If you need any more evidence of the role of FOOD in a FAMILY and vice-versa, you need look no father than Jacques Pepin. Spry at 82 and bouncing around the kitchen, he works closely with his daughter Claudine, to make, what some perceive as complicated French cooking, seem approachable and engaging.
I was thrilled to be invited by Lisa and Giancarlo Ferrara, owner and chef of Houston's Amalfi Restaurant, to a meal and demonstration by the legendary Chef Jacques Pepin to celebrate the birthday of a close friend, Jim Lee.
Chef Pepin gave a blazing demonstration of a variety of his dishes from his cookbook including a beautiful salmon dish and, then, to the amazement of everyone at the event, he proceeded to debone and entire chicken, while talking and cracking jokes, stuff it with vegetables and bread, and tie it up with the expertise that only comes from years of experience, both in the kitchen, and in life. I will probably cook my entire life without being able to expertly debone a chicken, and it certainly won't look as pretty as his when it is done.
Part of the afternoon was an expertly prepared 3 course lunch menu including a fantastic Pistachio Crusted Camembert, a simple and classic Tuna a la Minute, and an amazingly moist Sauteed Duck Breast. Each of these dishes was prepared by Giancarlo and his Amalfi team, while Chef Pepin continued to dazzle his eager audience with stories of cooking for not one, not two, but three French President's. His wit and charm was so fluid, so effortless, that it is no wonder people still flock to him for advice and guidance in his adopted hometown of Boston. The witty banter between him and Claudine made the whole experience into a family event.
Everyone there was part of a family, whether that be their own, the family of the Amalfi staff, or that of Chef Pepin and Claudine. Fond memories of growing up with Jacques and her time in the kitchen learning from both he and her Mother were sprinkled into the conversation and everyone felt like they too were part of that family. Claudine won't make cookies anymore, due to a decidedly tough review from "Chef" Pepin, instead of "Papa" Pepin, but we won't begrudge her that.
The whole event was an extraordinary celebration of family. From Jim's birthday, to the story of Lisa and Giancarlo, to the witty repartee of Jacques and Claudine, and to my own thoughts of my daughter and her time in the kitchen with me. Simple food with the best ingredients, crafted from the heart and soul of the family. This is what brings people together, and I sincerely thank Lisa, Giancarlo, Jim and Amy Lee, Chef Pepin and Claudine, for reminding us all that FAMILY is why we do what we do.
Visit Amalfi, talk to Chef Giancarlo, and see what their family is all about. There is, as Chef Pepin says, "heart and soul" in their food.