The Dish Jacques Pépin Thinks Always Tastes Better At Home - Exclusive

Jacques Pépin is no stranger to fine dining. The award-winning chef, cookbook author, and television personality opened the Manhattan specialty soup restaurant, La Potagerie, in 1970 to great critical acclaim. The restaurant was a culinary sensation for years and contributed to a deeper appreciation for the artistry of soup in America. And while Pépin is certainly a lover of restaurants, his greater passion might lie in teaching home cooks how to prepare sumptuous meals in their own kitchens, which has led to the publication of over 30 celebrated cookbooks. To honor the release of his latest book, "Cooking My Way," Pépin spoke with Tasting Table in an exclusive interview to discuss his culinary inspirations, his favorite restaurants, and the one dish he always prefers to cook at home.

"[Restaurants] are so different — between a bistro where you're going to eat very simple food, to something like Per Se or Daniel in New York," he told us. When dining at the aforementioned establishments, Pépin focuses on ordering dishes that might be challenging or time-consuming to prepare in his home kitchen, such as lobster or different fish preparations. "In a restaurant, it's easier ... to enjoy certain things like pâte and all that, which takes several days to prepare, certain types of dessert like vol-au-vent," he said. But there is one dish that Pépin believes always tastes better when you prepare it yourself: stew.

Home-cooked stew is hard to beat

What makes stew such a satisfying dish to prepare in your home kitchen? According to Jacques Pépin, the primary reason is that stew uses ingredients you already have on hand, which often leads to unexpected — but intensely powerful — flavor combinations. "[A stew] is difficult to duplicate in restaurants when you do it in larger quantities. It doesn't come out exactly the same," he explained. "Very often ... in restaurants, you cook things à la carte when people are ordering, so you do one dish at a time. You may do 200 people at night, but you do one or two dishes at a time in small portions." 

To try to replicate a stew for a large audience would mean having to take away some of the wonder and chance inherent in using whatever is in the pantry, mixing spices that are unfamiliar, or tending to your proteins with artistry and care. One of Pépin's go-to stews to prepare at home prominently features chicken legs. But before you add the chicken or your protein of choice, Pépin recommends preparing it as you normally would in order to bolster the flavor of the stew as a whole: "You sauté some chicken legs, for example, two or three of them, and you braise them nicely on top of the stove or in the oven. You finish them with tomato, garlic, whatever." The end result is a stew that is rich, savory, and entirely your own.