Pepin made his way late to the written word, having been a chef before he was a scholar, and a teacher and a restaurateur before he published. But first—the good luck is ours—he was a hungry child, in a country in which food was religion, and in which history imprinted itself culinarily.
Stacy Shiff - New York Times
Lest any reader think this is another saga of sex and drugs in the kitchen, it definitely is not. Instead, it's the story of just what it takes to turn a talented young Frenchman into one of the most admired figures in the culinary world. And anyone who thinks that all you need to do to be called "chef" is to survive a few months—or even a few years—in culinary school would do well to read it.
Judith Weinraub - Washington Post
In this beguiling memoir, the celebrated French chef and cooking-show host recounts his start as a scrappy thirteen-year-old country boy who arrived at his first restaurant apprenticeship still wearing short pants. An incorrigible prankster (he once coated a colleague's eyeglasses in aspic), Pépin never fully submitted to the strict regimen of the French kitchen, and, after a stint as a cook for Charles de Gaulle, he headed for New York, where he ended up working for the chain-restaurant entrepreneur Howard Johnson. Making clam chowder by the gallon was a quirky turn for a classically trained chef, but it enabled Pépin to revolutionize mass-produced food. With appealing modesty, he sees himself as essentially a blue-collar worker, whose "vantage point to history-in-the-making was the crack between two swinging kitchen doors."
The New Yorker
In this fast-moving and often touching memoir, Pepin recounts his journey from the kitchen of his mother's humble restaurant in rural France after World War II to his current position as author of 21 cookbooks, star of 13 PBS cooking shows and dean of special programs at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Along the way he describes everything from the tough French apprenticeship system that saw him dropping out of school at 13 to work in Lyon to the beginnings of the Howard Johnson's chain. Pepin accepted a job in the Howard Johnson's test kitchen over a stint at the White House cooking for John F. Kennedy, but shows no signs of regret. In fact, if there's a flaw here, it's that Pepin's eternally upbeat attitude is sometimes a little hard to buy—although he does seem to have been born under a lucky star. Pepin came to the U.S. just when a culinary culture was building and fell into friendships with Craig Claiborne, then food editor of the New York Times, and Julia Child. Even a bad car accident when he was 39 turned out to be a godsend, as it got him out of the restaurant kitchen and into the teaching profession. Pepin mines a lot of humor from the differences between French and American attitudes toward food, as when he recounts how he and a French friend once stopped by a farm somewhere in the U.S. with a sign reading "Ducks for Sale" and wrung the neck of the duck they'd just bought in front of the horrified proprietress. Each chapter concludes with one or two recipes, many of them surprisingly earthy, such as Oatmeal Breakfast Soup with leeks and bacon.... This charming memoir will not disappoint.
How does one become a chef? Aside from having a love for food, modern cooks are born from—diverse experiences, talents, and training. Pepin, who has given us numerous cookbooks and memorable television programs, now shares his story. Throughout his early years in the kitchens of family restaurants and highly structured apprenticeships throughout France to his move to the United States, years as a product development chef for Howard Johnson, and friendships with such famous foodies as Craig Claiborne, Pepin relates how his interest in food and culinary techniques developed into passions for cooking and teaching. He does this deftly, neatly capturing personalities and events with clear, concise writing. As a tantalizing bonus, each chapter concludes with a favorite recipe. Pepin's book is an essential counterpoint to Anthony Bourdain's cynical Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, The Apprentice is an earthy, honest, well-written autobiography by one of the century's best-known chefs. During WW II, Jacques' mother worked as a waitress to feed her three young sons. In 1947 Jacques' mother opened a restaurant, Chez Pepin, in a working class neighborhood in Lyon. Bigger restaurants followed and Jacques quit school at 13, determined to become a chef. In 1949 he began a three-year apprenticeship, learning to cook on a temperamental wood stove. Afterward he worked in a succession of hotels and then served in the navy during the Algerian War. He even served as chef to France's prime minister, a job that ended when the government collapsed in 1958. Soon, however, he was cooking for Charles de Gaulle. In 1959 Pepin came to the US and landed a job at the prestigious Le Pavillon in New York City. Eight months later this job ended and Pepin went to work for Howard Deering Johnson, improving the food served by his restaurant chain. Pepin also received a tempting offer—to become the White House chef, should John Kennedy be elected. But he had found a second father in Mr. Johnson, with whom he remained during the 1960s. He married, bought a house in the Catskills, fathered Claudine, and opened a soup restaurant in 1970. La Potagerie was a great success, but tragedy struck when Pepin was seriously injured in an auto accident in 1974. After this he became a teacher and TV personality. Pepin's charming memoir is enlivened with anecdotes, photos and 24 easy-to-follow recipes.
Janet Julian - KLIATT
From chef, author, and cooking-show veteran Pepin, an easygoing but proud memoir of his journey through the stations of the kitchen and the food world. Pépin doesn't gloss over the difficulties involved in scaling the French culinary ladder, but there is never any question that it was exactly what he wanted to be doing. His mother ran a series of comfortable, small-scale, well-received restaurants outside Lyon, and young Jacques took to "the hurly-burly noise of the kitchen. The heat. The sweat. The bumping of bodies. The raised voices. The constant rush of adrenaline." His apprenticeship, feudal in duration and circumstances, wasn't easy, but he reveled in the learning process of observation and imitation, a "visual osmosis" that he conveys in warm, willowy prose. Cooking in a restaurant, we realize, is a calling, not a job. Gradually introduced to a variety of French regional foods, Pépin learned thoroughly and from the ground up the responsibilities and techniques of each kitchen position. He landed a succession of jobs at great restaurants in Paris and as a private chef before moving to New York and immersing himself in the revolution overtaking American cooking. Hungry for work, he was also gratifyingly unpretentious; he took a job at Howard Johnson’s rather than the Kennedy White House because he liked his life in New York. At Ho Jo’s, he worked with chefs (many of them blacks from the American South) who lacked formal training but had "natural grace and gut-felt understanding." After a horrific car accident shattered too many bones to count and forced him to leave the kitchen, he turned to writing, teaching, and fostering the growing American awareness of good food. Pépin offers a worm's-eye view of culinary personalities and approaches, and there’s no doubt he has earned every ounce of bounty he has received from the kitchen. Prose as joyful and rich as the author’s food
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