Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Jacques Pepin is making me feel bad about my cooking. Every time I check in to Facebook, our handsome French-American elf pops up from his Connecticut country kitchen, uninvited and, increasingly for me, unwelcome.

Mr. Pepin has been showing people how to cook since long before I learned to scramble an egg. He’s had TV shows, written a ton of books and was a buddy of Julia Child’s.

Now, he’s cooking on social media.

I didn’t sign up for the videos, but there he is every day, making dinner or a bite of lunch for his wife. And he’s watchable. There’s a rhythm to his onion chopping, and his accent inspires confidence in those of us who need to improve our chiffonade skills.

The other day, I signed onto Facebook to check my messages and there Jacques was, making a soup of the leftover vegetables he retrieved from his fridge. And this guy doesn’t fool around: there on the cutting board were some gnarly-looking mushrooms and some tired lettuce. Off it all went into the soup. Even the lettuce.

Tortilla pizzas, scallops ceviche, turkey breast – every day it’s something I hadn’t considered. Just when I’ve decided to retreat to my default and defrost some chicken thighs again, snooze, there he is showing me how to whip up a batch of my own mayonnaise.

TV chefs are ubiquitous, of course: I can watch Rachel or Giada or Jamie with a passive nonchalance that leaves me safely uninspired. Those cooks don’t cause me any self doubt. So what is it about Jacques?

Maybe it’s the timing.

Anything he cooks takes five minutes of preparation, tops, the perfect length to be watched while scrolling through the newsfeed. And he rarely moves from his tidy little counter. Meanwhile over on TV, Rachael’s FitBit is clocking a 10K as she scurries between chopping board and oven.

She’s exhausting to watch.

Jacques makes everything look so free of fuss and easy, as if to say, “Lookie here, I made this warm, delicious lunch in less time than it will take you to read the comments on the next funny dog Facebook post. And I never broke a sweat. Canned soup for lunch in my house? Certainly not!”

Of course, I’ve discovered the Jacques Pepin Facebook channel at a time when my cooking baseline is blah. I’ll blame the pandemic, but these past nine months have been a dreary rotation of chicken thighs, chili, beef stew and pizza for dinner. After June or so, I just left the slow cooker out on the counter; I knew I’d be tossing something or other in there soon enough.

Maybe I’m just bored with myself in general. Yesterday I watched Jacques make hamburgers, and I thought about going to the store to get the fixings, but then the inspiration passed.

I am a lazy maker of mundane meals.

I’ll be reminded of my ennui again tomorrow, when the next video pops up on my feed – probably something about how I’ve been making peanut butter sandwiches all wrong. See? He’s gotten himself under my skin.

Which reminds me that the next time I bake chicken thighs, I should peel off the skin, butter it and bake it on a cookie sheet until crispy. Jacques makes that to crumble atop his leftovers soup – he said he likes it better than bacon.

When he turned to the camera and crunched a bit of it, it sounded delicious. But I won’t be trying it. And not even he can make me.

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