FRENCH purists may be in for a shock: Jacques Pepin, chef to three of France's heads of state, takes shortcuts in his recipes. He adds canned soups, frozen peas, and other convenience foods without apology.
Pepin says he streamlines his cooking because he doesn't always have time to spend in the kitchen after a long, busy day. "In France it is quite common for good home chefs to buy certain prepared foods at the market," he explains in a Monitor interview here. "They start with a proven brand, then use their own ideas to create their own dishes."
He shares many of his shortcut ideas in a new cookbook, "The Short-Cut Cook" (William Morrow and Co., $19.95). And in a new PBS television series called "Today's Gourmet," he shares cooking ideas and techniques. The 26-part series, taped at KQED in San Francisco, premieres this month on public television stations across the United States.
The TV series focuses on topics like bistro cooking, Mediterranean food, nouvelle cuisine, party menus, low-budget cooking, cooking for friends, and country French cuisine.
Special guests include Martin Yan, an expert in Chinese cooking, and Alice Waters, who will share her views and enthusiasm about cooking with organic fruits and vegetables.
Pepin's daughter, Claudine, also joins him on two shows - one on family holiday traditions and another on budget meals. "She's a student, and I show her several economical things to do with chicken and ways to save leftover fruits and vegetables," he says.
Pepin explains that although his cooking style hasn't changed from his early French training, the recipes have. "The food is lighter. The calories are cut down. The food is quick and easy, but it still remains within the context of classic cuisine," he says.
"I still use butter, but a very small amount. I use less salt. I still use meat - but smaller portions - and I always have used a lot of vegetables. For me, this is a cuisine that is valid," he explains. "It has a style, and is exciting to do."
His show is not about nutrition, he points out. It's about how we eat today. "I want to show people how to eat better," he says.
In the TV series, he grills quail in a matter of minutes, and shows how trout can be deboned at the table. He uses Japanese rice wine vinegar to make a light sauce to dress up steamed broccoli, and prepares a dish of quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah"), a South American grain. "I want great variety in my menus," he says.
Another program on French country-style food includes his mother's recipes. A purist in her own traditions, Mrs. …