Jacque Pepin’s “The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen”
I guess I take after my namesake when it comes to my love of preparing food and watching cooking shows. My maternal great grandmother, Laura Mae Geoffrion, was a passionate home chef who spent many days in her modest kitchen cooking or in her living room watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin cook. Although I spend a lot of my free time in the kitchen cooking, I would love to have more downtime to watch old episodes of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin cook.
Today their shows are not readily found on TV. (You can find parts of their shows on YouTube.) However, during vacation I came across a channel on the TV in our hotel airing one of Jacques shows late at night. For the rest of the week I tuned in every night at the same time to catch his show.
Along with Julia Child he was a pioneer of teaching culinary arts and he hosted one of the first cooking programs on TV. It is fascinating to watch their shows and compare them to today’s Food Network and Cooking Channel. Their shows are not as cookie cutter as today’s food shows. The shows capture their individual personalities and professional culinary finesse, while teaching the essentials of cooking.
I have always learned so much from watching a professional chef cook, whether it be in person or from a TV show. There is something about physically seeing the chefs and hearing them explain what they are doing that does not compare to reading it in a book or online. Jacque’s Pepin’s memoir The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, however, is as captivating as his television show. His vivacious personality and passion for food is present on every page.
You can hear his thick French accent recalling his life story and walking you through his recipes that separate each of his chapters. He begins by sharing his humble road to success in the food industry working from a young age in his mother’s restaurant in war-torn France.
After Pepin’s father was drafted to fight in the war, his mother was left to work full time and raise him and his two brother’s Roland and Bichon. Pepin’s mother was resourceful in cooking for her young children, often relying on the food that was growing on their property. As a result Pepin developed a deep appreciation for food. From a young age it was evident that Pepin had promising potential to be a successful chef.
Eventually his mother quit her job and took on the risk of opening her own restaurant, which became a central part of their family. Throughout his formative years Pepin worked in his mother’s restaurant. He moved on to work in acclaimed French restaurants for notable chefs climbing up the ranks. Pepin eventually become Charles de Gaulle’s personal chef.
Years later he embarked on a new start in America, where he worked developing recipes for the popular restaurant Howard Johnson’s, while simultaneously attending Columbia University. Eventually, he quit and decided to open up a soup restaurant, La Potagerie, in New York City.
After several years of working at his restaurant, he discovered a passion for teaching. Pepin soon began traveling the country teaching and writing. His love of educating people about food was infectious and Pepin soon begin to appear on the original Cooking Channel in homes across the United States. Pepin continues to inspire young chefs around the world. He is now a dean at the French Culinary Institute in New York, a nationally acclaimed chef and teacher, the author of seven food industry/cookbooks, and a TV personality.
I highly recommend Pepin’s memoir The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen to any home chef or aspiring professional chef. Pepin continues to encourage and teach chefs today just as he did for my great grandmother’s generation.