Chef Jacques Pépin is not slowing down

Eggs in pepper boats, from ‘Jacques Pepin Heart & Soul in the Kitchen,’ which will be released Oct. 6.
Eggs in pepper boats, from ‘Jacques Pepin Heart & Soul in the Kitchen,’ which will be released Oct. 6. Tribune News Service

Jacques Pépin may be turning 80 in December, but he’s not sounding like a man about to pack up his chef’s knives and walk away from the stove, or perhaps, the camera.

“There’s always something new. Life continues,” says the celebrity chef, cookbook author and television cooking show star when asked how he’s doing. Life is continuing — and how.

This fall, Pépin launches a new public television series and a new cookbook. Both titled Jacques Pépin Heart & Soul in the Kitchen (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35), they show how the chef is cooking and living today with his family and friends.

“I did the book on the way we eat at home, so it’s something more personal, maybe,” says the Madison, Connecticut, resident about the cookbook, due out Oct. 6. “There are some very simple things I cook from my granddaughter to my wife and so forth.”

The new cookbook is very personal, profusely illustrated with Pépin’s own artwork and intimate photographs of him cooking, shopping and having fun. (There are shots of the finished dishes, too.) He shares anecdotes about his life, his cooking, his family and famous friends like Julia Child, James Beard and Craig Claiborne, the New York Times food editor whom Pépin says was so instrumental in his career.

There are also lots of practical cooking tips anyone, anywhere can use. As in previous works, this book features Pépin’s signature practicality and frugality. Indeed, humble canned beans are featured in the very first recipe, for a bean dip to serve with drinks.

“I don’t think it was planned in any way,” Pépin says of the recipe’s placement in the book. “It’s a recipe that I’ve done. It’s good, so I do it.”

You can, of course, cook the beans themselves from scratch as he does occasionally. But if there’s a can available and people arrive unexpectedly, he’s going to use it. Pepin is no food snob.

“At 80 years old, I don’t think I’m going to be apologetic. What we do, we do,” he says.

Pépin writes that he has qualms about eating food he doesn’t recognize, gets turned off by an “obsession with creativity” that results in “weird” pairings, finds the “jammy taste of many expensive California reds overpowering and their alcohol content of 15 or even 16 percent too high,” and doesn’t get the fixation on ever-smaller vegetables.

“If this trend continues, we’ll soon be dining on unborn baby vegetables that will be both tasteless and outrageously expensive,” he writes.

Pépin was born in France, was classically trained as a chef and cooked for Charles de Gaulle. He is, as he notes, “often looked at as the quintessential French chef.” But — and this is a point he has returned to often over the years — his cooking is his own.

“I never try to be French or try not to be French,” Pépin says. About the book, he says, “This is who I am, and this is what I do now.”

Eggs in Pepper Boats

“One day I decided to cook eggs in sweet peppers with a bit of cheese and cilantro. It makes a great lunch dish,” writes Jacques Pépin in ‘Jacques Pepin Heart & Soul in the Kitchen.’

2 cubanelle, poblano or banana peppers (about 4 ounces each)

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 tablespoons water

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese

4 extra-large eggs, preferably organic

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

About 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

Split the peppers lengthwise in half, and remove the seeds and stems, if you want. Arrange them cut side down in a large skillet; add the oil, water and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, covered, over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the peppers are softened somewhat but still firm, about 4 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat; if necessary, turn the peppers over so the hollow side is up. Place the cheese in the peppers. Break an egg into each one and sprinkle the eggs with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

Return the skillet to the stove, cover and cook over medium heat until the egg whites are set, but the yolks are still runny, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to plates, sprinkle with the cilantro and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Cannellini Bean Dip

Recipe from ‘Jacques Pépin Heart & Soul in the Kitchen.’ The garnishes, Pépin writes, “make the dish look more attractive — and more like a classic hummus made with chickpeas.”

For the dip:

1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained (about 1 3/4 cups), rinsed

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1/2 cup diced bread

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon water

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon each: salt, Tabasco sauce


1/3 cup reserved beans (from above)

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

3 or 4 tostadas or hard taco shells, broken into wedges, or toasts or rice crackers

For the dip, reserve 1/3 cup of the beans for garnish. Put the remaining beans in a blender or food processor. Add all the remaining ingredients, and process until very smooth, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula a few times if need be to help combine the ingredients.

Transfer the dip (you should have about 2 cups) to a shallow serving dish and create a well in the center. For the garnishes, put the reserved beans in the well in the dip and pour in olive oil. Sprinkle with the paprika, poppy seeds and parsley. Serve surrounded by the tostadas or taco shell pieces, toast or crackers.

Yield: 4 servings.