Chef Jacques Pepin on Food and the Power of Memory

"It is interesting, you know ... the memory of the senses, the effective memory of the eye, for a chef, or touching, or seeing, or déjà vu or whatever. Or you're walking in the wood, and you're talking about something else, and all of a sudden you smell something, and you're 5 years old.

"So those memories of the senses are very immediate, and very powerful. They assail you, if you want, when you don't expect it. And much more than the memory of the intellect, which makes you recall that you were at such and such place at such and such time. So occasionally I have had, in the country, that taste, that buttery taste that you have in fresh milk, a bit sour and all that, that all of a sudden assails you, and you say mm mm, yeah, that taste is very visceral, somewhere in my gut."

Pepin said his greatest joys come from being around the table with family and friends.

"When we go on vacation, food is very important to us," Pepin said. "You know, we go to the market, cook ourself. We now have a little apartment in Playa del Carmen in Mexico. So we escape the Connecticut winter for, like, eight, 10 weeks. And then we rent it after. So we are there, and our big joy, and my friend Jean Claude comes also, and he's my dearest friend. ... So the two [of] us go to the market, go to see any fishermen along the sea, when they come back, and struggle, struggle in our Spanish to get fish -- this is a great part of our life, you know? Going to the market, looking at the food, and cooking. Sharing it with friends. This is what we do."

For Pepin, food has grown from a profession into a philosophy.

"This is, uh, my philosophy of life, and everything happens around the table for us. And, uh, you know, when [daughter] Claudine was small, I don't remember one time in the over 40 years of marriage, that I say that we did not sit around the table, share a bottle of wine, sometimes two, and have dinner. And when Claudine was small, this is what we did. And we'd come back from, uh, you know, baby school, you know, nursery school, when she was 4 years old, 3, 4, and come and say 'Mom, what's for dinner?' My wife would say food, and I would say, the food we have for dinner, and she would sit down. And it's not necessarily pleasant, you know, when she was in school, and middle school, and high school, and arguments would occur around the table. But at least we spent an hour, hour-and-a-half every night, sitting around the table together.

"And if you don't do that, then you never speak to your kid. You know, I go into a family, they think they are close to their kid, the kid comes, says, 'Hi, Dad, Hi, Mom,' they go, make their own sandwich, go back, get out. No, absolutely not. They think they are close, but they're not. They haven't had a conversation in years, you know, a conversation of an hour, an hour-and-a-half around the table.

"So this is, in the social structure for me, this is the most important thing that you do."

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