They're right at home

Television: With gifted collaborators and old friends Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, cooking show has all the ingredients of a winner.

September 29, 1999|By KAROL V. MENZIE | KAROL V. MENZIE,SUN STAFF

It had to be a hoot -- getting two of the country's best-known and most charming chef-educators into the same kitchen and letting them work side by side on the same dishes, sharing their expertise -- and their longtime camaraderie -- with a television audience.

So what happened when Julia Child and Jacques Pepin went stove-to-stove for a new public television program called "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home," beginning this month on public television? "They're just marvelous collaborators," says Geof Drummond, the series' producer and president of New York-based A La Carte Communications, which specializes in cooking shows. "Not only are they great chefs and great TV personalities, they have a real respect and adoration for each other -- and that really comes through."

The result airs on Maryland Public Television at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays (the first show debuted Sept. 26), and will run for 22 episodes. A companion cookbook, which includes most of the recipes shown on TV, also is called "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" (Knopf, 1999, $40), and was written with David Nussbaum.

Baltimore fans will have an opportunity to meet these two genial giants of the culinary world on Saturday. Child and Pepin will be greeting people and signing copies of their book from noon to 2 p.m. at the new Bibelot bookstore in Cross Keys.

The TV show was filmed a little differently from the norm, Drummond said. Instead of planning episodes around specific, pre-determined recipes, Child and Pepin chose categories or types of food they wanted to demonstrate.

"We said, 'We'll do beef,' " Drummond said. "But we can't do it all in one show. So we did a show about grilling that was everything from steak to hamburgers [or "ham-bur-JAY," as Child playfully calls them]. Then we did another show about stewed and braised beef. We did another about soups, and one about sandwiches."

Between them, Child and Pepin have more than 50 years of experience in cooking for television audiences. They do have their differences, as Pepin notes in his introduction to the book. He likes kosher salt; Child doesn't. Child likes white pepper; Jacques likes black.

"If cooks are among the most giving people in the world," Pepin writes, "they are also among the most stubborn and inflexible."

But for the most part, culinary harmony prevails. Pepin, working from the viewpoint of a professional chef, offers tips and techniques to make cooking faster and more efficient. Child, from the viewpoint of a home cook, keeps things practical.

Each episode was filmed in Child's kitchen in Cambridge, Mass. The entire house became a production studio, with props in the basement, the book editor and writer in a spare bedroom, technicians in the dining room, and a still photographer for the book in the living room.

Photographer Christopher Hirsheimer, who shot the still photos, wrote an article in June 1998 for Saveur magazine describing the scene:

"Julia, of course, has a way about her -- and when she teaches you something, it sticks. You just trust her. And Jacques Pepin (Julia fondly calls him Jack) is the super-chef, a master of technique. ... After watching them on the set, I get a sense of their relationship: Jacques, always a gentleman, looking out for Julia -- lifting a heavy pan, making sure the right knife is within her reach. And Julia leads Jacques, the accomplished chef, into less technical and more human explanations."

Drummond says one of the differences in the way the show was done meant that "this was cooking for real."

There were, for instance, no backup turkeys in the pantry to show the results of Child's "deconstructed turkey" recipe. And there was, unfortunately, nothing in the kitchen that looked like what Child and Pepin had been doing during the filming. "But we rescued it," he says.

It's true, Drummond says, that there's a little bit of "he said/she said" in the show, "but it always ended up 'we say.' "

Grilled Halibut With Flavored Butters

Serves 2

2 8-to-10-ounce skinless halibut fillets

1/2 teaspoon or so vegetable oil, such as canola or corn oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

several grinds of black pepper

oil or butter for greasing dish

2 tablespoons or so anchovy butter or beurre maitre d'hotel (see recipes), or plain unsalted butter, soft, for garnishing

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Set a ridged stove-top grill over high heat for several minutes while preparing the fish. It must be very hot and completely clean to prevent sticking.

Brush the top and bottom of the fillets lightly with oil and season both sides with the salt and pepper. Lay the pieces on the hot grill.

Sear the first side for about 1 1/2 minutes; then turn the fillets and grill the second side for 1 1/2 minutes longer, until well-marked.

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