Chef Jacques PépinJun 13th, 2014 | By Cecilia | Category: guest bio, the show
Have you ever felt sad when you reached the end of a book because you just wanted it to go on? That’s how I felt when I reached the final word on the last page of Chef Jacques Pépin’s autobiography, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen.
I bought it after I learned I’d be interviewing the then 75 year old chef (he is 79 now) while he was in town for the International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference, or IACP.
It was a true thrill for me, and as I wished our conversation could have lasted longer, but as it was, I was most fortunate to have 30 minutes alone with him.
For years Jacques Pépin has been teaching people how to cook good, flavorful, wholesome food–and sometimes in no time at all.
During his early childhood, Jacques and his family were of very modest means, and while he is a classically trained French Chef, the food he says he loves most is simple, straightforward and uncomplicated. And nothing ever goes to waste.
Well, I only got through the first 50 pages or so of his autobiography before our interview, but I had read just enough to prime the interview pump, and to know I wanted to finish it.
The Apprentice was and is a wonderfully written memoir of a life in food by a man who started his journey in his mother’s kitchen–first in their home kitchen and then in a series of restaurants she owned and for which she served as chef (though self-taught).
By the time he was 13 years old he quit school with his parent’s blessing to pursue his first apprenticeship, and he never looked back. Although after he arrived in America he did go back to school–first to learn English and eventually to earn a masters degree in literature from Columbia in NYC. What’s clear throughout the book, and upon meeting the man, is his determination.
He was just 23 when he came to the US in 1959 to work on the line at La Pavillon, New York City’s finest French restaurant at the time. After being in the country a year and impressing nearly everyone who came into his orbit, he was offered an opportunity to serve as White House Chef to John F. Kennedy. He declined because, as he told me, he’d already cooked for presidents in France, ending with President Charles de Gaulle.
He chose instead to direct research and development at Howard Johnson’s, where he learned about mass production, marketing, and American food tastes. Things he found exciting and useful in his career.
His memoir is written with great warmth, insight and humor. I found myself laughing out loud many times.
If you already admire Jacques Pépin, reading this book will only deepen your appreciation for the man. And if you don’t know who he is, but are looking for an enjoyable and entertaining read, pick up The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin. You won’t be sorry…until you read the last word.
Jacques Pepin has a new PBS television series coming out in the fall of 2011 called Essential Pepin–produced by KQED in San Francisco–where he presents some of his favorite original recipes from his 62 year career.
Below is a segment from the show where you get to hear him sing. He’s a surprising man of many talents.