Why Jacques Pépin Says Your Hands Are The Most Useful Kitchen Tool You Have

"The first things you notice about Jacques Pépin are his hands," wrote the Washington Post in 1977. "They are the hands of an artist, a magician, and a master French chef." Fittingly, to the home cook who frets when their stand mixer is out of commission, Pépin would offer the following bit of advice: Use your hands. The legendary French cookbook author and pioneering TV gourmand told The Kitchn that one's mitts are the best tool to have in the kitchen. "With them, you squeeze, shuck, and pull apart," he said. 

Anyone who's spent time with Pépin's recipes has probably heard this nugget of wisdom before, whether on an old episode of "At Home With Jacques Pépin" or in the pages of one of his books. He's known for keeping things simple and making the most of what's at hand, whether he's reinventing leftovers — of which he never wastes a scrap — or taking a few extra minutes to knead pie dough the old-fashioned way. 

Being resourceful during tough times

Pépin's cooking ethos — his resourcefulness, his tendency to use his hands in place of fancy equipment — traces back to his childhood. When defending his habit of mixing red and white wine in the same glass, he told Grub Street, "I'm very miserly in the kitchen. I lived during the war." Indeed, while editing the doorstop collection "Essential Pépin," Rux Martin told Food & Wine that the chef bristled against eliminating a recipe for chicken-hearts-and-gizzards soup, a wartime staple, from the book. "It is delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and different," he said. 

Speaking of chicken, Pépin may have been referring to it specifically when he spoke of using his hands to "pull apart" food. In a demonstration on KQED, he uses a knife only when necessary. Otherwise, he uses his hands to briskly crack the bones of the legs and remove them from the carcass. Of course, even Pépin wouldn't tell you to do away with kitchen tools altogether. 

He suggests having these foundational cooking tools

Even a master chef like Pépin can't chop an onion with his fingers or flip an egg with the palm of his hand. As such, he recommends a good, sharp knife, along with a few other essentials — a slip-free chopping block, a rubber spatula, and a quality vegetable peeler. 

Pépin is unsurprisingly a master of knife skills and has about 50 different types in his kitchen. However, in a Facebook video, he assures home cooks that they only need three kinds — a super-sharp, eight to 10-inch knife, a six to seven-inch utility knife, and a paring knife. He also stresses the importance of his vegetable peeler, saying, "That's a knife, too." 

As for that slip-free chopping block, you don't necessarily need to invest in a fancy model. Pépin has been known to place a damp paper towel underneath his cutting board to keep it from sliding all over the counter. With those foundational tools in your cooking arsenal, your hands can still reign supreme as your most valuable culinary assets.