Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen
By Jacques Pépin
Mmmm! Delicious! Jacques Pepin infuses his autobiography, Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, with the flavours and aromas of good cooking, starting from his youngest years and ending with his maturity as an internationally famous chef. The Pepin family lived food; through generations everyone worked in the family restaurants
Jacques’ extraordinary mother started her first restaurant in a dilapidated building immediately after WWII. Several times, over many years, she repeated her miracle of creating a popular restaurant from the ashes of a failed business. From birth Jacques learned to appreciate simple ingredients prepared with care and economy.
At that time, however, professional French cooking demanded meticulous technique, a multiplicity of ingredients, and strict adherence to recipes. Before he was even out of short pants, Jacques began his long apprenticeship at the bottom – referred to as “P’tit!” or “Kid” – running and fetching at lightning speed. He loved it all, and he tantalizes the reader’s taste buds with his luscious descriptions of the dishes prepared in the kitchens of his apprenticeship. He also loved practical jokes and played them on other apprentices and even senior chefs. When one particular chef couldn’t take it, Jacques turned his harsh reprimand into the impetus to find a more prestigious kitchen and even better learning experiences. Through the system of apprenticeship, Pepin became an outstanding traditional French chef.
Finally, he journeyed to the United States and his culinary mental set changed forever. Gradually he incorporated new concepts and techniques into his repertoire. Astoundingly, he loved his time cooking for the Howard Johnson organization, and when the founder died, he mourned both the man and his lost legacy of tasty frozen foods. With extensive knowledge of how to prepare delicious ingredients for both formal dishes and home cooking, he followed his mother’s example by opening his own restaurant. Ever seeking new adventures, he cooked on TV in the early days of cooking shows, most notably exchanging anecdotes on air with Julia Child.
Jacques Pepin is a lively person and a lively writer. The foods he described made my mouth water. The recipes that accompany his story made me want to cook. French cooking was never so enticing.