Cooking legend Jacques Pepin was in Los Angeles recently on a press tour for American Masters, the PBS documentary series that profiles artists in different fields. He's given interviews for episodes featuring his friends and collaborators, including his food show co-host Julia Child, and in May Pepin himself will be the subject of a new addition to the series.

Pepin, whose career went from French fine dining to mass production at Howard Johnson's, became a television star in the 1980s. That, naturally, led to a lot of jetsetting, and given that the L.A. food scene briefly shone bright in the early part of the decade, Pepin was here a lot. We chatted with him about where he ate then, and where he eats now.

Are you a frequent visitor to L.A.?
I used to come more often. Certainly when Wolfgang Puck opened Spago; I remember that very well. At that time I was coming to L.A. regularly. Certainly when Puck was at Ma Maison, after he moved here from France, I used to spend a fair amount of time here. During the '80s, I was doing 35 or 40 weeks a year traveling and doing classes at cooking schools all over the country. And I was here a great deal, before I did television.

There was a lot of activity in L.A.'s food world in the early '80s. Do you remember a palpable sense of excitement?
Oh sure, very much. Jonathan Waxman, Nancy Silverton. The restaurant Michael's impressed me. And, of course, Spago. The restaurant scene was very exciting in Los Angeles at that time. Maybe even more than San Francisco at that time. Then it kind of changed.

Yeah, San Francisco had us beat for a long time. But recently there's been a Los Angeles food renaissance.
That's what I've heard, but I haven't really been here! But I had a great meal yesterday. I ate at Union. You know that restaurant in Pasadena? The chef, Bruce [Kalman] — I mean, it was really good. Great kitchen. The pasta was incredible, and he gave us a lot of it. With truffles on top. The food was incredible. The little socca, that chickpea bread that he makes. We had a great meal.

American Masters will air May 19 and 26, 9-11 p.m. on PBS.

LA Weekly