You don’t know Jacques!

What an amazing evening. As Sarah and I walked home from the event, on an unbelievably warm November night, we couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear. We proclaimed it the best sister-sister night of our lives, narrowly eking out a whirlwind evening in Barcelona when the football team won the Champions League, but I digress.

We started the evening with dinner at Candle 79. We’d been meaning to make it there for a really long time and the event and the restaurant were both on the upper east side so we decided the time had come. I’ve been hearing about how good the food is on numerous blogs forever and it did not disappoint. There were so many things we wanted to try but managed to not over order, a minor miracle.

It was really dark in the restaurant and the pictures are almost impossible to make out so I’ll just share a quick list of what we had.

They started us with an amuse bouche of white beans with a poblano sauce. Perfect mix of savory and spicy. I could have eaten an entire bowl.

Sarah had the wild mushroom squash risotto which was creamy and delicious. I ordered the grilled kale salad with lentils, squash, sunflower seeds and spelt berries. I all but licked the plate clean! We also shared the polenta fries which were crunchy golden brown perfection.

Had the photos turned out I could have done a whole post on the service, menu options and the drinks but there are more important things to discuss.

An evening with Three French Chefs in NYC was put on by the 92nd Y. If you live in the area check them out. They have a great line up of chefs and actors come through. Sally Field is speaking tonight and Rachel Ray on Wednesday. If the tickets were anything like ours, these lectures cost less than dinner out.

We got there 45 mins early but it was worth the wait when we got seats in the second row!

There were some late changes to the speaker list so we had the pleasure of listening to Andre Soltner, Jacques Pepin and Jacques Torres speak. We also grew up watching Jacques Torres so we were thrilled to see him on the panel.

The discussion centered mostly around the history of French kitchens in New York. Andre Soltner is an old school chef and brought a level of tradition to the panel. It was interesting to see him juxtaposed to Jacques Torres who is much younger and less traditional. The moderator was pretty awful but it didn’t really matter because the q&a at the end was the most interesting part.

They were asked what made a good chef and it was no surprise they all felt strongly that technique, knowledge of the basics and experience were important but that there must be a love of food and talent present as well. I forget which one said this but it resonated with me for its simplicity. “You need to love food in order to know good food from bad food.”

After the panel there was a champagne meet and greet with a book signing. This is when the real fun began. We bought both Jacques Pepin and Torres’ books and had a chance to talk with both of them. Torres is a ball of energy, he came out from behind the signing table to personally greet us in line, sign our book and take pictures. He also invited us to tour his chocolate factory today, we’re hoping to make it down there this afternoon.

As for Jacques Pepin, well, he was just as fabulous in person. Soft spoken, incredibly knowledgable and lovely. He also gave me a contact for the woman who coordinates his cooking demonstrations at BU. Apparently you don’t need to be a student to attend!

We were true groupies and hung around until the very end at which point we sadly had to say goodbye.

We ecstatically called our mom on the walk home and pretty much floated all the way home.

Such a great night. Happy Tuesday to all.



An Evening with a Cooking Idol

We had a really lovely weekend. Michael’s birthday was on Saturday so we celebrated with good food, wine, movies and football. I’ll update you on all of that in the coming days once I can upload all the photos to my computer. But at the moment I’m on an Amtrak making my way back down to NYC.

The reason for my visit is that my sister scored tickets to an event called Three French Chefs in NYC. Scored is probably not the right word as I don’t know that this event is massively popular, especially considering that they’re discounting ticket prices for those under 35! But to us this is a once in a lifetime event.

One of the French chefs speaking tonight will be Jacques Pepin. Growing up, Jacques Pepin was an idol in our house. Long before the Food Network became popular and we were inundated with celebrity chefs, there were the PBS chefs: Julia, Lidia, Jacques. And because my father was a chef, these were the programs we watched every Saturday morning.

To him, Jacques could do no wrong. He was classically trained and cooked the way my father cooked. I think he went as far as saying that besides using two hands to flip an omelet, to my Papa’s one, he couldn’t criticize a thing. My father was the most opinionated person on earth so this was a very big deal. We came to trust in Jacques’ techniques, his way with wine and his easy manner in the kitchen. As they both got older, they also started to look alike, haha, donning their bright blue aprons, polo shirts and gray hair.

My father passed away 2 and a half years ago and when the hollowness of losing him starts to weigh on me, I go looking for Jacques. Just tuning in for a few minutes makes me feel like a little piece of him is back here with me. Teaching me to chop a carrot, make an artichoke sauce or swirl a sip of wine (always looking for the hint of blackberry, the finish of chocolate). It’s, of course, no substitute for the real thing, but because he was my father’s favorite, he has become mine and I can’t help but feel joyful when he makes roses out of radishes and flowers out of tomato skins just like my Papa did. If you want a glimpse of life growing up check out the Smooth Food episode where he cooks with his daughter Claudine, our real life scarily resembled this.

So you see, tonight we meet a legend to our family and he holds a special place in my heart as another person who’s had a hand in teaching me how to cook, how to love food, how to find joy in the kitchen.

Today I’ll end the most appropriate way I know how…happy cooking!

My Papa in 2009.

[Photo Source]