Judge Josh Rode thinks sweetbread is offal (rimshot!)
This is how I made it.
Jacques Pépin has been a staple on public television for years, and was a world-renowned chef for decades before that. You know that saying, "He wrote the book?" Pépin literally did; his book La Technique is used to teach the fundamentals of French cooking. So when he tells you to slice the corn off the cob by using the upper edge of the knife and cutting straight up toward your exposed chest, you can be assured he knows what he's talking about.
Despite his occasional unsafe advice, Pépin gives clear and detailed instructions, and though I was too lazy to go to the store for ingredients, I felt as if I could have made most of the dishes he demonstrated. He is an unassuming, engaging host whose dishes look so good that your mouth will water as you watch, and you will be tempted to try food that you would otherwise never dream of eating. For instance, I don't like seafood, but Pépin's Sea Bass in Shredded Potato Skin, Oysters Madison, and Poached Salmon in Ravigote Sauce look delicious. He spends an episode on offal, which are the parts of the animals you normally wouldn't think to eat, such as intestines and tails and something called sweetbread—which is neither sweet nor, in fact, bread; it's a really disgusting dish made from the thymus gland. But after he was done with it, I was ready to chow down.
Jacques isn't out to entertain so much as teach, so there is nothing flashy about his presentation. Each episode begins with Jacques, by himself or with a guest, pretending to have dinner. If there is a guest, they will exclaim, "This is delicious! How did you make it?" To which Jacques invariably replies, "This is how I made it," and an overview of the recipes he's about to demonstrate runs. Then, after the introductory credits roll, he gets to cooking.
There doesn't seem to be any pattern to the episodes spread throughout the three discs, but each episode has its own theme, and there are an unbelievably large number of recipes offered. I'm well aware that many of you cooks won't even consider a cooking-related purchase without knowing which recipes are available, so here they are:
The television aspect ratio has been stretched out for widescreen viewing, and the picture is clear and sharp. The colors are not tremendously vivid, but there is good balance. The basic stereo sound is quite adequate, carrying Pépin's pleasantly accented voice with clarity while allowing the ambient cooking noises to come through as well. There are no extras. My biggest beef with the program is the DVD menus, which have options for selecting individual programs or scenes, but do not have a "play all" function, which means that once an episode is finished, the disc goes back to the top menu instead of the next episode. This would be an exceptional "listen as you do other things" show if you didn't have to choose another episode every twenty minutes.
Essential Pépin is the culinary version of Bob Ross' Joy of Painting; a low-key but engaging host who is more teacher than entertainer, and who makes his art seem completely accessible to those who would otherwise consider themselves hopelessly inept. It's a pleasant watch even if you don't know a colander from a strainer and never plan to attempt any of the recipes.
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