Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Apprentice, by Jacques Pépin

Like just about everybody else, I loved Julia Child's My Life in France and decided to look for other memoirs by notable chefs. I'm happy to say that Jacques Pépin's The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen is every bit as interesting, enjoyable, inspiring, and mouth-watering as Julia's book.

I particularly liked Pépin's tales of his boyhood in France during WWII and the early years of working in the kitchens of his mother's various restaurants and as a young apprentice--he left school at age 13. He documented not only a way of life but a way of eating and cooking that is both elemental and steeped in tradition. Equally fascinating was his life cooking for the French presidents in the 1950s, including Charles de Gaulle.

I also loved hearing about his experiences working in the experimental kitchens of Howard Johnsons in the 1960s, raising the level of franchise food by leaps and bounds. I had no idea that Pépin worked for HoJos, but also turned down the job as White House chef for the Kennedy administration to do so! Also fascinating was his account of the soup restaurant, La Potagerie, that he opened in Manhattan as well as the parties he attended that were thrown by the legendary Craig Claiborne, the quintessential restaurant reviewer and food critic of the New York Times.

Throughout the book Pépin's joy of living shines through, as does his sense of humor, humanity, warmth, and drive. I loved how he embraced the diversity and openness of America while honoring his French training, culture, and family.

This book was a joy to read, and the recipes are tantalizingly simple. I am definitely going to try to make Maman's Apple Tart--one of a dozen or so recipes that dot the memoir and that sounds delicious and easy enough for me to master.

Now I'm ready to search NetFlix to see whether I can find episdoes from some of his cooking shows. Once again, reading a book has launched me into a new avenue of delights.


  1. Hi Jane. This does look wonderful. I also read Julia's memoirs and would love to read about Jacques Pepin's experiences. He was a great TV personality too!

  2. Thanks, Jane, for pointing out this biography. I have always liked Pepin's way of doing television, whether it was cooking with his daughter Claudine, full of fatherly good nature and instruction, or cooking with an elderly Julia Child, deferring to her while doing most of the chopping and mixing. I also like his latest show on "simple" meals for everyday folks! (His simple meals would take me all afternoon to sort out!) I would like to learn more about his early days, since he tells his stories so well.

  3. I loved this book! And the story of his accident was so awful -- it's so inspiring how he persevered. I still haven't tried any of the recipes, though they sound wonderful.