October 1, 2008

Pepin Cooks Up More Treats at KQED

By Chuck Barney

It's comforting to know that, in a television cooking-show world that has become jampacked with combative iron chefs, backstabbing wannabes, kitchen nightmares and gimmicks galore, there still is Jacques Pepin.

No frills. No nonsense. Just culinary magic for your viewing pleasure.

"With Jacques, it has always been what you see is what you get," says Tina Salter, a longtime associate of Pepin's and producer of his shows. "He doesn't have a special TV persona he turns on for the cameras. All he is concerned about is trying to teach people how to cook and get a good meal on the table."

The man Julia Child once called "the best chef in America" returns to public television this weekend and foodies across the country have cause to celebrate. The KQED-produced "More Food My Way" is his first new series in four years and 11th overall.

"There's no reason to stop yet," says Pepin, 72, during a phone interview. "I still love to cook and I still love to eat. I'm a glutton."

"More Fast Food My Way" invites viewers back to Pepin's kitchen set, where over 26 episodes, he whips up more than 100 easy-to- prepare dishes. But we're not talking burgers and fries. Using supermarket staples and uncomplicated techniques, Pepin produces everything from a simple snack to an elegant dinner and proves that healthful, tasty meals can be on the table faster than a trip to McDonald's.

"It's amazing what kinds of fresh foods you can find at the supermarket these days, including food offered in ways that save you time: pre-sliced mushrooms, pre-washed vegetables, rotisserie chicken "..." he says. "A lot of the recipes we do take five to seven minutes at the most."

Long before the establishment of the Food Network and/or chef Gordon Ramsay's first televised temper tantrum, the French-born Pepin was helping KQED carve out a special niche in the cooking- show genre. But don't ask for his critiques on the newfangled reality-cooking shows, because he really hasn't seen enough to know.

"Too many gimmicks," he says. "And you have a lot of people who really can't cook."

In the time since Pepin first appeared on KQED in the early 1980s, he has seen viewers become much more sophisticated when it comes to matters of food preparation and consumption.

"They have a lot more knowledge not only about how to find credible restaurants, but about purchasing quality food and wine," he says.

Still, he realizes there are those who are intimidated when they slip on an apron and walk into a kitchen.

"Always my first bit of advice to them is to have a glass of wine," he says. "Then, if you have a friend who likes to cook, ask to join them and pick up on what they know. Do it together, drink the wine, and if you burn the chicken a little bit, who cares?"

NOT SO 'EX'-CELLENT: "The Ex List, a new CBS drama debuting on Friday (8 p.m., Channel 13; 9 p.m. Channel 5), is one of those mixed- bag kind of offerings.

On one hand, Elizabeth Reaser ("Grey's Anatomy") is immensely charming as Bella, a thirtysomething marriage-minded woman navigating the shark-infested waters of dating.

On the other, the promising pilot episode is marred by some annoying side characters and off-putting dialogue. (A joke connected to a bikini wax gets way too much play.)

But even if that doesn't prove to be a deterrent, you have to wonder if the producers can build long-term success off the show's seemingly limited premise: Reaser's character is told by a psychic that she must marry in the next year or she never will. The kicker is that her future husband is someone she already has met and dated.

Now her mission is to track down and re-date all her exes, one by one, beginning with a very clingy -- and weepy -- musician.

Sounds like a concept better suited for a theatrical film than an ongoing TV series. And what happens when she finally does meet her soul mate? Don't ask us; we probably won't be hanging around that long.

Reach Chuck Barney at [email protected] Also check out his "TV Freak" blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tvfreak.Series premiere-- WHAT: "Jacques Pepin: More Fast Food My Way"-- WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Saturday-- WHERE: Channel 9 (KQED)

Originally published by Chuck Barney, Contra Costa Times.

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