Cooking with Chef Jacques Pépin

by Claudia Catalano

Student Claudia Catalano recounts her experience cooking with Chef Jacques Pépin, one of the founders of the Gastronomy Program at BU and a celebrated chef in his own right.

Catalano & Pepin

It’s 7 pm on a Wednesday night. Eighty ticket-holding foodies sit attentively while gulping down sparkling rosé. I’m standing underneath a kitchen demonstration mirror, my hands trembling as I peel and core apples as fast as I can without losing a finger. The audience is captive, but not because of me. I could be flambéing a roast goose and they wouldn’t notice. Their eyes are fixed on the man by my side—the legendary Jacques Pépin.

I was proud and honored to be assisting the celebrated chef while he visited BU for three days. Pépin co-founded the Gastronomy program and at age 79, and he still comes to work with the culinary students each semester. The time spent with Jacques in the kitchen culminated in 2 evening events that were open to the public. For both nights, he demonstrated recipes from his 2007 book, Chez Jacques, while discussing his philosophy on food and his journey as an artist. Besides being a prolific author and beloved television personality, Jacques is also a painter.

Chicken Galantine

The menu was the same for both dinners and reflected simple traditions from his lifetime of cooking. We started with fromage forte—a savory cheese spread made from odds and ends of leftover cheese (camembert, stilton, chèvre, cheddar, anything!), garlic, white wine, and a generous pinch of black pepper. Packed into little crocks and served with freshly made croutons, it was a quintessential product of his humble upbringing and resourceful approach to cooking.

We also made duck liver pâté with shallots, duck fat, ground bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and a few glugs of good cognac. The students hovered around an extra crock and slathered the rich earthy spread on the same crisp croutons.

pepin2While he demonstrated the dishes, cracked jokes, and told stories from his early years in New York, the students buzzed around behind the scenes to churn out scores of plated portions for every other course. With the help of Pépin’s longtime friend and equally accomplished chef, Jean-Claude Szurdak, we had been prepping and cooking for the event all day. After the fromage and pâté, we made truffle and pistachio sausage with warm leek and potato salad. Ground pork shoulder was seasoned with pickling salt, white wine and garlic, and then combined with chopped truffles and pistachios. Logs were rolled tightly in plastic wrap, then foil, and left to cure in the refrigerator for four days (these were made ahead). On the afternoon of service, we poached the sausages and cut thick slices to serve atop the potatoes.

pepin4For the main course we made chicken thighs with morel sauce and rice pilaf. The sauce was enhanced with the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms, fruity white wine, the pan drippings, and cream. It was the perfect marriage of elegance and comfort food. To cap off the meal, we baked rustic apple tarts with hazelnut frangipane.

Amidst all the prepping and cooking for the big events, Jacques still found the time to teach us how to bone a whole chicken for galantine—a task I’ve seen him perform on videos and TV. He’s so approachable, it’s easy to forget how accomplished he really is. But when I watched him work I realized I was observing a man with a lifetime of embodied kitchen knowledge – knowledge that flows out of his fingers with ease and grace.

In addition to the perfected techniques and beautifully executed dishes, there’s so much more I took away from my three days with Jacques and Jean-Claude. So much that I had to boil it down to “Jacques’ credo”:

1) A chef is a craftsman before he is an artist. A young chef who is trying to be “creative” is like a writer who doesn’t have a good grasp of grammar—it just doesn’t work.

2) Good food should be simple.

3) Home is the best restaurant.

4) For experienced cooks, a recipe is an expression of one moment in time.

5) Food does more than fill a biological need. It can mean love, home, comfort…

6) The best food is the food you know (Jacques isn’t interested in what he called a “plated unborn vegetable”).

7) You can make a convincing “Champagne” by mixing white wine with Pabst Blue Ribbon (this one I got from Jean-Claude at the after-party!).

8) Great food is even better when shared with friends and the people you love. So if nerves get to you in the heat of the kitchen or you dropped your tart on the floor, just relax and have another glass of wine. As long as you keep good company, everyone will still have a good time.

An Intense Week of Jewish Food Culture

by Andrea Lubrano

Alumna Andrea Lubrano describes her exploits during the week-long Tent: Food NYC, exploring Jewish food culture in New York City from October 19th through the 26th, 2014. 

group picNew York City, a land made up of culinary diversity, was host to twenty remarkable individuals this past October during the first Tent: Food NYC, a program of the Yiddish Book Center. Hosted by The Center for Jewish History and led by Lara Rabinovitch, the Food Editor of Good Magazine and the “Queen of Pastrami,” this week-long intensive seminar had the best itinerary this gastronome could hope for. Plus, I got to share my most profound interests with likeminded individuals, who in one way or another understand the significance of food as a tool to preserve and enrich our cultural heritage and that of others.

Although this week, as one would imagine, explored specifically Jewish food culture in New York, it did so strictly under the parameters that Jewish food culture, like that of the Irish or Italians, is of equal significance to the fabric of the city, so there was little to no religious undertone.

chineseTo give you a re-cap of my week, every morning, more or less, we began our day defining the diversity of Jewishness in the realm of food traditions. We reviewed historic Jewish cookbooks and recipes held in the special collections library at the Center for Jewish History and also got a private showing of the menu and cookbook collection held at the New York Public Library.

We had a challah and babka workshop at Breads Bakery, went on a Lower East Side food crawl that included all the greats like Katz’s Deli, Russ and Daughters, Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes, The Pickle Guys, and Kossar’s Bialys, to name a few. We met Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte NYC, a master in spices and the senses.

challahWe had a cooking demonstration with Eli Sussman, the head chef at Mile End Deli. We learned some pitching tips from a lecture with Gabriella Gershenson, the Food Features Editor at Every Day with Rachel Ray. We also went on a tour of Little Odessa and Brighton Beach with Knish expert Laura Silver, learned about MAZON, a national non-profit organization that works on ending hunger, and had a lecture with Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice-President of the James Beard Foundation, about the future of our food and the importance of intertwining flavor and health into the larger conversation.

I’m most definitely forgetting some other wonderful and informative events, probably because the week was so engaging and full of enriching experiences.

criscoAs if the daytime schedule wasn’t eventful enough, all the participants were required to dine together every night of the week. And further encouraged to talk to a different participant as a way to keep the group dynamics flowing. A memorable dinner, aside from the tasting at Bar Bolonat and the meal at La Vara, was probably our Shabbat dinner, where all twenty of us shopped, cooked and cleaned for a home-cooked-family-meal.

All in all, this experience has truly given me a whole new perspective on the revival of Jewish food in the U.S., which being a non-Jew I initially thought only encompassed matzo ball soup and pastrami sandwiches. Thanks to Tent, today I know that Moroccan tagines, Iraqi qatayef, borscht, mamaliga and kvass have more than one culture associated with them. At the heart of the Jewish diaspora live the roots of their culinary diversity, making Jewish food as geographically specific as that of any immigrant American. If you haven’t already looked up this wonderful program in the hopes of joining their next seminar, I’m sure the fact the program is completely free of charge will encourage you to do so. There are also fashion, creative writing, museums, journalism, pop music and comedy workshops under the Tent umbrella (

A Day to Celebrate Food

by Kimi Ceridon

Student Kimi Ceridon recaps October 24th’s Food Day Event in Boston.

IMG_20141023_145511Food Day comes but once a year. With no gimmicks, costumes, bunnies or men in red suits, Food Day in the United States not only celebrates the foods that sustain us but also encourages people to think about their diets and get involved in the policies that impact the food system locally and worldwide. The October 24th celebration grew out of the internationally recognized October 16th World Food Day celebration which honors the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN organization aimed at eradicating hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

This year, Food Day Massachusetts began with a Food Day Eve celebration at Babson College and continued with an official kick off at the Massachusetts State House the following day.

IMG_20141023_123757Babson’s Food Day Eve Event was served up in “five courses”. The first course started the day off with Andrew Zimmern, Gail Simmons and other panelists telling their own food stories. While Zimmern is probably best known for his television show “Bizarre Foods,” there was nothing bizarre about his commitment to addressing issues of social justice and the food system. In Zimmern’s personal food story, he told how his thinking about the food system has evolved over the years. In recognizing Babson’s leading role in entrepreneurship, he proclaimed that entrepreneurs would save our planet. Following the morning’s panel discussion, the second course was a locally sourced meal set among a group of food entrepreneurs introducing their products. There was everything from Fedwell homemade dog food to Pure Maple Water to egg-free mayo from Hampton Creek and many more.

IMG_20141023_101051The third course had four food entrepreneurs crowd source ideas to address their toughest challenges. It also never hurts to get advice from successful entrepreneurs like Simmons, Zimmern, Tom Ryan of Smashburger and Chef Adam Melonas of Chew Lab. The fourth and fifth courses were squarely aimed at looking at careers in the food industry, and a panel of food industry professionals gave insights on how to get a job in the industry. The day closed with a final panel featuring some of Boston’s most prominent restaurateurs telling their own stories about navigating a food-related career.

Food Day in Massachusetts officially commenced the following morning at the Massachusetts State House. The rainy morning could not dampen the spirits of the crowd gathered in the great hall. In keeping with Food Day’s goal of raising awareness about food policy, the kick off event was centered on the Massachusetts Food System Plan. Food Day represented one of the first milestones for the Massachusetts Food System Planning Team where they reported on outcomes from the statewide listening sessions that occurred earlier in the year. Since the last time Massachusetts had a statewide food system plan was in 1975, there was a lot to be told.

FB_IMG_1414158470877Aside from the Massachusetts Food System Plan, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources Commissioner, Gregory C. Watson, offered a rousing speech outlining the many food-related reasons Massachusetts residents have to celebrate. In keeping with the World Food Day theme, “Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth,” Watson outlined how family farms in Massachusetts are leading in innovation saying, “Our real strength stems from our ability – more than that – our willingness to integrate old and new – traditional and innovative.”

In what would be his last Food Day as Massachusetts State Governor, Governor Deval Patrick took the podium. He further recounted the efforts of his administration in making Masssachusetts a leader in farming, agriculture and food policy before proclaiming October 24th Food Day in Massachusetts.

While Food Day was October 24th, there are many ongoing celebrations. Find a celebration near you at

Exploring Latino Cuisine in Eastie

by Carlos C. Olaechea

Student Carlos C. Olaechea recounts the Gastronomy Students Association’s tour of Latino eateries in East Boston

Frio Rico

Part of the draw to Boston University’s Gastronomy Program is being surrounded by Boston’s vibrant food scene. From the ever growing list of fine dining establishments to the omnipresent farmers markets showcasing the rich variety of local products, good food seems to be all around in this town. Boston also has its own food culture to offer newcomers, like myself, in the form of lobster rolls, clam chowder, oysters, and apple cider, just to name a few.

Additionally, the city’s immigrant populations have added a great deal to Boston’s culinary landscape: pizza and cannoli in the North End, a wealth of Irish pubs, dim sum in Chinatown, Korean food in Allston, and many more. Last Friday, the Gastronomy Students Association explored different Latin American cuisines in East Boston as part of the GSA’s Eastie Food Crawl.

Participants met at the Wood Island Blue Line T station and walked down Bennington street to the first stop, a Peruvian grocery and ice cream/shaved ice spot called Frio Rico. While perusing the shelves laden with chile pastes, herbs, dried beans, and grains, we sampled house made lúcuma ice cream. Native to Peru, the lúcuma fruit has been described as having a flavor reminiscent of sweet potato and maple syrup, butterscotch, or persimmon. While gastronomy students couldn’t quite put their finger on the flavor, they all enjoyed the cold treat. Student Alex Cheser took advantage of the store’s selection of condiments and purchased a jar of ají amarillo chile paste, a staple in many Peruvian dishes.

Tu Metapan

The next stop was Tu Metapan, a casual Salvadoran restaurant. Some students enjoyed Mexican Coca Cola, packaged in glass bottles and made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, and everyone tried sips of marañon juice, made from cashew fruit and having a light, apple-like flavor. We enjoyed a small sampling of Salvadoran snacks, including what many consider to be the hallmark of the cuisine, pupusas. The popular snack is made of nixtamalized corn dough – or masa – stuffed with a variety of fillings, flattened to quarter inch thick disks, and then griddled. We opted for fillings of beans and cheese, as well as cheese and loroco, the buds of an edible vine that is native to El Salvador. Another native plant, chipilín, was mixed in the soft cornmeal dough of tamales that encased a smooth filling of refried beans.

Atole at Tu Metapan

For a little added protein, we ordered a plate of Salvadoran chicharrones. Usually referring to fried pork rinds in other Latin American countries, the Salvadoran version consisted of chunks of crispy fried pork with some fatty pieces that melted in our mouths. A vinegary cabbage slaw called curtido, which was served from a communal plastic jar, cut the richness, as well as spicy pickled vegetables and a tomato based dressing. Having experienced Salvadoran cuisine before, Alex Cheser ordered a tall glass of hot atole – a thick, sweet corn drink – for all of us to sample.

La Chiva

After thanking our waitress at Tu Metapan, we strolled over to La Chiva, a late night Colombian fast food eatery that is open until 3:00 AM. Knowing that we had one more stop on our food crawl, we ordered just a few small snacks to share from the vitrine of tantalizing fritters, sausages, and other savories. Along with sampling a mora juice made with aromatic Andean blackberries, we tried some small beef and potato turnovers called empanadas made with cornmeal dough – a unique feature found only in the empanadas of Colombia and Venezuela. Along with the fried turnovers, we ordered a pan de queso and an almojábana, two variations on cheesy bread made with cassava flour.

El Chalan

Our last stop for the evening was for Peruvian rotisserie chicken at Pollos a la Brasa El Chalan, whose logo had a chicken dressed as a Peruvian cowboy, or chalan. We enjoyed some of Peru’s national soda, Inca Kola, which is the only soft drink that beats Coca Cola in any country. The notes of lemon verbena and vanilla of the golden hued drink were a refreshing compliment to juicy, seasoned rotisserie chicken, crunchy French fries and fried yucca sticks, and spicy dipping sauces. Being that rotisserie chicken is to Peruvians what Pizza is to Americans, it should come as no surprise that El Chalan is open until 2:00 AM every night.

Along with tasting a few of the diverse cuisines of Latin America, we were able to see how neighborhoods change over time as new waves of immigrants arrive in a neighborhood. Amidst the Latino restaurants, taquerías, and bodegas we passed, we also noticed several Italian-American restaurants, bakeries, and markets, including the oldest Italian restaurant in Boston, Jeveli’s. It was interesting to note how many different Latin American nationalities, as well as an older Italian-American community, coexist in the same neighborhood, making for a culturally rich – and very delicious – experience.


The Language of Food

by Carlos C. Olaechea

Student Carlos C. Olaechea recaps Dan Jurafsky’s lecture and book signing at Harvard Bookstore on October 10th.

photo credit: Kingmond Yong,

As gastronomy students, we learn that food is intrinsically tied to many aspects of our human existence, and through the multidisciplinary nature of our program we learn to view food through many different lenses. History, anthropology, politics, and visual arts are just a few of the ways in which we examine what food means to humankind, but as author and scholar Dan Jurafsky illustrated to a packed house on October 10th at the Harvard Bookstore, language can actually offer some of the most revealing information about what we eat.

A professor of linguistics at Stanford University, Jurafsky recently published a book titled The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, and he was present at the bookstore in Harvard Square last Friday to sign copies and give a talk about the meanings of the words we use to describe food and eating.

He got the idea for writing a book about linguistics and food while doing research in China and hearing someone tell him that the origin of the word “ketchup” was Chinese. He thought there was no way that ketchup could be Chinese, so he did some research to refute the notion and ended up finding that the word for the “all-American” condiment is, in fact, of Chinese origin.

Jurafsky began his very animated, prop-accented talk with an exploration of the origins of ketchup. He quickly went through the long history of how an East Asian fermented fish sauce called ga zhap became a favorite of British importers who made it a hit in their homeland. The luxurious condiment – as happens with most luxury goods – soon spawned knockoffs that all tried to cheaply imitate the umami flavors of the original Asian product. The original Chinese name for the sauce began to transform and Anglicize so that it was legible and pronounceable to the general English-speaking population. Around the 1850s, Americans started making it out of tomatoes, added sugar, and removed the fish altogether making the ketchup that we know today. It was through this example that Jurafsky demonstrated how the names of foods tell the stories of foods.

Photo credit:

Jurafsky went on to illustrate other aspects of linguistics present in the foods that we eat, providing some interesting observations. Showing the audience a bag of Lays potato chips and the pricier Pop Chips, Jurafsky read the back labels of each and noted how the latter distinguished itself as a better product by stating that which it is not. Having examined scores of other packaged foodstuffs, he stated that for every time the word “no” appears on a package, there is an average price increase of four cents. Similarly, he explained how expensive restaurants tend to use a small number of larger words in their menus as opposed to midrange to inexpensive restaurants that use a larger number of smaller words, suggesting that one can add 18 cents for every extra letter on a restaurant menu.

Jurafsky and his research team went further and examined how consumers talk and write about food by examining user reviews on the website Yelp. He noticed that bad reviews are almost always written in the past tense and use “we” to describe the experience. The language, he stated, is remarkably similar to that used to describe traumatic experiences, where “we” is used to express a sense of collective suffering. He also found, in his research, that reviewers used sexual innuendos when describing expensive dining experiences and drug references when describing inexpensive ones, with the majority of drug references being made by women.

Perhaps the most fascinating revelation was a phonological one that showed that the sounds of certain food names can reveal certain patterns about their place in our culture. Jurafsky showed the audiences several boxes of snack crackers – Cheez-It, Triscuit, Ritz, Wheat Thins – and illustrated how the short “i” sound present in each brand name is known as a front vowel and that in the English language small things are represented by words with front vowels. In effect, brand names for chips and snack crackers reflect their diminutive size. On the contrary, words with back vowels are used to describe things that are rich, bold, or voluptuous, such as ice cream flavors.

After a question and answer session where Jurafsky answered audience members’ queries regarding why certain foods have certain names (a lot of the answers are in his book), as well as addressing issues of eroticization and familiarization in food marketing and the price implications involved, the author and linguist tied in all the examples to illustrate his point that there are many stories to be found in food and our words for food. He wrapped up the night urging us all to go out and look for those stories. As gastronomy students, many of us are already doing just that.