Back in the woods, behind the kitchen, French and American flags fly over Jacques Pepin's petanque court. He launches his heavy, metallic ball toward a visitor's, popping it off course with a sharp, expert crack.
"That is how you play petanque," he says, smiling at his pupil.
Whether it's lawn bowling or making an omelet as bright and unblemished as the noontime sun, Pepin is, above all things, a teacher. A trim, elegant 75, the greatest cooking instructor America has ever known has entered a genteel upper middle age. His hair is thinner, the limp from the car accident that turned him from chef to professor is a bit more pronounced. But the man who taught two generations of home cooks — and many of today's celebrity chefs — how to hold a knife can still out-chop a food processor and make boning a chicken look like magic.
"I tell a student that the most important class you can take is technique," Pepin says while chopping chives beneath a decorative tile that reads: "A great chef is first a great technician." ''If you are a jeweler, or a surgeon or a cook, you have to know the trade in your hand. You have to learn the process. You learn it through endless repetition until it belongs to you."
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