Jacques Pépin - Interview
Jacques in the Box
Jacques Pépin's "Fast Food My Way"
An interview with French chef Jacques Pépin
Anyone that knows Jacques Pépin understands his passion for food. This passion has carried the little wartime French boy into an icon of cooking in America. The best way to discover the lucky turns in his life is to read his autobiography: The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. Indeed, Jacques has been in many kitchens from the one at a local bistro in Bourg-en-Bresse to those on television sets via General Charles de Gaulle and many other illustrious individuals of his time. You will also get some of his favorite recipes. Alain Gayot caught up with Jacques at a book signing held during a dinner at "The Restaurant at the Getty Center."
Alain Gayot: Jacques, so nice to see you. How are you?
Jacques Pépin: I am so happy; my new book is very high up on the list of best-sellers on Amazon and The New York Times list.
AG: Indeed, this is an incredible success. What do you think is a key factor?
JP: My life is wonderful and I have had a chance to meet and work with such eminent figures both in France and in America. But the single most effective element in the awareness for the general public has been television.
AG: Speaking of these figures, who where the most influential?
JP: Well, to narrow it down a bit, I would say: Lucien Diat, General de Gaulle and Howard Johnson.
AG: Camelot vs. HoJo's. That was a big decision to make. Why did you decide to go to work for Howard Johnson instead of the President of the United States: John F. Kennedy?
JP: Well, I have worked for many presidents … and they are all dead. All kidding put aside, I chose that route because of the exposure to the public and the relations such a position would create. At the White House I would have been a given in the back of the house. HoJo was a fabulous opportunity.
AG: You opened a restaurant in New York with partners, La Potagerie, which could have been an immense success as a national chain. Are you bitter about this missed opportunity?
JP: Not really, it could have worked but my partners were silly; they wanted cushy board positions from the giants that wanted to buy us. We simply closed the place and moved on. This opened other opportunities.
AG: You had a frightening and serious car accident. Did that change things?
JP: Yes, that deer messed me up pretty bad, but I guess I am a survivor. At that time I appreciated living and it stimulated me to work on a multitude of projects.
AG: The book accounts well for all of these and the public is well aware of many of them. What's a great challenge for you?
JP: Honestly, cooking for dear friends and failing because I would disappoint them should my level of cooking not meet their expectations.
AG: When you cook for yourself, what do you like to whip up?
JP: I am very lucky with the neighboring farms; I can get all sorts of fresh eggs. You won't believe the pounds of wild mushrooms I pick up every year, and with the herbs from my garden, I'll get out a pan and cook an omelet.
AG: That's great, when can I come over?
JP: Anytime, and you should really show up for one of our notorious clam bakes.
AG: So kind of you. Anything we missed?
JP: There is so much, but I would like to carry out a message about the fact that I would like to see more black chefs come out.
AG: I remember that part about the kitchens at HoJo's. Anybody else?
JP: I have had the chance to have so many dear friends in my life. I can remember so many great moments with James Beard, Danny Kaye, Julia Child and [longtime best friend] Jean-Claude. Sadly, people are beginning to disappear, in my family etc.
AG: Your daughter Claudine is moving on.
JP: Yes now she is married and lives in Oregon where she wants to open a restaurant.
AG: How about Gloria?
JP: My wife is well, thanks. "Chez Pépin" she runs the show. We always agree on everything when I agree with her.
AG: The book is riddled with funny anecdotes. I particularly liked the time you were president for half an hour when you ran out of bread and Charles de Gaulle's chauffeur offered to drive you to the bakery to get more bread. Are the illustrations yours?
JP: That was quite something. When we left nobody checked inside the car. I got saluted, police officers stopped traffic and we drove through Paris at sixty miles per hour. I drew the illustrations for the book and many more which did not make it. You see on this page here they even erased this pépin ("seed" in French). I think the editors thought it was a spec. Here, let me draw it in.
AG: This is your twenty-second book. What is your next project?
JP: A book, what do you think! As long as they continue selling them I will continue to write them. I also enjoy cultivating my garden back at home in Connecticut when I am not on the road.
Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way
The Apprentice: My Life in The Kitchen
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