Jacques Pépin Reveals His Worst-Ever Cooking Disaster - Exclusive

If you've ever watched a clip of Jacques Pépin cooking, you could be forgiven for thinking he never makes a mistake in the kitchen. From his early PBS shows to his recent Facebook cooking videos shot in his home kitchen, Pépin has always demonstrated mastery over the culinary arts. His deft hand with a knife, pan, and stove has been honed by a lifetime of training, starting when he was a 13-year-old apprentice at a hotel kitchen in his native France.

However, even the gods of the culinary world have to come down to earth every once and a while, and Pépin has fallen victim to a few cooking mishaps over the years. As he said in an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, "Cooking is the art of recovery or adjustment or compensation." Of course, most home cooks get to recover from our mistakes in the privacy of our own kitchens. Culinary educators like Pépin run the risk of broadcasting their worst disasters to large audiences. In our interview, the chef, author, and TV host recounted the story of a cooking demonstration that went completely off the rails.

It all started with a soufflé

Soufflés are notoriously finicky, but they're old hat to a classically trained French chef like Jacques Pépin. At one point in his career, the chef was traveling with the Go Natural tour, demonstrating a cheese soufflé to the audience at every show. During a stop in Sacramento, Pépin was cooking for an audience of 2,000 people. As was routine for the tour, he made his soufflé batter, put it in the oven, and left the stage. "They calculated about 40 minutes before the end of the show so that I could go back on stage and retrieve the soufflé from the oven at the end," he said.

This time, something went wrong. Even though Pépin had checked the oven before putting the soufflé in, the appliance decided to go rogue: "Unbeknownst to me, the oven went on self-cleaning, like 750 degrees or whatever it was." Needless to say, after 40 minutes at 750 Fahrenheit, the soufflé was in no state to be eaten. Smoke poured out of the oven as Pépin opened the door. "You've never seen a soufflé as black and as burned as mine," he said. Fortunately for the chef, his audience reacted to the incident with good humor. "I had a standing ovation, practically."

Jacques Pépin's "Art of the Chicken" is in bookstores now. You can buy the book here.