As he prepares to be honored at the 2018 Hayground Chefs Dinner, culinary icon and Master Chef Jacques Pépin talks edible education—and clam digging.
One would think that being the honoree at the annual Hayground Chefs Dinner—with honorary chairs Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick—would mean simply basking in the glow of the accolades coming your way. That is, unless you’re the inimitable Jacques Pépin.
When we spoke, the tireless, famed French-born chef was just off a plane after giving a lecture in Cleveland and about to take off for Rhode Island for back-to-back fundraisers for his Jacques Pépin Foundation, a nonprofit he created to teach culinary skills to those who need jobs. What was he doing in between? Working on the menu for the Hayground dinner, slotted for Sunday, July 29, and breaking down the ingredients for the esteemed chefs who will actually be cooking that evening (including former honoree and North Fork Table and Inn owner Claudia Fleming, among other luminaries).
The menu will feature some of Pépin’s Long Island favorites, gleaned from his weekends at friend and former New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne’s home in Springs, where the two would fish and clam, seek out eels by the light of the moon and harvest mussels in Gardiners Bay.
For the 82-year-old Pépin, who began his apprenticeship at the age of 13, learning and teaching the ways of the kitchen has always nourished his soul. “When you talk about community and being together and sharing, there is nothing that can do that like food,” says Pépin. “Food brings people together. I think the kitchen and certainly the dining room are the great equalizers.”
It makes sense that the Hayground, which puts the relationship between growing and making food at the center of its progressive curriculum, would honor Pépin, who is as much an educator as he is a chef. “There is no class distinction there—in many other areas of study, someone is better than you. With food, you all participate at your own level. It doesn’t matter who you are in the kitchen,“ he says. “Giving students that kind of experience can change the rest of their life.” Tickets from $1,500, 631-537-7068, ext. 113, haygroundchefsdinner.org
Photography by: PHOTOG BY TOM HOPKINS