Claudine Pépin: Bigot

Every time, and I mean every time, I rest bread dough overnight in the refrigerator, I’m put in mind of Claudine Pépin. That’s Jacques Pépin’s daughter for those of you who might not be familiar with her. She isn’t heard from much these days, but a few years ago it seemed as though her father was trying to get her primed for her own food show. It never happened as far as I know. The most I’m aware of her doing on her own is a little blogging — what a loser! — on the Wine Spectator web site. Yet for a while there it wasn’t unusual for her to pop up in this or that episode of one of Jacques’ PBS series.

It had been one of those weeks I guess and I was driving up the Kennedy expressway in Chicago on my way up to the bakery to work the nighttime bread shift. I had local talk radio yammering on in the background, and was just about to turn the dial when a woman called in complaining about Claudine Pépin. She’d seen her on television the night before, apparently, and had been scandalized by a comment Claudine had made about some breadsticks she’d just finished. Apparently she’d looked square into the camera and proclaimed to all the world that her breadsticks were “retarded”. An unconscionable affront to the developmentally disabled community is what it was. The caller demanded an apology.

Well of course Claudine wasn’t disparaging the mentally challenged. What she was in fact talking about was that she’d parked her breadsticks in the refrigerator overnight to develop their flavor. In the parlance of the baking world of course, the word for that is retarding, which is to say, employing a method by which you slow down the growth rate of the yeast. The caller didn’t know that of course, nor did the host who seemed rather confused by the whole thing. He’d apparently once met Claudine Pépin and liked her quite a lot. Still, he promised he’d look into it. Whether Claudine ever issued the apology or not I don’t know.

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