A glimpse behind the scenes of Weekends with Yankee’s third season, debuting this spring.
By Amy Traverso
Dec 20 2018
Jacques Pépin’s Moules au Gratin (Mussels Gratinée)Photo Credit : Lori Pedrick / styling by Catrine Kelty
Sometimes TV guests need a bit of coaxing before they can perform the very unnatural act of acting natural before a camera. As the host, you walk onto the set and meet their wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights stare, and you know your job is to draw them out and make that camera seem like just another friendly face.
Then there are TV guests like Jacques Pépin, who greets you like a racehorse at the gate. Here is the man who won an Emmy cooking alongside Julia Child, who out-wisecracked Letterman on his own show (while preparing a lovely salmon terrine). With guests like this, the trick is to simply keep up.
From the moment the Weekends with Yankee crew arrived at Pépin’s home studio in Westport, Connecticut, and set up the cameras, he was off like a shot, racing around his property in search of mushrooms, taking names on the boules court, and whipping up two recipes using fresh mussels from Bangs Island in Casco Bay. We began with roasted mussels in the style of escargots, with lots of butter and garlic, then used the cooking liquid to make a creamy soup called billi bi.
He slowed down only at the very end of our visit, when we sat down to eat. There, on the table, was a scrapbook of sorts, a hand-illustrated collection of menus (among his many talents, Pépin is an accomplished artist) that form a vibrant record of meals with friends and family that he’s been keeping for the past 50 years; the collection now spans 12 volumes. On each page is an illustrated menu, usually written in French, from events such as last New Year’s Eve or his daughter’s 50th birthday or a “Welcome Home to Spring” feast. Guests sign their names or write a thank-you or an inside joke. When the wine is especially good, he pastes in the label too. And on this day, he pulled out a pen, turned to a fresh page, and wrote: August 11, ’18 / Pour Amy / Moules au Gratin / Billi Bi / Cheers!
I was in the book! Now I was the one feeling shaky, but with my steadiest hand I turned to the facing page and wrote: Dear Jacques, Thank you for one of the most memorable meals of my life! Amy.