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French Cooking in Philadelphia.

Master chef Georges Perrier of the nationally renowned Philadelphia French restaurant, Le Bec-Fin. He has revealed many of his recipes in his first cookbook, "Georges Perrier Le Bec-Fin Recipes" (Running Press).

16:56

Other segments from the episode on October 6, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 6, 1997: Interview with Jennifer Jason Leigh; Interview with Georges Perrier.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 06, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is known for portraying over-the-edge characters -- a prostitute in "Last Exit to Brooklyn," a psychopathic killer roommate in "Single White Female," a heroin-addicted punk rocker in "Georgia." She's won the best actress award from the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.

Now she's starring in two literary adaptations. She plays one of the three sisters in "A Thousand Acres," based on Jane Smiley's novel, which is a contemporary reworking of "King Lear," and Leigh is starring in a new adaptation of the Henry James novella "Washington Square."

Written in 1880 and set in New York, it's the story of a shy, plain and not terribly interesting young woman, Katherine (ph), who is the heir to a fortune. When a handsome, young, but broke suitor asks to marry her, she believes she's found her true love. But her father is convinced it's the money the young man is after.

The father, portrayed in the film by Albert Finney, forces his daughter to choose between him and her lover, and between money and love. The Washington -- Washington Square was also the basis of the 1949 film "The Heiress," which starred Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift.

I asked Jennifer Jason Leigh if there were lines in the Henry James novella that were particularly helpful in developing her character. She read me a passage.

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, ACTRESS: And if the delightful custom of her lover's visit, which yielded her a happiness in which confidence and timidity were strangely blended, had suddenly come to an end, she would not only not have spoken of herself as one of the forsaken, but she would not have thought of herself as one of the disappointed.

GROSS: I think one of the things that's really key in that line is her blend of confidence and timidity.

LEIGH: Mm-hmm. Exactly. And the confidence that it slowly comes to her, 'cause this is someone who had no confidence. And once in love, she's able to bloom and find herself.

And once in love, when she looks in the mirror, she doesn't see this ugly creature any longer who's always disappointing. She sees herself anew as it were, as you do when you fall in love. Suddenly, there is ground under your feet and it's just the most beautiful feeling in the world.

And with Katherine, it -- the way that James describes her, she always thought it would be this passionate, quick feeling of constant energy, and yet when -- what he writes when she's in love is that it gives her all the patience in the world, 'cause suddenly she's fulfilled in a way that is almost -- includes a kind of sacrifice because she can live from day to day or week to month just on the one visit, and the knowledge that he said, "I will see you again."

And I think every -- I was certainly like that and I know a lot of women who were. I mean, I remember the first crush I had, and I couldn't even call that love. But it was with a -- you know, I was 16 and it was with a waiter and he would say things like "take it easy," and then I would think about it for hours.

LAUGHTER

You know, really -- or "see you later," and just the fact that there was hope in that, you know, that he might actually want to see me later. You could live on things like that. So I certainly understand -- I mean, James just writes it in a much more beautiful way, but the feelings are timeless.

GROSS: Had he singled you out at a table he was waiting on?

LEIGH: Oh, me and my girlfriends would just go and sit at his table for hours, night after night. Yeah, we were, you know, like silly, silly girls. And he was the man.

GROSS: Let me get back to Henry James -- a couple of other descriptions that I'd like to read from the book. This is her father, the character's father thinking about her. He thinks: "poor Katherine was not defiant. She had no genius for bravado."

And later on, James describes her as, you know, a "dull, plain girl, she was called by rigorous critics; a quiet ladylike girl by those of the more imaginative sort. But by neither class was she very elaborately discussed."

So here's somebody who starts off kind of invisible; kind of unable to assert herself into the world in any way. And later she gets the kind of strength that is, in a way, also invisible. You know?

LEIGH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: It's such a kind of quiet...

LEIGH: It's a quiet strength.

GROSS: ... hidden strength. So tell me about playing all these traits that are so hidden?

LEIGH: Well, in a sense, that was the easy part because that's the part I understand. That's the part that's closest to home. And for me, in playing Katherine, those were the qualities which I really do -- I do understand because I possess them. I am quiet, by nature, I am shy by nature. I am socially awkward and it's hard for me to articulate what I feel and to express myself in a way that feels natural.

And so I loved her journey in this and her arc, because what happens is she comes to accept her awkwardness, as it were, and her silence; and accept them as her strengths. And so that's -- that's nice.

GROSS: This is a period piece. You're wearing period clothes -- 19th century, set in New York. And let me read again something from Henry James, and this is him describing her sense of clothing, her sense of style. He writes:

"Our heroin was 20 years old before she treated herself for evening wear to a red satin gown trimmed with gold fringe, though this was an article which for many years she had coveted in secret. It made her look, when she sported it, like a woman of 30, but oddly enough, in spite of her taste for fine clothes, she had not a grain of coquetry. And her anxiety when she put them on was as to whether they, and not she, would look well."

Tell me how you wore these clothes and what -- what you tried to convey in them?

LEIGH: Well being an inarticulate girl, I think she uses clothes as a means to express herself. And she has so much to say and she wants to say it in the most grand, beautiful, expressive way. And of course, she chooses everything wrong. I mean, but it's her way of communicating something.

The clothes were incredibly awkward, and the corsets were extremely uncomfortable.

GROSS: Did you have to wear corsets for the role?

LEIGH: Absolutely, yeah. The clothes won't fit without the corsets. And the thing of it is, I also of course did a lot of research about corsetry and the medical journals about the dangers of too-tight lacing. And it's pretty fascinating. I mean, what it does is they put the waist at your floating rib, which, you know, they made my waist to 19 inches. And so everything is compressed and all your internal organs are pushed down.

And some of these women, their livers would be pushed so far back that they would have the impression of the stays in them. Women wore organ stoppers, which looked like diaphragms, because sometimes their organs would come out of their bodies. They would die from having their lungs punctured by their ribs -- their ribs would grow extra cartilage and become connected to the breast bone.

So I mean, you can only imagine what life was like back then. And when you also think that you couldn't dress yourself as a woman if you had money, because all your dresses laced in the back and buttoned in the back. And when you think about that for even a short period of time, you realize how -- just how imprisoned you would feel in your life, in everyday life, not being able to simply dress yourself -- no freedom, no independence whatsoever.

GROSS: Because this is set in 19th century New York, were there certain contemporary mannerisms that it -- you had to get rid of? Mannerisms of your own that you really had to banish because they were just so inappropriate for the period?

GROSS: Well, there were a lot of -- I found a lot of etiquette books on the period which were very, very helpful to me. Most of the mannerisms that I had to get rid of were speech mannerisms. So, I worked with a dialect coach. And we actually all had to work with a dialect coach because Judith Ivy (ph) and I, we were the only Americans in the cast, but we were all supposed to be American.

So -- but, you know, in the 1850s, the speech was more mid-Atlantic, they call it, so we all sort of worked together on that. And yeah, you -- you know, women weren't supposed to express their emotions. That wasn't correct behavior, so to speak, you know. You weren't supposed to touch your face very often. But Katherine fails at all these things because she's without artifice.

I really loved learning the etiquette -- the language of the glove, of the fan, of the parasol, which can be quiet confusing 'cause they all, you know, one book defines it one way, another book defines it another way.

GROSS: Jennifer Jason Leigh is my guest, and she's starring in the new film adaptation of the Henry James novella Washington Square.

Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more.

LEIGH: OK.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Jennifer Jason Leigh. She's starring in a film adaptation of the Henry James novella Washington Square and she also stars in the adaptation of Jane Smiley's novel A Thousand Acres.

Let me ask you about A Thousand Acres. Like Washington Square, it's based on a book, so this is like two movies in a row where you had to, you know, go through the book as well as the screenplay. So, has that opened up a new dimension to you? I mean to have so much book to fall back on -- I mean, to...

LEIGH: Yeah, it's lovely.

GROSS: Yeah.

LEIGH: It helps a lot because you don't have to invent as much. There's so much of the inner life of the character right there for you to read and to understand...

GROSS: Yeah.

LEIGH: ... and you know, they're great writers. So it's a pleasure also to read. And when I was doing A Thousand Acres, I just -- I went on kind of a Jane Smiley binge.

GROSS: Right.

LEIGH: And read everything, I think. So that was a lot of fun.

GROSS: Now in A Thousand Acres, Jason Robards plays your father. And I know that he was a long-time friend of the family's. In fact, when you took a stage name, the Jennifer Jason Leigh, the "Jason" is from Jason Robards.

LEIGH: Yeah. So, it was great working with him...

GROSS: Well, I was -- I was really wondering about that ...

LEIGH: ... and him playing my dad.

GROSS: ... though, because I know -- let me tell you that when -- I find it very difficult sometimes to interview somebody I know well; to interview a friend. And I was wondering if there was any kind of similar difficulty you felt acting with somebody who you know really well and who you're really close with?

LEIGH: You know, it's not -- it's almost the opposite because the more comfortable you are with someone, the easier acting with them is, I think. And also, it was very easy for me to believe Jason was my dad 'cause I think of him in such a paternal way.

And I've always admired him so much and just felt so much love for him that it was great to pretend to be his daughter for a little while, you know. He's a great man and -- you know, obviously a great actor. And yeah, I just love him and I am so happy that I got to work with him.

GROSS: You know, it seems to me that in spite of now playing the very kind of subtle characters that Jane Smiley and Henry James have written, that in a lot of ways you've really specialized in extremes in playing prostitutes and punk rockers and people who are really on -- on the edge.

LEIGH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And even in Washington Square, it's an extreme -- it's an extremely inhibited character.

LEIGH: Right.

GROSS: And I'm wondering why you gravitate to extremes?

LEIGH: I think because -- I mean, in a very simple way, they're just the most exciting characters to play and they give you -- they're the most challenging and the farest-reaching, really. And you're communicating something that is outside most people's experience, and yet trying to illuminate that person. And sometimes it's a person that we might not otherwise really, take more than a, you know, casual glance at and then be thankful we're not that person.

So it's a way of -- no, they're characters that I find moving, for whatever reason.

GROSS: You said that growing up, you were the good girl. It was your sister who was the extrovert -- the one kicked out of school; the one who joined the carnival; the one who had a drug habit for a few years. Are there characters you understood through knowing your sister?

LEIGH: I think so, and I think it was also a way to understand my sister...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. By becoming...

LEIGH: ... because when...

GROSS: ... by kind of playing her out in these roles.

LEIGH: Mm-hmm, exactly. And a way of trying to understand and get closer to her because in playing a lot of them, I would call her up. And so adults, that's almost how we became friends again. And there was always something a little bit of, in a strange way, hero worship with my sister, even though, you know, she was sort of the black sheep and getting into trouble left and right.

But I admired her courage, I think, even though I don't think it was the healthiest existence. I admired her daring to go and live out where most of us never would dare to go or want to go.

GROSS: So she lived on the edge of her actions, and you lived on the edge through your acting.

LEIGH: Yeah. I lived on the edge in a very safe, safe way.

GROSS: You know, in the movie Georgia, the movie was written by your mother, and was about two sisters. One sister is a very sensitive folk rock singer. You played the sister who was the punk rocker; the sister who was on the edge; the sister who developed a drug habit.

You played someone who is passionate about singing, but doesn't have an inherently beautiful voice.

LEIGH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What she does have is a lot of attitude and just, yeah, a lot of passion on stage. How did you handle the singing part so that you would get all that across?

LEIGH: Well, I love to sing, but I -- I'm -- wasn't gifted. You know, I wasn't blessed with a very good voice at all. And so, it wasn't so hard.

LAUGHTER

I just, you know, sang out, Louise, and I had a great time and must say, just to be that free and that alive and that out there, and not to care what you sounded like, but to be -- Sadie is so in love with singing and so in love with being in front of an audience and exposing herself, really. 'Cause when she sings -- when she sings, she's very naked and it's very raw.

And so it was, I mean, it was scary, but it was thrilling at the same time. So -- and I didn't have to worry about trying to sing badly or trying to sing well. It was just about the experience of singing, you know.

GROSS: Of really being out there.

LEIGH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Well let me play your performance from the movie of a Van Morrison song. This is just a real showpiece in the movie 'cause you're so on the edge with this. So let's hear some.

LEIGH: OK.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, JENNIFER JASON LEIGH SINGING)

LEIGH SINGING: I been walking by the river
I been walking down by the water
I been walking down by the river
I been feeling so sad and blue
I been thinking, I been thinking, I been thinking
I been thinking, I been thinking about them things again

Oh, that's so much of praying
And it's too much confusion
Too much, too much confusion in the world
Take me back, take me back, take me back
Take me way back, take me way back
Take me way back, take me way back
Take me way back, take me way back
Take me way back
Take me way, way, way, way, way, back

Help me un -- help me understand

GROSS: This must have been so out there for you, because you always describe yourself as, in reality, being a very inhibited person.

LEIGH: Yeah, but that's why I love acting. I'm -- so when I was playing Sadie, I had the time of my life, really. I mean, that night was scary for a number of reasons. There were 3,000 people there. It's definitely the biggest night of Sadie's life. And, it would be also one of the biggest nights of my life.

We had -- you know, we didn't have any money making that film, so the way we got people there was by getting local bands to play and then we'd shoot in between the local bands. There was so much adrenalin pumping through my body that -- I mean, for days afterwards, I just felt exhausted, like a zombie. All of us, I think, actually because it was -- there was a lot of pressure to get it all done in one night.

And then it's -- it's -- Sadie's trying to, you know, pay homage to Van Morrison, so I really wanted to get every nuance down. But the thing about Sadie is the more she tries to be someone else, the more Sadie she becomes...

GROSS: Right.

LEIGH: ... the more Sadie comes through. And so I mean, I -- when I was doing it, I thought I was Van Morrison, and then I heard it back and, no, it was Sadie.

GROSS: You said something that I think is so true about this character. You wrote there's always been something beautiful to you about someone who dreams about something, desperately wants it, but has no talent for it; like how this character desperately wants to be a great singer, but isn't, you know, inherently blessed with what we'd consider a beautiful voice.

Although again, you know, she just has this stage presence. But how -- how did you understand that? 'Cause I mean you have the gift for acting. Is there something you desperately wanted to do, but felt untalented enough to do well?

LEIGH: Oh, yeah. I mean, so many things. For example, well, singing is an example. I -- everyone in my family has a very, very beautiful voice. In fact, Carrie (ph), my older sister who has a lot of elements of Sadie, has a voice like Joplin -- seriously like Joplin. And it's a powerhouse it's beautiful, and amazing to listen to.

My little sister Mina (ph) has an incredibly beautiful, melodic full voice. My mom has a great voice. Everyone -- and I have this weak tinny, you know, nothing voice. And then -- but -- and I like to sing really loud and then it just sounds horrible. So yeah, I mean that's certainly -- certainly one thing.

And of course, when I see it in people who -- who have a love of something that they have no talent for, but they've decided to make that their profession, then that's really sad to me and really beautiful, though, the yearning for that.

And I think that's something that we all, I think, can understand to a degree, because we all have that in us. I mean, when we read a beautiful poem or hear a piece of music, and we just, you know, it makes you think there is God -- that God touched this person. And how grateful you are to be able to hear it, but the yearning and the knowledge that you could never produce that, I think is something we all can understand.

GROSS: Jennifer Jason Leigh will be back in the second half of the show. She's starring in Washington Square and A Thousand Acres.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Jennifer Jason Leigh. She's now starring in A Thousand Acres, based on the Jane Smiley novel, and Washington Square, based on the Henry James novella.

Her mother, Barbara Turner, is a screenwriter. She wrote the screenplay for Georgia in which Jennifer Jason Leigh played a punk rocker with more passion than talent.

When you were a girl, how much did you get to see of your mother's screenwriting career?

LEIGH: Oh, everything. I mean, when I was very, very young, I was reading her screenplays, which made me feel rather proud, I think -- the fact that she would let me read them and then she would actually say: "what do you think?"

So from a very young age, I felt that my thoughts or my ideas about things had some validity, or there was a place for them to be heard.

GROSS: I know you don't like to talk about your father, but I just have one question. Your father was the actor Vic Morrow, and I know your parents were separated when you were two. And I'm wondering what it was like to know him maybe primarily through television. I don't know if "Combat" was on when you were young, if you saw reruns of it, but it must have been unusual to see your father through roles, and not have a lot of contact with him in life.

LEIGH: Well, Combat was actually when I was very, very young. So I do have memories, even though I was two, of watching Combat and absolutely loving it. I have a bunch of those on tape, actually. My favorite movie was "Blackboard Jungle" that he made, and that was made before I was born.

So -- but, you know, I knew my father growing up. It wasn't as though I didn't know him.

GROSS: Uh-huh. You dropped out of high school about six weeks before graduation to take an acting role.

LEIGH: Right.

GROSS: What was the role and why were you willing to drop out for it?

LEIGH: I was like desperate for any reason to drop out of high school, actually.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Did you hate it?

LEIGH: I did.

GROSS: Wait -- for social reasons or for more academic reasons?

LEIGH: No, I had great, great friends. I mean, great friends who are still my great friends. I mean, I have friends from two 'cause I grew up in L.A., and a lot of them had -- we had all gone to Oakwood which is a small private, very liberal school in Los Angeles.

And then they, suddenly in 10th grade, decided to go to a public school in the palisades. I didn't live in the palisades, so I became an emancipated minor and used a false address so that I could go to school just to be with my friends, which basically meant, being an emancipated minor, that I could write my own notes.

And so I frequently went to school, met my friends, and then went to Westwood, which was the place where all the movie theaters were, and went to movies all day. So I didn't really go to school a lot in the 11th and 12th grade. And I just -- I wanted to act. That's all I wanted to do, really, and I was, you know, bored and restless and just not -- not really inspired.

But unfortunately, I don't -- there are things I regret about -- not really about leaving high school. I only had six weeks left and I still don't know anything about American government. But the great thing about acting for me is that I do do so much research. And so every time I have a role, I learn so much about subjects I had no knowledge about before.

GROSS: Right. I think in some ways your acting school was the early horror movies that you made.

LEIGH: Yeah, the first movie was a B horror film, where I played a blind, deaf and dumb girl who is hysterically blind, deaf and dumb because of a rape when she was a child, and then there is an attempted rape at the end of the movie and she gets all her senses back. So...

GROSS: What are some of the various ways you've been killed or mutilated in movies over the years?

LEIGH: Gosh. I don't -- I think there's -- I don't know how many times -- I don't think I've been killed that many times actually. I think just...

GROSS: "Last Exit To Brooklyn"...

LEIGH: ... I could be -- Oh no, she doesn't die.

GROSS: You don't think she dies in that?

LEIGH: I don't think so.

GROSS: OK.

LEIGH: No, she doesn't -- I don't think so. I don't think she dies in the book. You just sort of leave her in a bloody mess, but I don't think she dies.

GROSS: After being gang-raped and...

LEIGH: Gang-banged, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. And in "The Hitcher," you're...

LEIGH: In The Hitcher...

GROSS: ... dismembered by trucks.

LEIGH: Yeah.

GROSS: Your limbs are tied to trucks heading in opposite directions. This was -- were you ever actually tied to the trucks?

LEIGH: I was, but the trucks didn't move. They -- originally they said the trucks were just going to move two inches, and did I want to try it first, or did I want to see the stunt devil try it first? And I -- I'm kind of safety conscious, and so I asked to see the stunt devil try it first, and the trucks moved about three feet 'cause they're very heavy trucks, and they can't -- you can't really control how little they move.

And so, you know, she was a very sturdy girl, thank God, but it was a little frightening to watch.

GROSS: In another horror film, or thriller, I should say, that you made -- Single White Female...

LEIGH: Oh yeah, I died in that.

GROSS: You died in that one, too. You know, it took a really long time to kill you.

LEIGH: You're right.

GROSS: You kept coming back for more in that thriller kind of way. You play a character who answers a personal ad for a roommate and your roommate is played by Bridget Fonda. She -- you move in with Bridget Fonda and then obsessively try to become her in every way -- to get her hairdo and her manner and her clothes. And it's clear that you are, you know, something of a psychopath in it.

And then, you become murderous. It must really be interesting to take on the traits of the character, you know, the actress who you're playing opposite; basically to become Bridget Fonda in it. And I thought you were very convincing in doing that.

LEIGH: Oh, thanks. That was a really fun, fun part. I mean, it was just so -- I mean, psychologically it was just very, very interesting; just the desire to merge. I mean, it really is a kind of merging, and the feeling that without the other, you are not whole. And so I did a lot of just research into borderline personality. And I was able to interview some twins who had been hospitalized for that exactly.

And it really is this feeling that someone else is responsible for your happiness, and so therefore, you know, there's -- just the qualities of envy and all of that that come into play, where this person is responsible for your happiness, therefore they can take it away. And that can be very threatening.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

LEIGH: And so, it's not only that she wants to be like Bridget's character. She wants them to merge and be one.

GROSS: Right.

LEIGH: So at a certain point, she feels she's more her than Bridget's character, you know, in a certain way -- that she has become her and they are one, but she can't -- she definitely can't live without the other.

GROSS: Do you think that your mother taught you how to read between the lines in a screenplay?

LEIGH: Well, I think what was great about having a mother that is a writer is -- first of all, she's incredibly dedicated to her work and she just, I think, for a woman -- a girl growing up, seeing your mother working, and seeing her in love with what she does and working sometimes 18, 20 hour days, and having a tremendous passion about what she does and fighting for what she believes in and being absolutely uncompromising and -- that's where I learned research from. I mean, she makes my research look like it's nothing. She's practically fanatical about it.

And I was -- I feel really fortunate for that. She -- it just showed me that women and -- I mean, I never thought there was an inequality between men and women because my mother worked and she worked really, really hard and she was great at what she did. And it also spoiled me in terms of reading screenplays because she's a great writer, and I love reading her scripts so much.

And so I got -- that kind of spoiled me because a lot of scripts aren't very good, you know.

GROSS: Right. What are you working on now? What's your next movie?

LEIGH: I'm going to go work with David Cronenberg...

GROSS: Oooh.

LEIGH: ... who I've always wanted to work with.

GROSS: Oh, great.

LEIGH: So I'm so excited.

GROSS: What's the movie?

LEIGH: It's called "Existens" (ph).

GROSS: As in "existential?"

LEIGH: Sort of.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Well he's a great director, so that should be very interesting.

LEIGH: Yeah. Yeah. He is great.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you.

LEIGH: Oh, thank you. It was my pleasure.

GROSS: Jennifer Jason Leigh is starring in Washington Square and A Thousand Acres. Coming up, French chef Georges Perrier.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Jennifer Jason Leigh
High: Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. She stars in the new film "Washington Square" which is based on the Henry James novella. In it she plays Catherine Sloper, a shy and unattractive woman who risks estrangement from her father who disapproves of a man she has fallen for. The character is one of a diverse many for Leigh, who has portrayed everything from a phone-sex girl in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" to a psychotic roommate in "Single White Female" to poet Dorothy Parker in "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle."
Spec: Movie Industry; Jennifer Jason Leigh
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 06, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100602np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Georges Perrier
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Georges Perrier founded one of the most highly regarded French restaurants in the U.S., Le Bec-Fin, in Philadelphia. In fact, it's been named the number one restaurant in the U.S. by the Conde Nast Traveler's readers poll.

Now Perrier has written his first cookbook. Perrier grew up in France and was trained there in classic French cooking. He says most chefs in France come from restaurateur families. Eventually, they take over their family businesses. But he didn't come from such a family. His father was a jeweler; his mother a doctor.

Thirty years ago, when he was in his early 20s, he moved to the U.S. to help an American friend start a restaurant in Philadelphia. After three years at his friend's restaurant, Perrier opened Le Bec-Fin. When Perrier decided to come to the U.S., friends in France warned him he'd never be able to find fresh greens, meat, and poultry here. I asked him if they were right.

GEORGES PERRIER, MASTER CHEF, LE BEC-FIN RESTAURANT: When I first came to the states, it's true. We couldn't get foie gras. We couldn't get the herbs. We couldn't get this, we couldn't get that. But you know, I mean, what I was not able to do, I talk about it and I have a lady from the mainland grow up the herbs for me. I have somebody grow up this for me. I have -- and I was able.

And then you know, the change in this country. For the past three years, I mean Terry, if I remember, what we used to use to go to get 30 years ago, and what we're getting now -- now it's better than France.

GROSS: Really? It is better than France now?

PERRIER: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: How is it better?

PERRIER: I think the produce are better.

GROSS: The produce?

PERRIER: I think so. I just came back from a trip to France, and I look at the food in France -- the food is -- it was really poor and bad, and I'm looking at the produce that we have in France, there were -- you know, sometime the haricots vertes (ph) in France because we have the haricots vertes from Kenya. But here I have my haricots vertes in December, my grow -- grower of haricots vertes -- they, that's nice, isn't it -- much more beautiful than what we get in France.

So you know, I mean -- if somebody now comes to the states and said to me: "I cannot cook because I cannot get the produce" is a liar. You can get everything maybe better than what you can get in France.

GROSS: One of the things that upset you when you came to the United States is that you couldn't get fresh pigeon. Now what -- when I...

PERRIER: Enjoy that?

GROSS: ... yeah, this is hard for me to understand because I think of pigeon as being those really dirty birds that fly around public parks and defecate in all the wrong places.

LAUGHTER

I mean, to a lot of us, pigeons are kind of like flying rats. I've never tasted pigeon, but obviously it's a delicacy.

PERRIER: Yes, a pelican frites (ph) is so good. I mean, I'm not talking about a pigeon fly in the -- on the street of Philadelphia. You certainly, do not want to eat those pigeons.

GROSS: Tell me what pigeon tastes like?

PERRIER: Ahh, what pigeon taste like -- pigeon taste like -- I cannot describe it good. It is something that doesn't taste like a chicken. Pigeon -- and it's a very -- do you know why I like pigeon? Because it's a dark meat, and it tastes like a fowl. It's a mixture between I will say a partridge and -- partridge has more flavor than the pigeon, but it's a little white, so that's what I like -- the white aspect of the pigeon and the flavor that comes from the meat.

And you know, I like my pigeon medium rare when it's not too bloody, but a little bit, and it's so tender and it got so much flavor. I love pigeon. You never have pigeon?

GROSS: Never.

PERRIER: You gotta come to the restaurant and have a pigeon, yes?

GROSS: How do you prepare pigeon?

PERRIER: Well, I have in this book, I think we have it in the book, I know that these recipes that I made, I think we just roast the pigeon and we make a nice ampo jule (ph). And what I like to do, I like -- I take the legs out of the pigeon because when you do a dish, you like to be complex and you like to do a -- to have different flavor, because different flavor on the dish is what make the dish so nice.

So I confrit (ph) the legs of the pigeon, who give me one flavor. I confrit the cabbage, who give me another flavor. And I have the flavor on the pigeon, plus at the end I have the juice which brings everything back.

So you know, I have a perfect picture, really.

GROSS: Now, one of your signature dishes is crab cake with light mustard sauce. Would you describe that for us?

PERRIER: Well, you know, I went to Maryland one day and I have a crab cake there. And you know, it was good, but it was (Unintelligible), and too -- so I came back to the restaurant and I -- for a couple of days, I think and I think -- I say, what I'm going to do, I gotta come up with something. I want to do a crab cake, but I don't want to do a crab cake like they...

And then and one day -- one day came. I say, I got it. And then I make a mousse -- I make a mousse with shrimp. It was very light. And, I take this mousse and I mix it up with crab. And I season it with tabasco, because I want to make a spicy mustard. And I put Worcester sauce also in. And that give me a really, a nice flavor.

And then when I cook my crabcake, my crabcake rise because the mousse puff, and when you eat it, it's very light and very fluffy. And you have the flavor of the mousse plus you have the flavor of the crab.

It's really a wonderful dish.

GROSS: You do a pris fixe...

PERRIER: Yes.

GROSS: ... meals at your restaurant Le Bec-Fin. Why do you like working that way with the pris fixe idea? Fixed price?

PERRIER: Well, I do. I started the fix price because I don't know if you remember, when I opened my first restaurant, I only have the nine tables and it was a small restaurant.

GROSS: Very small. This is like 37 people or something...

PERRIER: Yeah, there was 37 people, you absolutely right. So if I didn't do -- if I had not done a fix price, if I had done a menu a la carte, and I have customer coming in and eating one main course, I would have been out of business in six months. I would have never made it.

The fix price give me a business, and then when I bought my -- I move to my new location, the restaurant was not big. I mean, I only seat 55, you know, at Le Bec-Fin. It's not a big restaurant, 60, 55, 60 people. And I consider it, and I debated, and I say do go a la carte or do I go fixe price?

And I, you know, fixe price was a very successful, people, I have done it for 30 years people were used to it. So I say I'm going to continue to do for the fixed price. That's what I could do it in the new location. I didn't change it.

GROSS: So how many courses to you like to serve?

PERRIER: So I serve an appetizer, then a fish course, then a main course and a salad and a cheese. Or cheese with (unintelligible). Then we have a sorbet. Then we have the dessert carte. Then we have coffee then we have the petit four.

GROSS: That's a lot.

PERRIER: But of course, it's a lot. It's an occasion, Terry. You go there not eaten -- you know, we have location. You go -- you come to Le Bec for engagement, divorce.

GROSS: Do people come there to celebrate a divorce?

PERRIER: Yes ... for a birthday, for an anniversary, for -- we are an occasion. We are restaurant for people who make a business deal. That's what we are here for.

GROSS: You talk about the kind of pressures that chefs have to deal with. What are the worse pressures that you have to deal with?

PERRIER: Pressure. Terry, the pressure on my business is so high, you have no idea. It's like -- first of all the pressure is high because you have to make sure when we have a million -- we have so much things to do, everything's ready and it's ready by 6:00 o'clock.

So, the pressure is there to push these people to perform because, you know, me, I work fast, but it's me. I can't do by myself what four guy are doing it, but now on this work, it's not the same anymore.

When, you know, now it takes me four people to remplace what I used to do. Now, when you have one person working, because they slow, and they don't perform the speed of the work, so this is pressure. This is lot of pressure. It's all this pressure of the blood. But then the tension of the customer comes, a lot of times shall, because, you know, if you have two seating like we have -- we have to make sure we can turn over the table, not rushing the customer. Everything has to be nice. Everything has to be smooth.

But sometime, it's crazy in the kitchen, but that's nature of the business. If you cannot take the pressure of the kitchen stay out of the kitchen, because you're not going to be able to do this business, because it's a lot of pressure in this business.

GROSS: My guest is Chef Georges Perrier, founder of the restaurant Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia. He's just completed his first cookbook, called Le Bec-Fin Recipes. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with French chef Georges Perrier, author of the new cookbook Le Bec-Fin Recipes, named after his renowned restaurant in Philadelphia.

Did you resist it initially, when Americans started eating more lean food -- did you see it as a rejection of your cuisine?

PERRIER: No, no, because I, you know, it came from me, too, because I change, 'cause you know, it's like -- you know, cooking's much like an artist who paint, you know, when if you take an impressionist, he has couple period, if you take Picasso, he has the first period, the second period, and the third period, you know, and because you able to wait and change and get older, and things change, you want to do different things. It's like a ballet.

And me with my food is exactly the same. I change, and that was like that was my first failure, then after I have my second failure, do not fear failure. Now my third period is to really found it, the lightness, to lightness and the flavor. That's what I want, but it has to be light, light, light, light, light and flavor.

GROSS: So, tell me what kind of sauces you've substituted for the rich butter and cream sauces that you've been preparing in...

PERRIER: So, they see what, if I make you know now, if I do a sauce for you, I'll go. If I do a buerre blonde (ph), I put the cream. Now I do a buerre blonde, I think that will -- buerre blonde, I don't put any cream.

I reduce less, I put no cream. But I gotta put something. I need a viner (ph), so I put butter. A little bit butter, but not too much. And we -- what we do now, we blend the sauce in the blender so the sauce get a lot of air and get lighter.

And then I'm not afraid put water -- if I need water. If I feel the sauce need water, I put water. I do a lot of sauce with chicken stock -- not even fish stock because I feel in fish stock when I reduce give a bad flavor. So I want to get my favor from the chicken stock because it's more natural.

So you see, everything is reverse. Everything change.

GROSS: Is the cooking in France lighter now, too?

PERRIER: Oh yes, definitely. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Yeah, because we have the revolution of -- how we say 10 years ago -- what we call nouvelle cuisine where the portion was small, there were nothing to eat.

That work in France. That way I never work in United States. You know, people in United States want to have something on plate; they have nothing in the plate, they're not going to be happy.

GROSS: That's right. Yeah, Americans are used to big portions.

PERRIER: And they used to nice portion and they like to, you know, they like to eat.

GROSS: My guest is Georges Perrier, one of America's most famous chefs; owner of Le Bec-Fin Restaurant in Philadelphia and now author of the new book Georges Perrier, Le Bec-Fin Recipes.

Tell me a dish that you came up with yourself, and how you came up with it?

PERRIER: A dish I came up with myself and how I came up with that. I was thinking that I want to do something with salmon, for example. Salmon -- fresh salmon.

GROSS: Oh, salmon. Yeah.

PERRIER: Fresh salmon. So I say, what I going to do with salmon? I've got many things with salmon. I smoke the salmon this summer -- lightly smoke, and I do that. And I say I really want to come with something different. So and then, the other day was sitting in my car, and I'd just sit down, I say "that's (Unintelligible).

I'm gonna cook carrots -- sliced carrots -- actually, I'm going make it very pretty. And I'm going to saute the carrot, and I'm not going to carmelize the carrot to give it special -- I don't want to carrot carmel -- I want a carrot cook nice and I put a little chicken stock to bring back with the flavor, and I'm going to perfume this carrot with fresh thyme, 'cause I think fresh thyme would bring the flavor of the carrots.

Then, I'm going to take my salmon and I'm going to cook the salmon on the teflon pan, then I'll get my flavor. And I was thinking what I'm going to put along that salmon to make a sauce -- nice sauce. And I came up with this idea to do a very light sauce with lemon. I'm going to reduce lemon. I'm going to put the little fish stock and le jeux d'amour (ph) to get some flavor.

And no cream. I don't want cream. So I'm gonna reduce it, I'm going to put butter. And I said: wait, that's nice, but I want a little -- another flavor. I say I'm looking for something who can bring back this whole dish. And I came up with just a little bit sesame oil on the sauce to bring back everything. That's it, I got my dish. So I got my carrots to give me a flavor. I got my salmon, I'm going to get a flavor. Plus I'm gonna -- and my sauce was lemon, because I got the tart in there who bring back everything.

And then the little bit of sesame oil in the sauce will break everything and make this dish really a nice dish.

GROSS: Sounds good.

PERRIER: You see?

GROSS: Yeah. Have you ever eaten in fast food restaurants just to see what they're like?

PERRIER: Yes, I eat in the -- I have a daughter. I mean who's 23, and she took me to McDonalds, so I eat at McDonald like everybody else, and Burger King and junk food and everything. I have taste everything. I have, you know, have -- since my daughter now is 23 years old, I have not put my foot in a McDonald or Burger King in maybe eight, 15 years or 16 year. But I will not say to Wendy, I will an 'amburger.

I eat everything because it's food, you know, and if it's done well, it's good.

GROSS: What are some of the things you see happening now in the food world, like new food taste, new food trends that you either like or don't like?

PERRIER: Well, I like everything because no -- the food in this country -- we are in the business what you think you know today, and what you think you do today, somebody's going to do better tomorrow 'cause there is so much talent in this country. And it all started in California. I always believe when you are in the country where there's wine, you have great chef, like in Lyon, 'cause we have the wine.

Food and wine goes together. So do the trend of food that came from California, which change California completely over, was the influence of the Mexican food, whatever you want to put on it. And but of course, you have all these talents, you know, in New York got great restaurant; you can go to Washington, you have a great restaurant.

It's constantly moving, and you have great American chef who are pushing so hard because they very talented. You know for many years, it's -- then it develop and it develop and develop. Now, let me tell you, the level of the food industry in this country is higher than it is in France.

GROSS: Georges Perrier is the author of the new cookbook Le Bec-Fin Recipes, named after his five-star restaurant in Philadelphia, Le Bec-Fin.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Georges Perrier
High: Master chef Georges Perrier of the nationally renowned Philadelphia French restaurant, Le Bec-Fin. He has revealed many of his recipes in his first cookbook, "Georges Perrier Le Bec-Fin Recipes."
Spec: Food; Business; Restaurants; Le Bec-Fin; Books; Authors; Georges Perrier Le Bec-Fin Recipes
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Georges Perrier
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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