It’s mid-December. At home in Carbondale, Colo., Jacques Houot is fresh off of one—nope, two— holiday parties.
“I went to TWO parties this week,” Houot (nickname: Frenchy) laughs. “Two! They’re fun, but I’m tired. So much drinking.”
It’s been a season of celebrations for Frenchy. His birthday was a couple of months ago, on October 19. He could place 83 candles atop his birthday cake this year.
Yep. That’s right. The Frenchy is 83-years-old. He was born in 1935, which means he’s been alive for World War II, the assassination of JFK, and the birth of the Internet.
But he’s not old. Just ask him.
“When I was 82, I always liked to say I am 41 in each leg,” Frenchy said. “I cannot stand to be old, but I’m not so old. I am actually young.”
As a passionate skier, cyclist and adversary to a negative attitude, Houot is known for his fearless ways and love of laughter. Adrenaline and happiness are his life fuel. Every day, he moves. Every day, he gets up and goes: down a mountain or on a bike, depending on the season. Every day, he laughs.
“I keep my positive attitude,” he said. “I always say, ‘No problem.’ Only solution. There’s no problems…there’s only solutions.”
Frenchy’s appetite for a full life is as strong as his desire for a full stomach of delicious, healthy food. Before the skiing, and the racing, and the bikes and the medals, Frenchy was a cook.
“My cooking used to be my job,” he said. “I was a house cook at a catering service in Aspen [Colorado], and after that, I spent years in Vegas. But I get burned out with that. Too much stress. I was 35 years old…35 or 36. I spent seven years there.”
After working behind the scenes in food service, Frenchy got an unexpected motivational push toward a different direction.
“At that time, I was not doing bicycling or ski racing because I was too tired from work,” he said. “But my boss one day showed me two old men across the kitchen at the pantry. They would die on the job over there. He said to me, ‘’Look at those two guys. You want to be like that? Get out of here!’ He was right. I get out of there. I changed my whole life. He saved me. I’d be dead if I kept at the job.’
Though he dropped the cooking profession and picked up skiing and cycling adventures, Frenchy still considers himself a cooking connoisseur.
“I can make anything,” he said. “My specialty is banana flambeau, soufflés…I like to cook right at the table.”
“In America, people eat to live. In France, we live to eat.” — Jacque Huout
Whether he’s on the slopes, on the bike path, or at a party, Frenchy knows how to get people’s attention. He’s a social butterfly, to say the least. He uses his cooking to spread his wings even wider.
“When I go to a party, I always do some dessert and make a show,” he said. “In the last two weeks, I did two desserts at a party. But my old recipe for banana flambeau, I changed right now because I used to start with butter and sugar, but now I cut that. No butter. No sugar. I stick with honey, or orange juice, lemon juice, brandy…and I fire up the whole thing. I cook my banana on the whole thing. I put it on top of ice cream and then I add black pepper.”
Wait. Black pepper? On ice cream?
“Yes, to add more flavor, I put black pepper on top of the ice cream,” Frenchy said. “The cold from the vanilla ice cream, added with the black pepper, puts the flavor way, way up.”
Another Frenchy-certified fun fact? Black pepper helps wounds.
“You can do a lot with black pepper,” he said. “Last week, a lady cut her foot, and she was bleeding really bad. I said to her, ‘Don’t panic. I’m going to stop the bleeding.’ I took some black pepper, put that on the wound, and she stopped bleeding.”
The man is full of wisdom…but maybe that’s what more than eight decades on a planet can give you.
When it comes to the kitchen, Frenchy is all about cooking healthy. He is adamant about how he feels when it comes to flavor. He says it’s because of the French food culture he’s grown up around.
“The food [in America] sucks,” he said. “Yesterday I was hungry when I went to a party, but I had to wait to eat…because the food, it’s too greasy, terrible. In America, people eat to live. In France, we live to eat.”
Frenchy said he learned to cook from an old friend named Maurice. It was Maurice who introduced him to the Americanized way of cooking…which is not exactly the healthiest at times, according to Frenchy.
“I never cooked before I came to America,” he said. “But I worked with a friend of mine named Maurice. It was an old friendship. I worked with him and he taught me a lot of stuff. His cooking was very, very good. But for me, it was not very, very good because he used too much butter, too much fat. I said, ‘No, no, no, no!’ Me? I cut those recipes when I cook for my own. I cut that [butter and fat] out, and everything I did was super lean. I kept doing it that way.”
There are several cooking shows dedicated to deciphering the best cook in the country. People are passionate about perfecting their craft in the kitchen. Recipes are analyzed. Measurements are taken. Grocery lists are categorized with care.
But Frenchy believes the difference between a good cook and a great one is simple.
“An amazing cook is no fat, lean, healthy,” he said.
Since winter is upon us, Frenchy is spending his time on the slopes. He loves to find a reason to get the Colorado powder beneath his feet. “I ski race. I cross country ski and I do alpine,” he said with pride.
With all of that skiing, the body certainly needs energy. So what’s Frenchy’s favorite food to eat?
“My favorite food is vegetables and fruits,” he said.
No butter. No fat. No problem.