Janson Media // 2006 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // July 3rd, 2008
"This dish is the essence of my fast food. Season a filet of salmon and nutty bread crumbs right on your serving platter and bake it in a very low oven while you make another dish or entertain your guests. Don't worry about burning the platter; it won't be damaged by the low heat of the oven, and the fish will be perfectly cooked." -- Jacques Pépin
Unless you've been living in a refrigerator box, you've probably noticed that cooking shows are hot. Not just shows, but entire channels -- yea, even media conglomerates -- have been spawned from the rather simple idea of showing us how others prepare food. We're in an era where Iron Chefs square off against each other; where "survivors" outlast each other based solely on culinary skill; where foulmouthed control freaks tear into underlings with abandon; where supermodels push food porn...and it is all considered entertainment.
Indeed, such shows are often entertaining. But they don't necessarily aim to impart culinary skills. If you'd rather focus on the food in the pan than a flash in the pan, Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way (Volume 2) might be your ticket.
Fast Food My Way is executed without pretension. Jacques opens the lesson with an "opening credits sequence." He whips through the execution of a disc in mere seconds, proving that good food is within your reach. The underlying message is much like Gusteau's from Ratatouille: anyone can cook, and real food is easier and better than fast food. Jacques then walks through the essentials of creating a complete menu, several courses that can be prepared within 30-60 minutes.
As a foodie I can vouch for Pépin's approach. A truism you'll hear in cooking institutes is that anything is edible when sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Pépin uses simple ingredients and typically prepares them over moderate heat in a fragrant mixture of olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and "whatever herbs are fresh from your garden." His technique and preparation are so straightforward that you can virtually smell the fresh herbs hitting the pan and guess what the final meld of flavors might taste like. This simplicity has the dual benefit of reinforcing bedrock cooking techniques while eroding some of the mystique of gourmet cooking. Why use forty-five ingredients and 45 minutes when four ingredients and 4 minutes will do?
A perfect example of this approach is Fast Food My Way with Jacques Pepin (Volume 2)'s first recipe, summertime pasta. You or I might call it pasta primavera, but "summertime pasta" was a name carefully selected to remove any preconceptions. Unlike some pasta primaveras that call for elaborate cream sauces or spices, Pépin's approach is simple: zucchini, mushrooms, pasta, and tomatoes that are merely warmed with a splash of the pasta water. His version looks better than most, is easier than most, and won't send any budding cook screaming for the hills.
As he works through each lesson, Jacques asserts himself very subtly. When he casually mentions his friends Martin (Yan) or Julia (Child), you might suspect the slightest bit of casual mockery for upstarts on the food television scene. Or perhaps he is as easygoing and unpretentious as he seems, talking to you as he would talk to anyone about food. Fast Food My Way is Pépin's brand, but his style is not self-aggrandizing.
If there is a criticism of Pépin's instruction, it's that he glosses over some of the preparation necessary to prepare some of his meals. For example, to include roasted red peppers in a dish, you first must char, sweat, and peel the peppers. This is hardly an Achilles heel; rather, it helps streamline the narrative of each lesson. But it becomes crucial when he discusses the making of an almond cake in approximately 45 seconds. Also, when he pokes a piece of fish or samples a dish and declares that it needs more pepper, there is no way to know what he is reacting to. In the end, there's no substitute for real experience.
The disc itself is as straightforward as the man. Each lesson comes with a lengthy introduction of sponsor messages which get old, and are repeated as "bonus" features. The sound and video quality are reminiscent of a solid public television offering, which is to say stolid and unflashy but executed with quality. The lessons included in this volume are:
* Lesson 1: summertime pasta, two raspberry gratins, asparagus with shallots, red snapper with tomatoes and cream
* Lesson 2: beef short rib, mushroom, and potato stew; scallops seviche and guacamole; champagne on fruit "rocks"
* Lesson 3: asparagus with croutons and chorizo; oven-baked salmon w/ sun-dried tomato and salsa mayonnaise; melon and prosciutto; sweet cheese medley; almond cake with berries
* Lesson 4: apple, pecan, and apricot crumble; instant beef tenderloin stew; mushroom and raisin chutney; mushroom velout with almonds
* Lesson 5: veal roast; pear brown betty; skillet endives; tomato and mozzarella fans
* Lesson 6: codfish brandade; chocolate hazelnut brownie cake; broccoli rabe and pea fricassee; chicken breasts with garlic and parsley
* Lesson 7: pressure-cooker lamb and white bean stew; lobster salad with tarragon; lobster bisque; couscous; Asian eggplant salad
* Lesson 8: chicken tonnato; summer salad; sea bass gravlax with cucumber; chestnut and chocolate cake
As the lessons wear on, Jacques remains charming throughout. He repeats the same basic advice, but the repetition is magnified through DVD presentation. In a periodic show, such repeated nuggets of wisdom would serve to reinforce themes over time. If we have to hear twice how to select and peel asparagus or open a bottle of champagne, it is worth it to see Pépin's joy in sharing the knowledge. All told, Fast Food My Way with Jacques Pepin (Volume 2) is an engaging, absorbable way to relax and glean information you can apply almost immediately in the kitchen.
Review content copyright © 2008 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Janson Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site