Interview with Rebekah Peppler | À Table

Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She’s just a home cook in New York City sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.

Rebekah Peppler: I’m Rebekah Peppler and my book is called À Table: Recipes For Cooking + Eating The French Way.

Suzy Chase: In 2015 you started splitting your time between Paris and Brooklyn, which became Paris and LA and then Paris full time. How did that evolve?

Rebekah Peppler: So basically I was living correct in New York in 2015, and I had started to kind of get this just like gut feeling that I needed a change. Um, and that change wasn’t going to happen in New York. And I, at the time was working quite regularly as a food stylist primarily, um, but had wanted to get back into writing as kind of my primary profession. And so I decided that I would split time between New York and another city and I really wasn’t sure where it was going to be. It was actually between LA and Paris kind of just popped up out of the blue. I had spent a little time there just on a holiday. I swapped my apartment in Brooklyn with a teacher in Paris and just lived there for, for six weeks, trying to get an idea of if I wanted to even make that move and I would say like two weeks in, I was absolutely not, not for me. Um, I didn’t have any French at the time and it, it didn’t feel like the right city. And then about three weeks in my kind of mindset changed completely. And I was like, you know what, actually, this is, this is exactly what I want to be doing. And so I started splitting my time between Paris and New York. And then, um, and then it became Paris and LA, uh, for a brief moment in time. And then it became Paris kind of totally however you are reaching me while I’m in LA. And so I don’t think I’ve really shed that Paris LA commute quite yet, but all of my stuff lives in Paris, which is, which is a very exciting thing for me to, uh, to feel a kind of concrete home in one place.

Suzy Chase: The subtitle of this cookbook is Recipes For Cooking + Eating The French way. So the phrase recipes for cooking, I know how I interpreted it as, like achievable, delicious recipes for the home cook, but what were you thinking?

Rebekah Peppler: Oh, I actually never even thought about that. Um, how it could be interpreted in a different way for me. Uh, the subtitle kind of was born out of the fact that when I first pitched this book, um, and I know that you’ve spoken to quite a few authors. So, you know, that kind of proposal starts prior to writing the book and is sold. Um, it was more centered around gathering in my head and kind of like gathering around the table, eating together, cooking together. And it also evolved into me wanting to be able to say, you know, just cooking and eating the French way because, you know, I lived alone in Paris at the time and I was sometimes just cooking for one and sometimes I was cooking for two and sometimes I was cooking for eight. And so I didn’t want to kind of pigeonhole it into a cooking only for a big group of people and then, um, fortuitously, when the book came out, we were still in the middle of the pandemic. And so it actually, um, translated even better than I could have ever imagined when I was kind of shifting in the beginning stages book.

Suzy Chase: What does eating the French way look?

Rebekah Peppler: Like for me personally, kind of eating the French way is just kind of enjoying your food and enjoying the moment that you’re in and opening a bottle of wine or pouring an Apéritif, whether that be alcoholic or non alcoholic to usher in your night and really like kind of living in the moment and enjoying the things that you have and if you’re around people, the people that are around you and the conversation that is flowing. And that to me is eating the French way.

Suzy Chase: These 25 new French recipes that are in the cookbook were developed along the way back when you used to host impromptu weekly gatherings. À Table is the mirror image of the weekly dinner parties that you described in the beginning of the cookbook. As I leaf through the book, I feel like I’m right there and your grand Paris apartment with a suze sour in my hand, I see myself in a floral suit with Gucci pumps, kicking my head back, laughing with some interesting arty people and sharing life stories over delicious food. Please tell me if that’s how it really is, right?

Rebekah Peppler: Yes, you’ve, you’ve described it so perfectly and beautifully. Um, and I, and I do hope that that will become reality once again, um, as you mentioned, yes, the recipes were developed along the way. And also the images in the book feature, all the people that gather around my table and France anyway. And so they’re all friends who have been at my dinners, the recipes were developed and tested in my kitchen and in friends kitchens around the world, if we’re talking about kind of the Sunday nights, which is how this book started, um, was just kind of, I had people over for Sunday suppers, I would start the start time a little early, like around 6:00 PM, which is not your classic French way of doing things, but it’s, um, it’s my way of doing things. Uh, and so everybody kind of comes in the door at different moments. Everybody has a different kind of idea of what a start time at 6:00 PM really means, but by 7:00 PM, everyone’s there and they have a drink in their hand. I have a beautiful balcony area. And so we’re usually out there in good weather drinking and snacking and chatting, and then kind of getting rid of the stress of the day, um, in order to be able to then go inside. If the weather is again still nice, the doors remain open, and sit down and share a meal together. And yeah, the light, as you can see in the pages of the book, Joann Pai, our photographer shot it so beautifully, the lightest stunning in France and it really does create this kind of magical feeling when you’re sitting around a table together.

Suzy Chase: You can find me on the balcony. That’s all I have to say.

Rebekah Peppler: Exactly.

Suzy Chase: À Table is the cookbook that is getting me excited to have dinner parties again. What are some of your tips for gathering in the modern way, minus the pressed linens, floral arrangements and babysitters.

Rebekah Peppler: When you think of kind of the way that entertainment guides were set out in earlier day is it was very much like to do lists, do this at this time, this, at this time, this two days before, press your linens, fresh flowers on the table, et cetera. For me, I think that the way that we gather and the way that we will gather again, very, very soon, hopefully is intimate. If there are parents in the group of which there are in my life, um, sometimes the kids come with sometimes they don’t, but there’s not this need to kind of exclude the flower arrangements. There might be some beautiful flowers I see at the farmer’s market that day that I grab and kind of throw in a vase or that someone brings to me and I grab again and throw in a vase, but it’s not going to be meticulously set out the linens 100% in my life are never pressed because I don’t have the inclination to spend the time doing that. And that allows space to gather more often and with less pressure and more of a, like, you know, come over at 6:00 PM, I’ll have a drink like oh yeah, will you grab a couple bottles of sparkling water to bring up that kind of thing. It feels, it just feels more familiar. And also the way that we, that we do this now with the people that we love,

Suzy Chase: Can you describe your Nicoise Salad for a crowd on page one 55? It looks amazing.

Rebekah Peppler: Thank you. I love this recipe and this image. We wanted it to have a little bit of a garden party feel for lack of better descriptor and my incredible food styling assistant. Lena had this brilliant idea. She was like, what if we just stand in the doors, leading out to the balcony with these branches that you randomly have in your house and pass this light through this beautiful kind of mid day sun that was coming into the apartment. So this was actually shot in my apartment in Paris. And the light kind of gives you an idea that you’re outside kind of in dappled light. The recipe itself is I think I say in the head note, it’s kind of a choose your own adventure. And it absolutely is that I give a recipe for the vinaigrette and then the salad is kind of a list of ingredients that can kind of come and go as you have and what season you’re in. And, um, what you prefer. I would say for me, the non-negotiables are like the handful of salted capers. And of course the nicoise olives, I think that punch of, of salty briny earthiness anchors the salad really nicely. And then when I’m serving it, what I kind of also mean by choose your adventure is only the ingredients that are kind of laid out on this platter itself. But the way that people, uh, at the table are making it, it’s kind of, uh, you choose, if you like potatoes more than the other person, there’s more potatoes on your plate. If you don’t want eggs, you don’t have to have them. Um, and I kind of let it be a kind of grab and go, as you will affair instead of opening the can of tuna for the photo, I want it to kind of just like throw it on the plate like I would when I’m throwing a dinner party and like open it last minute and everybody just kind of reaches in with a fork and grabs what they want. And I think that’s the hope that I have for many of these recipes that are more shareable is that there’s not this intent placed on having everything look perfect or be quote unquote, beautiful. I find beautiful is often found in the imperfect, um, and in the messy and in the like green being that rolls off and is covered in vinegarette and gets the tablecloth all dirty because that’s what you want to have a washer for. That’s I hope what the embodiment of at least this Nicoise For A Crowd is it’s make a big platter and let everybody grab stuff. And it’s a fun, interactive experience for everyone. And of course, if you’re serving nicoise and you also drink wine and I highly recommend a very cold, wonderful Rosé, because that’s what you would be drinking in France. If you were in nice having any nicoise salad.

Suzy Chase: In France, there’s an added and basically mandatory apéritif hour. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Rebekah Peppler: Absolutely. So that was the subject of my first book, Apéritif and I delve very deeply into it in that book, but it is also a huge part of À Table because it is a huge part of the French table and cooking and eating and drinking the French way. And so the hour of Apéritif or Aperol hour or just Aperol is this time of day, that is very special. It kind of demarcate the end of the workday and the start at the evening and allows you to kind of transition from you are having a stressful day from kind of the busy-ness and the craziness and the intensity of the day, turn that kind of part of your brain off and switch into the evening. So it’s usually a drink it’s often alcoholic, although the culture of Apéritif extends to everybody. So as many of my French friends have told me, they would go to Aperol hours as children and they would have a special drink and that was non-alcoholic, but still very special to them. And so whatever is special to you can be an Aperol drink and I always kind of make that very clear. So you have a drink and then you always have something to snack on next to it. It can be a big snack or a little snack. It can be, often is a basket of potato chips or a little like crunchy salty things, olives that kind of variety in order to kind of whet your appetite and open up your palate for the rest of the night.

Suzy Chase: How do you make shrimp cocktail French”

Rebekah Peppler: Shrimp Cocktail, but Make It French. That’s one of my favorite recipe titles. I had fun with with a lot of them, but that one was a good one. So to make it French, I just added this instead of the kind of classic cocktail sauce is this French remoulade that you’re dipping shrimp in.

Suzy Chase: One time when Dorie Greenspan was on this podcast, I asked her what I would get when I arrived at her house in Paris. And she said she would serve me Gougères. And on page 80, you have a recipe for XL Gougères. Can you tell me about these beauts? They’re gorgeous.

Rebekah Peppler: It’s so funny when you said Dorie and what she would serve you. I was like, Oh, well it’s Gougères it’s Dorie’s signature and I’ve been very fortunate to partake in many Gougères in her house in Paris and hers are incredible. My particular XL Gougères recipe in À Table is actually inspired by the bakery down the street from me has the most insane, massive Gougères that you, they kind of, they come out of the oven. I’ve timed this now sometime between like 10 and 11:30 in the morning. And so I, before I had a washer in my apartment, which I would walk down many, many, many flights of stairs to do my laundry at this laundromat. And it was right across the street from my favorite bakery. And so I would drop my stuff in the laundry. I would time it. So I would get there around the time that the Gougères would come out of the oven and then I would walk over and get myself this massive Gougères. And that would be my breakfast. And I’ve been wanting to make them at home ever since. And so at the bakery, they have a couple options. You can get them with like chorizo in them. You can get them the kind of standard traditional way, or you can get them with blue cheese. And so I decided to add crumbled blue cheese into, into my rendition an ode to my favorite bakery in Paris.

Suzy Chase: This line you wrote is very deep, somewhere on your Instagram, but it goes.There’s also a feeling of it being hard to truly ever be fully known because it’s intensely hard to be your full, true self through constant interpretation and translation on both sides. I want to hear more about that.

Rebekah Peppler: That that’s in reference to my first relationship in France with this wonderful French woman. I felt very open to be my full self when I moved to France, because I didn’t know anyone. And I was meeting people for the first time. And I think that’s such an opportunity to kind of show yourself as, as you are in that moment, without all these kinds of things that people have placed on from knowing you for, for years or, or for your entire life. And so when I moved to Paris, I really like showed my true self and made my friends there with the person that I was. But at the same time, that like deeper nugget of like who you very much are realized in communication. And if you can’t effectively communicate, or if there’s misunderstandings or if you’re, you know, in French, if you mispronounce a word, it can kind of mean something completely different. So this one, c’est pas mal which means, uh, literally it’s not bad but me ex would, I would cook for her. And I was like, Oh, do you like it? And c’est pas mal. And I’m like, oh, that’s not bad. That’s like, I think that’s like, I think that might be a diss on my cookie. And I’m like, I think I’m pretty good at this. Like, this is kind of part of my job. And I kind of let it go a few times. It just kept happening. And finally, I can’t remember if it was her or if it was another friend who’s a French speaker who kind of translated the translation for me. So when you say, c’est pas mal it’s actually like, oh, this is great. Like, this is good. Like I like this. And when you say, c’est bon which means it’s good and this all depends on inflection as well, but it can often mean it’s okay. Like, it’s, it’s good. It’s, it’s like solid enough, but c’est pas mal is like, oh, this is, this is actually great. Like it’s really good. And it was actually for expressing excitement. And so that was just one of the kind of lighthearted miscommunication moments that I had early on in my first kind of French/American relationship there.

Suzy Chase: You wrote keep your bacon, egg, and cheese, your bloody mary, your Pedialyte, when I’m hung over, I make a wedge salad. I’m dying to hear about your wedge salad.

Rebekah Peppler: Yeah, it’s true. That head note comes from a very, honest place. That’s what I, that’s what I make when I’m hung over. And it does not matter where I am in the world. I crave like that kind of blue cheese dressing situation and like fresh lettuce with like bacon, which you’re still, you know, you’re getting in your bacon, egg, and cheese. I see the allure. And so for the version in À Table, I do a sucrine wedge and sucrine are just these beautiful, like small lettuces that are quite sweet and kind of look a little bit like a very small romaine with a very hardy crunch. And so they were kind of the perfect wedge that is also French. And then I top it with lardons. You can use bacon, shallots, radishes, and then the dressing has blue cheese, of course in it. But I also use a little bit of creme fresh to kind of heighten the Frenchness of it all.

Suzy Chase: Your Instagram is amazing and I adore your photos from Paris, your food shots, your apartment drinks, the poems you post. I really like appetite from Paulann Petersen and your journey with COVID. I have to say you were so open about it. How was it opening up on social media and how are you feeling today?

Rebekah Peppler: Thank you for all the compliments, but, especially bringing up the COVID experience. So I got sick with COVID very early on in the pandemic, March, 2020, you know, at the time we were told the symptoms were coughing and fever and that it would take two weeks and you’d be done unless you had to go to the hospital. And so after two weeks I was still very sick and it just kind of kept going. And then, I decided dark sharing a little bit about it. My main reason was because I wasn’t seeing anyone else like me sharing this experience. And I knew that other people must be going through what I was going through. I thought that it would be important to kind of share it as the process goes along. I definitely was, you know, very careful and kept things private and kept things pretty professional. If you can put it that way, I was very much like a list-maker of like what my symptoms are and what I’m going through. And then talked a little bit about kind of the emotional unrest that was happening alongside that. But yeah, it just felt very important to share. And then as my kind of COVID progressed into long COVID, I felt like there were a lot of people reaching out to me, both friends and people I had not met previously who either were going through similar things or had questions or were just recently sick or on the other hand, no one in their life had gotten sick with COVID and I was their one touch point that felt really special for me to kind of hear when people would say, like, I’m more careful because of the story that you’ve been telling. And I hope that that, that translated into something that kept them at least a couple other people safe and not having to go through the same experience that I did and so many others did. I’m not fully better. I still have lingering symptoms you know, there’s still so much that I used to be able to do that. I can’t, but I have progressed so much in my recovery when I looked back at how sick I was, um, it’s astonishing to me how articulate I was able to be, but also, and the stub tails into the question that you asked and kind of ties it back into À Table a little bit I had sent my manuscript for the book two weeks prior to kind of getting sick. And then I still had to go through all the phases that a cookbook goes through, design edits, you know, cover proofs and all these things. And so months into kind of being sick, I kind of gathered all my energy up and rested for days in advance and we finished some of the shots that we needed to finish. When I look back on both the posting that I did on Instagram and this book itself, it’s a real testament to sheer force of will to get it done and love for the project itself and now when I see those images that we shot, when I was still very sick, it fills me with quite a bit of joy and gratitude for being able to kind of have those tucked into the book.

Suzy Chase: A lot of people were thankful because when I was reading that I saw a very, very thoughtful PSA that you were writing along with these evocative photos. I want to say they were gorgeous photos, but you were really sick at the time, but there was just something beautiful about the photos and very thoughtful about what you’re writing. Like you were letting people know this is what I’m going through, and I’m going to help you out too.

Rebekah Peppler: To touch on your comment on how beautiful the photos were first thank you so much. But also I think that that just speaks to the fact that there is beauty in life. And I think that’s something that I came back to many times, and I won’t say that it was always this clear cut or easy for me to kind of admit, but life is beautiful and I feel very grateful for getting to continue with it

Suzy Chase: In À Table I was reading, reading, reading, and got to page 200 where you wrote, there’s a lot of chicken in this book and I’m fine with it. And I was just thinking, this is amazing there’s so much chicken in this book. So last night for dinner, I made your recipe for Chicken Confit. Why Chicken Confit and not Duck Confit. And can you describe this recipe and why all the chicken?

Rebekah Peppler: Absolutely. Yes, there is a lot of chicken in this book and I am very much fine with it. As you know, Duck Confit is a classic French dish that however duck is harder to find and it’s more expensive. And to be honest for me, as much as I love Duck Confit I don’t want to eat it all the time. Let’s not like that’s a, that’s a very rich meal. And so after writing the Chicken Confit, I realized that it’s, it’s still rich. I mean, it’s got, you know, five to six cups of olive oil that the chicken is cooking in and you should be using that olive oil for drizzling on other things and all that fun stuff. After you’ve used it for the Chicken Confit, it’s still kind of reads light. It reads spring-like, there’s leeks in it, there’s a pod of garlic, which is amazing, and you can like smash that on bread, and like eat it as a, like a little toast the next day without any chicken at all. So that’s kind of why I wrote the recipe as chicken rather than duck. I tested this recipe many times, but one time here in Los Angeles, actually with two of my friends, Alexis and Jamie, and I remember all of us just kind of like descending on the oil dredging our bread and it also, I think we had a baguette at that time and it’s just, it’s so flavorful and delicious and the chicken is I don’t want to speak poorly of the chicken because it’s very good, but the oil is for me where it’s at.

Suzy Chase: Now for my segment called Last Night’s Dinner, where I ask you what you had last night for dinner

Rebekah Peppler: Last night, we actually, um, picked up takeout as we kind of talked about a little bit. I’m still kind of dealing with the long COVID and I had a Thai Spice Soup from Night + Market Song, this really lovely spicy soup for dinner and kind of helped like nourish my body and make sure that I wasn’t getting too run down. It was great. We got it with coconut rice and then I kind of go in and out of bouts of, of drinking and when I’m not feeling as well and that’s what kind of, one of the triggers, my particular COVID experience. And so I’ve been drinking a lot of Ghia, which is this like wonderful non-alcoholic aperitif with just a little sparkling water and Meyer lemon and my partner had a glass of wine and I only looked at it like slightly longingly. And then I returned to my, to my drink.

Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?

Rebekah Peppler: Very easy if you know how to spell my name but I’m @RebekahPeppler on Instagram. It’s R E B E K A H P E P P L E R. And I am also www.RebekahPeppler.com.

Suzy Chase: This cookbook gives me so much hope and joy for people gathering together again. And I’m so glad you’re feeling better. And thanks so much, Rebekah for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.

Rebekah Peppler: Thank you so much for having me and for your, for your wonderful thoughtful questions. It’s been a true pleasure.

Outro: Subscribe over on CookerybytheBook.com. And thanks for listening to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book.

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