Jacques Pépin's eyes light up when he recalls his daughter's first taste of caviar. "When Claudine was just one year old, I had a friend who was then the executive chef of Air France. At that time, they served an extraordinary quality of Russian beluga caviar on board, but when they opened a large tin they couldn't serve it on the next flight. So one summer he brought me an entire mason jar of leftover caviar. I spread it on top of this beautiful French bread with butter and took it to Claudine in her crib. She licked off the caviar, handed me the bread, and said 'Encore, Papa!' So I knew then that she was hooked for life."Caviar continues to be a gathering point for both father and his Denver-based daughter. So much so that the Pépins have created a sustainable line of caviar. The two launched their Pépin Payusnaya and Caviar Claudine—as a part of the California Caviar Company's Chef's Signature Series—during June's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Already, chefs like Kevin Taylor (Restaurant Kevin Taylor) and Tyler Wiard (Elway's) are exploring the products' possibilities.
Jacques' payusnaya is modeled after an Old World pressed caviar that is little known today. "Payusnaya was common when I was a young man in Paris, so I am amazed when chefs now don't know what it is," says Jacques. His recipe, which uses California white sturgeon caviar and hackleback and paddlefish roes, includes pressing the eggs to create a perfectly smooth texture. "The result," he explains, "is a paste of extremely concentrated caviar."
The original Russian payusnaya was made from now-endangered beluga, sevruga, and osetra caviar. In contrast, Jacques' version uses only domestic, sustainable fish eggs that are highly versatile. The caviar can be spread, sliced, molded, even shaved or grated when frozen to enhance a dish. An additional benefit is the high concentration of nutrients: 43 essential vitamins and minerals, fatty acids, proteins, and Omega-3 oils. It's considered more nutritious than poultry, meat, or any other seafood.
The health aspects appeal to Claudine, who often feeds her four-year-old daughter, Shorey, caviar and crackers. Her product, Caviar Claudine, is not pressed; rather it's a pure American fresh roe also harvested from sustainable, domestic fish such as white fish, white sturgeon, hackleback, and trout. "I use [this] in a recipe I call 'Eggs and Ears' for Shorey. It combines 'little ears'—orecchiette—pasta with a white sauce made of water stirred into whipped cream cheese and emulsified with a little bit of butter. I then stir in a little caviar right at the end and add the drained pasta. Shorey just loves it." For Claudine, this isn't about cultivating Champagne tastes. Instead, she reasons that if she can sneak in some extra nutrition while introducing her daughter to the flavors of fish and seafood, it's a bonus. Best of all, both lines of caviar are affordable, making it an attainable luxury that tastes of the Old World.
Pépin's Payusnaya ($48 for one ounce) and Caviar Claudine ($9-$79 for one ounce) are available online.