French chef Jacques Pépin went to the site of the Winter Olympic games looking for a different kind of gold: champagne, eruvere and raclette.
“Pépin, a cookbook author, cooking teacher and the culinary star of ‘Today’s Gourmet’ on PBS, taped about a dozen food features that will be sprinkled like grated cheese throughout CBS’ extensive coverage of the games.
On Thursday’s ‘This Morning’ show, Pépin showed sportscaster Greg Gumbel how to make a sauteed fish dish in red wine sauce. In another spot, the chef visited a restaurant that specializes in raclette — cheese, grilled until it becomes runny and eaten with hot boiled potatoes, ground pepper, gherkins and pickled onions. Other vignettes will feature cuisine of Savoie, the Alpine region of southeastern France where the games are taking place.
Butter, cream, milk and cheese dominate this rich cuisine. Pépin also visited the Olympic kitchen that feeds 20,000 people a day.
In a telephone Pépin interview Thursday from his home in Madison, Pépin, who has a keen sense of humor, says he had fun with the filming. While the chef put the finishing touches on the fish with red wine sauce, he handed a domed silver cover to Gumbel with the words, ‘That’s not to put on your head.’
For the fish feature, Pépin took over the kitchen of Allodia, a ‘very beautiful, very chic restaurant in Meribel,’ the site of the women’s downhill skiing course. The restaurant’s former chef is Pepin’s friend and Connecticut resident Jean Pierre Vuillemert, executive chef at Robert Henry’s in New Haven.
For another spot, Pépin took Ryen Heckman, the 17-year-old American who is competing in the Nordic combined skiing event, to a three-star restaurant for dinner. Heckman is too young to drink champagne, so Pépin arranged for the wait staff to decant a bottle of Coca-Cola into a crystal decanter.
Pépin and Heckman dined among royalty, Princess Anne and Prince Albert of Monaco were seated at neighboring tables, Pépin says.
Pépin spent about three weeks in Albertville, searching out the best food stories. Accompanied by a television crew, he ‘went to farms, went to people who make the cheese, to markets and so forth,’ he says. ‘We didn’t want to show large food production but more of a craftsman-type of thing where people do their own cheese, their own ham or run small restaurants.’
Pépin’s work was finished last Friday when he traveled to his birthplace, Lyon, for dinner at his mother’s restaurant. He returned to Connecticut on Sunday, the day after the official start of the Olympics.
About eight months ago, Morley Safer, the ’60 Minutes’ reporter with a home in Chester, told his friend Jacques that CBS wanted to hire someone to do the food features.. (Pépin teamed up with Safer for an Olympic look at red wine and heart disease.) Even without friends in high places, Pépin is uniquely qualified to talk about French cuisine.
As he told Gumbel, he has been cooking for 42 years. His hometown is only a couple of hours away from the Olympic site. ‘I know what the cooking of the Savoie is,’ Pépin says. ‘The cheeses I know well. It has the greatest gruyere in the world. The Roblochon cheese I like. Raclette as well as fondue are specialties of the area because of the cheese.’
Before leaving, he also took time for a sentimental journey with his daughter, Claudine, and his brother, Roland, an engineer who lives in France. During World War II, Pépin and his brother were sent for their safety by the Red Cross to villages a few hours from Lyon. ‘I was 6, he was 8,’ Pépin says. ‘My father was in the Resistance, and my mother 3 had a year-old baby. We had never been back to the villages. Even though the villages were completely razed by Germans, we found the son of the people who took care of my brother.’
Back home with a new cookbook ‘Cuisine Economique’ due from William Morrow in May, Pépin is watching the Olympics like any other fan. And like any other viewer, Pépin will watch his spots for the first time — they were not edited by the time he left France.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Hartford Courant, “Jacques Pépin covers food for the Games,” by Linda Giuca, Friday, February 14, 1992. (top) “CBS Sportscaster Greg Gumbel, left, gets some cooking pointers from French chef Jacques Pépin on Thursday’s CBS ‘This Morning’ show from Savoie, France.” Image courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Hartford Courant, “Jacques Pépin covers food for the Games,” CBS, 1992