudine, “and I would cook things they love to eat, not what I love.”
For a few minutes at the start of the session, Chef Paradiso asked several questions, including what is the “one culinary skill that still gives you a little heartburn,” or one that perhaps he hasn’t quite mastered yet. Chef Pépin said that the most challenging aspect of being a chef, but perhaps what ultimately makes a chef a chef, is knowing how to adjust a recipe or dish because no piece of fish or chicken is the same every time, or sometimes you’re in a bad mood or in a good mood, or it’s humid or it’s not humid. “You have to make adjustments all the time so it comes out the same, even though this is actually a paradox when writing recipes,” he said.
“Recover and adjust,” that’s how Chef Paradiso summed up a chef’s job, which he added, “is exactly what we need to hear because as chefs right now we’re all trying to recover and adjust to the times.”
Chef Pépin demonstrated several dishes during the session, including an apple swan garnish; baked salmon with Belgian endive; roast veal breast with root vegetables; crystalized wild rose petals; dandelion green salad with anchovy dressing and pancetta; timbale of salmon with cream cheese;
See below for some of the recipes we put together based on the demonstrations, and to watch the full presentation, visit the “On Demand Video” page after you log in to enter the event here.
Baked Salmon with Belgian Endive
For the salmon:
- 2 (5-ounce pieces salmon belly), skin removed
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- dash hot oil or hot sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
- Finely chopped chives, for garnish
For the endive:
- 1 large Belgian endive, halved
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Pinch each: salt and sugar
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- To prepare the endive, place each half, cut side down in a large, shallow saucepot. Add water, butter, salt and sugar. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce to a strong simmer. Cook endive until browned and water has completely evaporated, about 7-8 minutes. Cover and set aside in a warm part of the stove.
- Fold salmon ends underneath to make each piece equal in size and season with salt. In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup, oil or hot sauce and sesame oil. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the mixture on each piece of salmon and place, sauced side down, in a glass baking dish. Spread remaining mixture evenly on the top of each piece. Bake salmon until tender and still pink in the center for medium-rare doneness, about 7 minutes.
- To serve, transfer salmon pieces to the center of a platter. Set endive pieces on the sides next to each piece of salmon. Garnish with chives.
Roast Breast of Veal with Caramelized Root Vegetables and Natural Au Jus
- 1 (3-pound) veal breast (bone-in)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large onion, cut into 4 wedges
- 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 large russet potatoes, cut into 4 wedges each
- 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch thick slices
- 4 large mushrooms, cut into 4 wedges each
- Chopped fresh thyme and/or other fresh herbs, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 275°F.
- Season veal breast generously with salt and pepper. Heat a Dutch oven or large ovenproof dish to medium-high heat and sear veal, fat side down, until browned and fat has rendered, about 20-25 minutes.
- If desired, pour out the rendered fat or enough to leave behind 1-2 tablespoons. Add onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, cover and roast until veal is fork-tender, about 2 hours.
- Remove from the oven, add potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and another pinch of salt. Cover and return to the oven for 1 hour, or until vegetables are tender but not mushy and overcooked. Transfer veal to a chopping board and let rest 5 minutes.
- Slice veal in 2-inch pieces (cartilage included), discarding or saving bones for stock-making and divide evenly among 4 plates or serve on a platter. Divide vegetables evenly among the plates (or scatter around the veal slices on a platter). Spoon juice from the pot over all and garnish with herbs.