When I was little, my Mom did pretty much all the cooking in our family – and she was great at it (no complaints). But, every once in a while my dad would break out a spatula and surprise us with one of his “specialties.” His idea of cuisine usually revolved around a breakfast theme (no matter what time of day) as breakfast was his favorite. My favorites were his blueberry pancakes, French toast and scrambled eggs with grilled bread (vs. toast). Nothing fancy, just good. He also introduced me to the beauty of just-picked-from-the-garden vegetables. I remember sitting on the back step with him and eating cucumbers or tomatoes with just a bit of salt sprinkled on them – amazingly good!
With Father’s Day right around the corner, I started thinking about how much fun it was when my dad cooked (probably because he didn’t do it that often) and I began wondering what it might be like to have a chef for a father. How great it would be to be exposed to different cuisines at a young age – the education, the adventure – it would be like eating out every night of the week! Then I remembered a television program I saw with world-renowned chef Jacques Pepin and his daughter Claudine called Cooking with Claudine. It was produced in San Francisco at KQED (public television) and it was wonderful. The interplay between Pepin and his daughter was at once sweet, funny, nurturing and instructional.
The show was a typical cooking show in that they demonstrated a variety of recipes usually resulting in a meal at the end. But with Claudine asking questions along the way and Jacques teaching her some of the skills and techniques that made him such an amazing chef and the two of them laughing and bantering back and forth, the program also felt like a slice of home . . . like you were “dropping in” on the Pepin’s on a Sunday afternoon. And the food was accessible. Things like roast chicken with a little salt, pepper, lemon and vinegar – plus the drippings from the bird. In fact, I once read that Pepin said the biggest mistake people make is to “fuss around” with food. With Claudine, he was able to really impart that message as she represented us, the viewer – although she grew up with this amazing chef as a father and was surrounded by great food, she was still a novice when it came to preparing it. They even wrote a cookbook together to help further guide at-home cooks.
I’ve heard other chef-fathers echo a similar refrain as Pepin’s “keep it simple.” Mario Batali and Gordon Ramsay both say they cook simple, straight-forward food for their families, but stress using the best ingredients and having fun. Maybe that’s what’s so wonderful about fathers who cook – famous or not. In thinking back on my own dad, it wasn’t special when he cooked just because he didn’t do it that often . . . it was special because he had a carefree approach to it and made it more about family then utility. My Mom had to cook every night. And now that I’m an adult I know there were many nights when she must have been tired and worn out and in no mood to hear me make endless requests or complaints. For her – at that point in her life – cooking was often more of a job then an outlet. For my dad, though, it was fun -- and a way to engage with me on a different level. Just like Jacques Pepin and Claudine, it was about sharing.
As Spirited Women, I think there’s a lot we can do to encourage all the Spirited Men in our lives to share their gifts . . . whether they be in the kitchen, on a sports fields, with a musical instrument . . . wherever they are comfortable and feel joy. So Happy Father’s Day everyone . . . I know I’m going to take a page from Jacques and Claudine and raise a glass of lovely French wine to toast my Dad and what he gave me.
P.S. – Check out Jacques and Claudine’s current show: Jacques Pepin Celebrates! http://www.kqed.org/w/jacquespepin/tvseries.html.
Sharen Santoski, foodie extraordinaire, and a former member of the Spirited Woman Blogger Team will be guest blogging for Spirited Woman on her favorite subject "food." Growing up in an Italian/Polish/American home, Sharen cultivated her love of food at a very early age. She is an amateur aficionado of cooking, dining, entertaining and exploring. Bon Appetit!