Culinary Legend Comes to Cleveland

Legendary chef Jacques Pépin will be the featured guest at the upcoming ideastream Grand Tastings and Seminars and will host a cooking demonstration and a multi-course VIP dinner with his daughter, Claudine, a wine educator and cookbook author. Proceeds from the events support ideastream programs and public service.

Serious wine lovers will convene downtown on June 1-2 for the ideastream Grand Tastings and Seminars, taking place at the IdeaCenter at Playhouse Square. The two-day event features tastings of more than 200 wines from around the world. On Saturday, patrons may sign up for educational seminars such as Which Glass and Why, presented by Riedel, an 11th-generation Austrian glassware maker.

Chef Pépin and public broadcasting go way back—he’s hosted numerous cooking shows over the last two decades. The native of France has been living and working in the United States since 1959 cooking, teaching and writing.

The affable Pépin answered a few questions by phone for Edible Cleveland. Talking to a legend like Pepin can be a bit daunting because, really, what hasn’t already been asked of this 84-year-old genius who is arguably one of the earliest incarnations of a “celebrity chef?”

He laughs a little, saying “when I was young and working in Paris, the cook was at the bottom of the scale. Any good mother wanted her child to marry a lawyer or a doctor.” It’s apparent that Pépin, for all his accomplishments, doesn’t really take the term “celebrity chef” too seriously. His entire career has been focused on method, technique, and authenticity.

Pépin built his career and reputation slow and steady, with hard work and without social media and an entirely different kind of “food network.” In France, he served as a chef for three French heads of state including Charles de Gaulle. Arriving to the United States in 1959, Pépin soon became a contemporary of James Beard and Julia Child, and became enamored with New York City where he earned two degrees at Columbia and working in research and development for Howard Johnson’s.

Pépin appreciates the culinary diversity found in America and in New York City, in particular. A classically trained French chef, he enjoys a variety of foods like traditional Southern fried chicken, a flavorful Yucatan-inspired black bean soup and a lot of simple, well-prepared dishes. “The American chef is a compilation,” he said. “We all create our own cuisine based on our experiences, where we have lived, and on recipes learned from our parents.”

The kitchen has always been a place where he connects with family. “When my daughter was 1 1/2 years old I would hold her in my arms while I cooked. Later, I would have her stir and get me this and that.” His most recent cookbook, A Grandfather’s Lesson: In the Kitchen with Shorey, Pépin celebrates the time he spends in the kitchen with his teenage granddaughter.  He has enjoyed passing on his timeless knowledge to another generation. “It allows us to meet in a place where we are both comfortable,” he said.

Success has allowed Pépin and his family to give back in a variety of ways. Founded in 2016, The Jacques Pépin Foundation supports the education of culinary skills and techniques for employment, with efforts largely directed to vulnerable individuals.

It’s hard to resist asking the quintessential French chef about his own food preferences. To that, the sage Pépin noted that good food is more than taste; it is the occasion, the mood, and other things that make it memorable. He’s dined all over the world and he can cook anything he wants, but finds delight in simplicity. “When you are a young chef, you explode on a plate. You add more and more,” he said, before describing his enjoyment in a perfectly ripe tomato, still warm from the garden, with good olive oil and salt.

Tickets are available to watch an intimate cooking demonstration by Chef Pépin and his daughter, Claudine, as well as the coursed VIP dinner with wine pairings at Cibreo Privato, each taking place on Saturday, June 2. Two Grand Tastings will be held from 7:30 to 10:30 pm on Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2. Grand Tasting tickets include access to the wine tasting, a buffet of hearty appetizers and a selection of desserts, a souvenir wine glass and plate, access to the silent auction and a complimentary subscription to Wine Spectator magazine. Tickets are $75 per person, with designated driver tickets available for $50.

More information is available at ideastream.org/wine.

–Lisa Sands