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The Apprentice

My Life in the Kitchen

By Jacques Pépin (Houghton Mifflin Company)

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pépin's memoir draws you in with the very first lines, where he recounts his stay during prewar France on a nearby farm. Like in so many cities in Europe food was sparse and parents sent their kids to local farms to get fattened up and healthy.

At the hamlet young "Tati" (his pet name) was impressed at how the farmer's wife heaped porridge (gauges) right onto the table into hollows carved into the wood. The farm is also where he milked his first cow and the rich buttery liquid provided one of the most important lessons of his life: "food could be much more than mere sustenance.

And so it began. Pépin's mother had a number of humble, bustling kitchens and young Jacques thrived on the heat, noise and adrenaline there. He knew from the start that he was destined to be a chef and at the tender of 13 he set out on a tough, feudal, traditional apprenticeship.

We follow his steps through the years, his becoming Charles de Gaulle's personal chef and later, in America, turning down a job as John F. Kennedy's White House chef in favor for cooking for Howard Johnson. He recounts his friendships, freshly arrived in the land of Manifest Destiny with the then unknown food aficionados James Beard and Julia Child, not knowing at the time that they were writing gastronomical history.

The book is so delightful you cannot put it down, the writing so charming and vivid, you taste what he tastes whether cow lungs in wine sauce, braised rabbit or dandelion salad. He truly deserves his status as culinary icon and we only wish we could sit down with him for a nice meal of mussels Ravigote (prepared by him, of course), good wine and just listen to his vivid accounts.

Related Content:

Jacques Pepin Interview
Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way
Kitchen Confidential

 


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