For decades, chef Jacques Pepin has dazzled television audiences with his careful and patient way of teaching the craft and his mesmerizing technical skill (If you've never seen someone turn a lemon into a pig, you owe it to yourself to watch him do it.) 

Now, Pepin's life and career is the subject of a new episode in the PBS series "American Masters,"which debuts later this month. He stopped by the Boston Public Radio studio before working with culinary arts students at Boston University to discuss his earliest memories of food, his friendship with Julia Child, and more. Highlights of the interview are below.

On his friendship with Julia Child and their cooking show together

"I met Julia in the spring of 1960. I came here at the end of 1959. A friend of mine, Helen McCully, was the food editor at House Beautiful. She showed me, 'look, I just received a manuscript of a book here, would you look at it?' So I looked and it was 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking.' I said, 'gee, this is quite good.' The explanation, the detail, the breakdown of recipes, was more than what was done at the time. [Helen] said, 'she's coming next week, let's cook for her — she's a very tall woman with a terrible voice.' ...

"People don't realize we had no recipes in those shows. It's unconventional because, conventionally, you come at least with a manuscript of the book. ... But there we decided the week before: okay, we'll do stew, we'll do whatever. Sometimes we changed [our plan] the night before. So there was no recipe!" 

On the food he remembers from his childhood growing up in France during World War Two

"During the war in France, food was pretty scarce. My father left to [join] the Resistance. My mother was a waitress in a restaurant. She had three boys to feed. So during the summer vacation, we were going to school already, and they put me on a farm about twenty, thirty miles from where we lived. I remember going there with my mother, sitting on the handlebars of her bicycle. At the time she used to go to those farms to try to get food. They left me there with the farmer. I was six years old. I was pretty sad. The farmer's wife took my hand and took me to the barn when my mother left. It was the first time I was that close to a cow. She put my hand on the teats of the cow to push down, and milk came out. That's when I had my first glass of lukewarm milk. It was a Proustian moment and changed my life."

On the economical way his mother cooked 

"I'm miserly in the kitchen, and it's probably because of her. When we were kids, before going to school, my two brothers and I would go to the market with my mother in the morning. She had a little restaurant...There was no car, so we walked to the market—about half a mile away—and she bought, on the way back, a case of mushrooms which was getting dark so she knew the guy had to sell it, so she'd try to get it for half price. ... She didn't have a refrigerator. She had an ice box: that's a block of ice in a cabinet. In there she'd have a couple of chickens or meat for the day. It had to be finished at the end of the day because she couldn't keep it. And the day after we'd go to the market again. So everything was local, everything was fresh, everything was organic. I always say my mother was an organic gardener, but of course, the word 'organic' did not exist. But chemical fertilizer did not exist either.

Jacques Pepin, right, with his longtime friend and fellow chef Jean-Claude Szurdak.
Amanda McGowan/WGBH News

On his favorite foods

"I'm past 80 years old now. When you're a young chef, you tend to add, and to add, and to add to the plate, and to decorate. As you get older you take away, take away, take away from the plate. You'll be left with a tomato at the right temperature, a bit of coarse salt, and a bit of olive oil. You don't want too much embellishment, you know?

"When people ask me my favorite thing, I say 'bread and butter.' If you have the greatest bread and the greatest butter, it's hard to beat."

On what makes him excited about the future of food

"The most exciting cooking in the world is probably in America, in my opinion. There are 24,000 restaurants in New York. The amount of ethnicity is unmatched in the world. It's extraordinary...When I came here, any fancy restaurant was a French restaurant. Everything was misspelled on the menu and wasn't really French, but there was no great Italian restaurant, Chinese, Mexican, certainly not Japanese as there is now. Any fancy restaurant was a French restaurant. It's quite different now."

On celebrity chefs and reality TV cooking shows

"I was somewhere a while ago where there was a food historian, and they were saying there are 405 cooking shows on television. I don't know whether that's accurate, it seems a bit exaggerated to me. But still, maybe 300. It's just amazing. However, a great deal of those are reality TV-type of arguing, fighting, which is not really [what it's like] in a regular kitchen. If you go to Thomas Keller or Daniel Boulud in New York, or even here, Nicki [Hobson] at the Island Creek Oyster Bar, you will see in the kitchen—if the camera comes—everything is quiet. It's like a ballet. ...

"You cannot really cook indifferently. You give a lot of yourself when you cook, so that kind of yelling and screaming is not really conducive to good food, to me."

Click the audio player above to hear the full interview with Jacques Pepin.