Jacques Pépin Talks about Getting Kids Cooking

Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
April 20, 2018

A world-renowned cooking educator who has been in the kitchen for more than 70 years, Jacques Pépin needs no introduction. Through his 30 books and more than a dozen television series, he has taught millions of people of all ages and levels of know-how the foundations of delicious cooking.

Yesterday, CUESA was honored to host the living legend for a public cooking demonstration at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to share some tips and techniques using fresh produce from the market. Here at CUESA, we’re especially interested in getting kids cooking, so we chatted with Jacques about his recent cookbook A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen with Shorey, and the importance of starting kids in the kitchen young.

How did your cookbook with your granddaughter come about?

I did several books with my daughter, Claudine, so we decided to do a book with my granddaughter, Shorey. We worked together on the recipes, since I wanted to do what she likes to do. Accompanying the book, there are about 36 videos of the two of us cooking together. That was fun to do. We did some simple recipes, but she also likes recipes with decoration, which take more time. For example, it was her mother’s birthday, and she wanted to know how to make a cake for her. I showed her how to make a pound cake with a raspberry jam filling and ground cake trimming. She made that little cake for her mother, and now she can do it by herself. Some of the recipes are more light-hearted and fun, like sliced curly dogs with pickle relish from my time when I worked for Howard Johnson in the test kitchen. I knew she would enjoy making them.

How do you go about getting kids excited about fresh food and cooking?

Certainly, it’s important to start from the beginning. When Claudine was 1½ to 2 years old, I held her in my arms and she stirred the soup or whatever we were cooking. And I would say, “Oh, you made it so tasty!” So she tasted it, because she had made it. With Shorey, she has a big garden, and I say, “Get me some tarragon. No, that’s chive—taste it.” So she tastes it, then she goes back to the garden. “OK, that’s tarragon.” And so on, so forth. I go to the market with her, and I say, “Go get some pears, and make sure they are ripe. Smell the tomato. Where did that tomato come from? Is that a fruit or a vegetable?” She gets used to handling product, picking stuff out of the garden. She helps me in the kitchen. I say, “Give me some of this, give some of that, wash that a little bit. Give me a tablespoon of butter. How many tablespoons do you have in that stick? How many sticks do you have in a pound?” So we bring mathematics.

It became a platform for us to communicate. When you’re over 80 years old, what do you talk to a kid who is 12 about? It’s a question of involvement. As a kid when you get out of school, the best place to be really is the kitchen. You hear the clinks of utensils and the voice of your mother or father. You’re around the smells of the kitchen. All that stays with you for the rest of your life. It’s very visceral in a sense.

Why is it so important to get kids in the kitchen when they’re young?

To get them away from their iPhone! It’s not just a question of cooking together. It’s a question of eating together after you cook and spending time together. I go to visit a family, and I see the kids are sitting on the sofa with their iPad, and the mother and father are in another corner…this is not the way a family should be. I saw a young couple with a kid on television, and they decided, rain or shine, they’re going to cook for the kid and eat together once a week at least. Once a week? What about the other six days? That’s crazy. When Claudine was small and in school, we spent an hour together every night sitting at the table. And now she does the same thing with her daughter. I think it forged a relationship you don’t have otherwise. In order to stay together, you have to eat together, you have to cook together. That’s what we try to do.

Do you have any advice for getting kids to eat their vegetables? 

Don’t talk about it! Don’t facilitate the kid to make them eat their Brussels sprouts or spinach by giving them a reward. You just put the food on the table and say, “This is not a restaurant, this is what we have to eat tonight.” Period. When the kid is smaller, they are going to love string beans one day, then a month later, they’re going to hate string beans. You let it go. Two months later, they love string beans again.

Any cooking tips for busy families on a budget?

For 10 years, I had a column in the New York Times about cooking inexpensively, called “The Purposeful Cook.” I also had a book called Cuisine Economique. I did two series at KQED called Fast Food My Way, showing how to make simple meals in a half hour with a minimal amount of effort.

People waste such an enormous amount of food. I did a show about economy in the kitchen, what my wife called French soup. I got everything in the fridge—two wilted carrots, a tomato, a few mushrooms, whatever—and I did a soup finished with a bit of couscous or whatever in it. Economy is part of cooking.

Watch the Facebook Live video of Jacques’s CUESA cooking demo.

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