At age 76, Jacques Pepin still has no trouble leaving an audience rapt.
Especially one that’s filled with captivated culinary students from the International Culinary Center of California in Campbell, a branch of the illustrious French Culinary Institute in New York, where Pepin is dean of special programs.
Last week, Pepin — the man, the legend, and former personal chef to Charles de Gaulle — paid a visit to that Campbell campus to give a techniques demo.
There were literally gasps as he neatly boned out a whole chicken in under a minute. Who knew butchering poultry could be so mesmerizing? But in his hands, it sure is.
With his nimble knife skills, he also turned shavings of cold butter into delicate flowers and prickly artichokes into easy-to-eat, compact hearts.
Here are some favorite Jacque-isms from the event:
* On his heritage: “You can tell from my accent that I’m not from this part of the world… (pause for effect)…I am from Connecticut.”
* On being a chef vs. a cook: “Technique is the difference between a professional chef and a non-professional one. To be a craftsman, you must know your craft. You cannot be a great artist without being a great craftsman first.”
* On cutting techniques: “The motion with your knife is down and forward or down and backward. It is not chop-chop-chop (noisily) like on the Food Network.”
* Why he likes to cook: “Because I am hungry.” (laughs)
* What to do when you can’t muster the dexterity to smash a garlic clove completely with the back of a knife: “Just use a garlic press. There is nothing wrong with that. My daughter Claudine does that.”
* On the pleasure of drinking wine: “I only buy magnums now. So when my doctor asks how much wine I drink, I can say it’s one bottle.”
* On filming cooking shows with the late-great Julia Child: “When I first started doing TV, the filming time was 28 minutes for a 30-minute show. With Julia, we didn’t use recipes. Julia would tell the crew, ‘We’ll cook and we’ll tell you when we’re done.’ Once, we shot 116 minutes for a 30-minute show!”
Afterward, students lined up to get their books signed by Pepin. One student even asked Pepin to sign the back of his T-shirt, which of course, he vowed never to wash again.
That was followed by a reception with canapes and sweets prepared by the students, which were enjoyed by local chefs and other guests who had come to pay respect to Pepin.
The Campbell culinary school, which has been overseen by the French Culinary Institute since last year, has about 150 students currently, about 75 percent of whom are career-changers enrolled in the Classic Culinary Arts, Classic Pastry Arts, and Intensive Sommelier Training programs.
For home-cooks, the school offers a range of cooking and baking classes. It also hosts private special events,, as well as team-building events for local corporations.
One of the best features, though, is an intimate 24-seat dining room that serves lunch and dinner to guests for free. The school does not have a permit to run a bona fide restaurant on its premises. But administrators want to give their students the experience of cooking for diners in a restaurant-type setting. So, the students ply their skills by creating four-course dinners three times a week and lunch daily for guests who only have to fill out a detailed comment card afterward in return. How to enjoy one of these meals? You have to be invited by someone at the school. So, start making friends there now.