JACQUES PEPIN is an excellent teaching chef. He started cooking in a restaurant near Lyon, France, when he was 13 years old. He has been a chef in two of the world's great restaurants : The Plaza Athenee in Paris and Le Pavillon in New York. During 1950s, he was the personal chef to three French presidents, including Charles de Gaulle.
He is the author of four cookbooks, including La Technique and the recently published La Methode. Both are illustrated manuals of kitchen techniques. Recently, I spent a day with Pepin at his Connecticut home analyzing his kitchen and the cooking equipment he has chosen. As we entered the house, Pepin remarked: "People who visit my home always remain in my kitchen. I wanted the work space to be the center of the wing, with dining and sitting spaces adjacent to it. My friends could work with me or sit across the island and talk." The 36-by-29 foot area is divided into kitchen, dining room, living room and office.
The kitchen is dominated by a center island which measures 9-by-5 feet and is 35 inches high. The height was set after considerable testing. In order to do this you start with a surface that is 28 inches high, a standard table for example. Do some chopping and slicing. See how the height feels. If it is too low take a hard maple board 24-by-18-by-2 inches, place it on top of the table and repeat the testing. Continue to test and add boards, until the most comfortable working height has been reached. These boards, which Jacques uses as cutting and chopping surfaces on his finished island, can be purchased from any good lumber yard. They go into the sink after each use, are washed with warm water on both sides, then dried. Once a week they are washed with bleach.
The surface of the island is covered with marble which Pepin found in an old second-hand furniture shop. He likes marble because it is nonporous. He can put down a hot pot or clean a spill without difficulty. Its smooth, cold surface is ideal for rolling out doughs. It is the only surface for sugar work and is very easy to clean. His second surface choice is glazed tile. But it must be very flat, and with sides that are perfect right angles. When they are set in place, use the finest grout and work for a completely smooth and even surface. Third choice would be white formica. "White is like the matting around a painting, it sets off the dish."
A space of a quarter of an inch is left between the marble slats at two points for knife storage slots. The blades are stored out of danger and are much more accessible to Pepin as he stands at the central work point. There is a 12 inch deep stainless-steel sink with a garbage disposal in the center. The outside dimensions of the sink are 19-by-16 inches. A hot water dispenser keeps a good supply of water of 190f. It is used to get a fast start on foods cooked in hot water. The key to the design is keeping a large central area clear for work. Electrical outlets for five appliances are on either side. Pepin says that if he were to design it again he would add a five plug strip in the center.
On the sink side is an ice machine that continually produces ice cubes. A knob on the unit allows you to control the size of the cubes. The ice is most often used for standard bar drinks but during my visit, it became a highly effective ice bucket. The wine was simply buried in the ice storage unit.
The inside of the island contains 135 cubic feet of storage space which is completely filled. Under the sink is an area for the storage of cleaning aids. The main work area has three drawers designed with a hand grip cut into the doors. You can reach in and pull the drawer open. There are no knobs to get caught on. The drawers are actually Formica covered sliding platforms on rolling tracks that will hold 85 pounds and can be fully extended. Under two of the drawers is an open storage area measuring 40 inches deep. It's perfect for the biggest stock pot. Objects inside are arranged according to how often they are used. Extra large plates and big molds in the back, mixing bowls and work trays up front. The second area along the work side has three more sliding platforms. The lowest platform has a 10-inch open area for food processor and mixer attachments. The side opposite the ice machine has a large opening for easy access to the stock pots. The dining side of the island has a decorative frame with a 10-inch recessed area. A foot rest comes 5 inches off the floor. Pepin calls it, "the voyeurist area, where the guests can see me perform while we all enjoy a drink."