Jacques Pepin in a Chef Jacket
By Alice Lane
Jacques Pepin is a true celebrity chef, a onetime personal chef for President Charles de Gaulle whose classes stress cooking fundamentals for everyday cooks. He was born December 18, 1935 in Bourg-en-Bresse, France but came to the United States in 1959 and has lived there ever since. He studied at Columbia University where he earned a B.A. in philosophy and an M.A. in French literature of the eighteenth century. While studying at Columbia he worked in chef coats at the world-renowned Le Pavilion restaurant. In 1960 he was invited by John F. Kennedy to work as White House chef, but Pepin declined saying that he preferred studying at Columbia, whose classes he found very exciting and stimulating. In his biography, Pepin credited his liberal arts studies at Columbia with having given him self-assurance.
Jacques Pepin believes that once the simple principles have been mastered the student can improvise at will, creating uniquely delicious creations using plain common sense and whatever ingredients happen to be at hand. Each of his master classes stresses basic points, such as why one dish requires a thicker sauce than another one does; or why certain greens require more assertive salad dressings; or how to chop up onions in a way that keeps them fluffy and light; or how to pan-fry a fish so that it stays crisp. Since he comes from a restaurateur family, Pepin has spent his entire life in a chef jacket in kitchens, and he doesn’t like wasting time or ingredients. He teaches his students how to use leftover odds and ends in order to create fresh, new dishes. He also teaches how to make stock from leftovers for use in seasoning other dishes so that very little needs to be thrown out. He teaches his students to move around the kitchen with minimal backtracking or wasted energy. Pepin avers that the difference between being a successful chef, as opposed to a mere line cook, lies in understanding and using the proper technique.
Pepin conducts master cooking classes throughout the world, and appears regularly in a black apron on television. His first PBS television series, The Complete Pepin, was based on his book La Technique, was launched in 1997 and was a smash success. It was followed two years later with his collaboration with Julia Child on the award-winning PBS series Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. More recently he has starred in PBS’Jacques Pepin – Fast Food My Way which was based upon his 2004 book with the same name and then Jacques Pepin – More Fast Food My Way. Pepin is author of eighteen cookbooks, several of which are companion books to his television series. He and his daughter Claudine cook on a current television series and have published a companion cookbook. He is also a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines. Pepin is the dean of special programs of New York City’s French Culinary Institute and he also teaches a Culture and Cuisine course on French cooking history at Boston University. He writes a regular column for Food & Wine. He lives in Madison, Connecticut with his wife Gloria.
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